In a competitive marketplace, up-to-date information can make the difference between keeping pace, getting ahead, or being left behind. Business is a game and only the team with the best players wins. To win, you need to know your strengths and weaknesses as well as that of your competition. Knowledge of thyself alone is no longer sufficient to remain competitive.
“If you are ignorant of both your enemy and yourself, then you are a fool and certain to be defeated in every battle.”
No matter how much you think you know about your business, no matter how much experience you have in your chosen field, without a clear understanding of the competitions in the market, you might as well be driving blind.
Big companies spend thousands of dollars to conduct competitive market analysis, but fortunately for those of you on a tight budget, you can do quite a bit of this yourself, without spending much at all.
This unusual article is about how you can effectively gather information about your competition and how to use that information to beat the competition.
Let’s get started!
What Is Competitive Intelligence?
Competitive Intelligence is the purposeful and coordinated monitoring of your competitor(s), wherever and whoever they may be, within a specific marketplace… Your “competitors” are those firms which you consider rivals in business, and with whom you compete for market share. Competitive Intelligence also has to do with determining what your business rivals WILL DO before they do it. Strategically, to gain foreknowledge of your competitor’s plans and to plan your business strategy to counter their plans.
The goal of a competitor analysis is to develop a profile of the nature of strategy changes each competitor might make, each competitor’s possible response to the range of likely strategic moves other firms could make, and each competitor’s likely reaction to industry changes and environmental shifts that might take place. Competitive intelligence should have a single-minded objective –to develop the strategies and tactics necessary to transfer market share profitably and consistently from specific competitors to your company.
Competitive intelligence is the core of competitive strategy!
Have A Goal In Mind: What Do You Want To Know?
The very first step in carrying out an effective competitive analysis or research on your competition is to have an objective in mind; what exactly do you want to know? It’s already been stated above that the key purpose of competitive intelligence is to give you sufficient knowledge about the activities of your competitions in order to make better strategic decisions and actions that will give you a competitive edge in the market.
It’s totally unwise to start out without any aim in mind or without any specific information to sought for, so here are some of the key things you need to learn about your competition:
Who are the major competitors in the market?
What’s their current share of the market you’ve identified?
Have there been any significant changes in the market share each competitor has had over the past five to ten years [i.e. who’s moving up and who’s moving down]?
Which of your competitors address which segments and which of them are strongest in those segments?
What are your competitors’ strategies for reaching your target market, as well as any segments on which they focus?
Now that you know the types of questions for which you’re seeking answers [and there are many more, but these should get you started], it’s time to actually do the competitive research and to do that, there are two major approaches;
- Researching the competition online
- Researching the competition offline
How To Research Your Competitions Online
Traditionally, finding out about competitor activity might have been a lengthy and costly process. But now, with the help of the internet, you can easily access lots of useful information about your competition. Here are some ways to get started in being your own competitive intelligence gatherer on the Web and it won’t cost anything, but time.
1. Google It:
Well it’s true what they say; there’s hardly anything online that Google doesn’t know about, including information about your competitions. The very first step to take while conducting a research about your competition online is to Google them.
A simple search about your competition or major players in your industry can reveal a lot about their overall corporate strategy, their next product launch, their recent hiring and even customer complaints and reviews. All these are valuable information that can give you an added advantage while making strategic decisions and planning strategic competitive actions.
Besides using the search feature of Google, there are other useful tools from Google that can provide more information about your competitions such as;
- Google Alerts: allows users to set up alerts by keywords and phrases that trigger an e-mail notification and link every time that word or phrase pops up on a site, blog, or news story — depending on how the alert is configured. A business primarily concerned about three top competitors, for example, might set up a Google alert on all three companies and their top executives monitoring every time they get a mention online. Remember to also set up alerts for your own company so you can monitor what’s being said about you, and keep track of your direct and indirect competitors.
- Google Trends: This is a great tool for keeping track of what’s hot and what’s not in your industry. By using this tool, you can keep track of the major trends in your industry and most especially take note of the trendsetters; these are your competitions who are making things happen.
2. Use Industry Specific Sites:
While Google is a good place to start your research about competitions, it might not provide certain insider information. This is when using industry specific sites comes in handy; these are sites that gather relevant information about companies from trusted sources such as Corporate Affairs Commission in Nigeria, Companies House in the UK and in the USA, the local, state or federal government agencies.
In Nigeria, the Corporate Affairs Commission is a good starting point. For UK, visiting industry specific sites such as Duedil where you can access companies house data and search for information on millions of businesses is something to bear in mind. And for the US, visiting the websites of relevant local, state and federal agencies would help.
3. Use Social Media:
Given how companies are increasingly using social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter as marketing outlets these days, you might be able to pick up interesting facts about your competition—and maybe even your own company—just by tuning in. Follow all your competitions on twitter, like their Facebook fan pages, connect with their key people on LinkedIn and subscribe to the YouTube channels!
Even if your competition isn’t social media savvy, it’s a good bet that they produce newsletters—either e-mail or print varieties—that you can sign up for to get the latest and greatest news and updates on things like new products or services they are introducing and what events they might be attending.
4. Look At Keywords:
Over 80% of all online transactions begin with a keyword search. To compete, you need to target all the relevant keywords. Keywords are the specific terms or phrases people entered into search engines to get to your website or your competitor’s website. In order to be as visible as your competition on major search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. you need to find out what keywords they are using to rank well on search engines and equally start using them.
One way of doing this is to simply look at the code of their websites. Simply go to the site and click on “View” at the top of the browser, then “Source” or “Page Source” depending on your browser. A page of html code will pop up and the keywords will be buried in the code near the top of the page. If you can’t do this, talk to your web designer and if they can’t also help, then talk to us. Our differentiate online internet marketing services covers all these.
5. Monitor Traffic and Back links:
Traffic are the number of visitors that come to your office online –website. And back links are other websites that have your website or a page of your website on their own website. They are also known as external links. By doing this, they help improve the number of visitors that come to your website from their website.
Monitoring the number of visitors and the sources [back links] from which these visitors come to your competitor’s websites gives you a clue into potential websites that you also need to have your websites or a page of your website on. Since they are sending your competitions traffic, there is also a likelihood that they will also send you traffic if you can get your website listed or mentioned there.
For monitoring traffic, this information is easy to track on such free sites as Alexa.com and Quantcast.com. And for monitoring back links, there are tools in Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools that let you track the domains linking to your site. Both of these tools are free and give you a great deal of information that you can use to maximize your site’s presence on the web. You can also use back link watch, it is equally free.
6. Scan Review Sites:
A review site is a website on which reviews can be posted about people, businesses, products, or services. A customer review is a review or feedback about a product or service made by a customer who has purchased the product or service. These are done using review sites such as; Google places for business, Yelp, Yahoo! Local listings, CitySearch, MerchantCircle, InsiderPages, Angie’s List and many others.
Using these review sites like can help reveal certain information about your competition, especially your local competitions and the complaints or praises from their customers. The good thing about scanning review sites is the first hand customer information they provide about your competitions; their strengths and weaknesses are easily at your disposal and you can then respond accordingly with a superior competitive strategy.
7. Get Professional Help:
All these can be very overwhelming especially for businesses that are not very internet savvy. This is where hiring the services of a professional internet marketing company comes in handy. They can help you strip your competitions naked and provide you with detailed report that will help you stay ahead of the competitions.
Like I mentioned above, we can help you out through our differentiate online internet marketing services for smart businesses. Give us a call today!
How To Research Your Competitions Offline
Here are additional ways to research the competition using other offline sources;
8. Ask Your Customers:
When it comes to identifying sources of information about your competition, don’t skip over the obvious ones—like your customers. Speaking to customers is one of the best [and cheapest] ways of gathering real information on competitors. Whenever you win a new customer, find out who they used before, and why they switched to you [i.e. the reason they were dissatisfied with their previous supplier].
Do the same when you lose a customer; identify what they preferred about your competitor. If you gather enough of these stories you’ll get a very clear idea on what competitors are offering that customers view as preferable. You can then adjust your own offering to beat that of the competitor.
9. Attending Industry Trade Shows And Conferences:
Attending industry trade shows and conferences—as well as joining industry associations—can be a great way to learn about who your competitors are and what they’re offering.
10. Read Industry Journals/Publications:
Also subscribing to and reading relevant industry journals/publications can also reveal useful information about your competitions. The closer and more connected you are to industry updates through these publications will give you sufficient insights about the movers and shakers in your industry. And when you do, you can put them on your competitive research radar!
11. Keep An Eye On Their Staff:
Another strategy is to hire employees from competing firms, especially sales people. No one knows more about the inside of your competition’s business than the employees. Find out all that you can about how they operate, and more importantly, what’s the future like for them?
Where are they taking their business? What markets are they venturing into? How are they leveraging innovation to cut costs and advance productivity? Where is the highest level of dissatisfaction with their products or services?
You can also learn something by studying the kinds of jobs your competitors are looking to fill. For example, if a company is hiring a web programmer, they will include information about exactly what technologies the candidates need to know, which tells you what they use.
Also look at what positions they are hiring; if they’re looking for a patent attorney, they could be working on some big new inventions. If they’re hiring for several HR, they may be preparing to expand overall.
Generally, monitoring the hiring needs of your competitions gives you a clue about the direction the company is heading and a glimpse of what their future would look like in terms of product launch and innovations.
12. Become A Mystery Shopper At Your Competitions:
Mystery shopping or a mystery consumer is a tool used externally by market research companies, watchdog organizations, or internally by companies themselves to measure quality of service, or compliance with regulation, or to gather specific information about products and services. The mystery consumer’s specific identity and purpose is generally not known by the establishment being evaluated.
Mystery shoppers perform specific tasks such as purchasing a product, asking questions, registering complaints or behaving in a certain way, and then provide detailed reports or feedback about their experiences. This can also be used to gather information about your competitions by sending people to buy from your competition or make enquiries about their products/services.
Keeping an eye on your competitions is a sound business strategy that will not only help you make better strategic decisions and actions, but will also help you stay ahead of the competition. Start with the steps discussed above and come up with other creative, but legal means of gathering more information about your competitions in business.
What other steps or means have you used to tap into useful information about your competitions in business?
Join the conversation, drop your comments below. Thanks!
I am yet to come across any entrepreneur who seems to have had enough when it comes to making money through their business. Especially if you are an unusual entrepreneur [purpose-driven], you realize that the more money you make, the more purpose you can fulfill.
So, making money in business is not a luxury only a few should enjoy, but a necessity for every unusual entrepreneur.
But wanting more money in your business is not enough. The real questions is; “how do you make that ‘want’ a reality?” To answer this question has been the age long quest of every entrepreneur, business owner, manager as well as several business consultants.
The entrepreneurs or companies who succeed in business are those who have cracked the profitability code –a set of different elements, laws and principles that must be strategically applied.
Many entrepreneurs and businesses still struggle with profitability because they are missing one or more elements of this code or they are wrongly applying them. Knowing them and rightfully applying them is what this unusual article is about.
Let’s get started!
Cracking The Profitability Code –The Key To Making More Money In Business!
If you want to make more money in your business, there are two sides to cracking the profitability code that you must begin to focus on. There are universal laws/principles you must follow and there are peculiar factors you must address.
The universal laws/principles of profitability are;
The peculiar factors that determine the profitability of your business are;
- Business factors
- Environmental factors
- Personal factors
Both sides of the profitability code must be rightfully aligned and strategically applied before you can unlock the profit potentials of your business. In most cases, the problem is not from the universal elements of the profitability code. Rather, the problem often stems from the peculiar elements of the profitability code. Why?
Because laws are laws, they rarely change. The only problem with universal laws is this; ignorance of their existence or poor application of them. But the challenge of cracking the profitability code greatly lies with you the entrepreneur, the nature of your business and the environment in which your business operates. These peculiar elements are what you need to really crack in order to make more money in your business.
But let’s tackle the universal elements of the profitability code first.
The Universal Principles Of Profitability
What are those universal principles that guarantee profitability in business?
The first universal law of profitability is value. And it states; you will only GET as much as you GIVE.
It’s such a simple logic; you want money, so what are you going to give in exchange for it? Since money doesn’t grow on trees, how do you intend to get it without stealing? The answer is simple; provide something of value. Value is the solution you provide through your business, it could be a product or service or a combination of both. Without value, you are not qualified for profitability.
I have already written an unusual article about this law of profitability, so I won’t dwell much on it here. It’s called the origin of profits, click on the link to read it.
The second universal law of profitability is marketing. And it states; your business will only go as far as your message goes.
Isn’t it quite obvious? The more people who get to know, like and trust the value your business provides, the more of them will likely buy from you. And the less people who get to know, like and trust the value your business provides, the less of them will buy from you.
The marketing that works is all about influence. So to apply the principle of marketing to your business, you have to focus on these 3 key areas;
- The message
- The medium
- The messenger
I have already written several unusual articles about this law of profitability, so I won’t dwell much on it here. You can learn more by clicking here to read more unusual articles on marketing.
The third universal law of profitability is culture. And it states; every company is the sum of all the people involved, without unifying ideologies a company is a mob.
Come to think of it; imagine if every person involved in your business was going about his/her own agenda, would your company ever make a dime? Obviously not!
Do your employees know why your company exists? Does your business have a big picture? Do they believe in the value [products/services] your company offers to the market? Do they all align to your profitability goals? Do they know and uphold the values the company stands for?
So culture is how you unify the efforts of everyone involved in your business towards the achieving profitability. Culture is the soul of your company. It is the thread that binds everything and everyone together. It influences behavior, defines expectations and inspires teamwork. Without culture, there’s no company, there’s only a mob!
How Does Culture Impact Profitability?
Culture impacts the profitability of your business in the following key areas;
A company with a positive culture will serve customers better than one with a negative culture. And since your profitability rests in the hands of your customers, poorly attending to them can negatively impact your bottom-line.
Culture is contagious and this is why it must be taken seriously otherwise a company can cease to exist. Value as was discussed above is the first universal law of profitability, it is the product/service your company offers to the market. The culture of your company will determine the quality of the products/service it creates. Companies with great cultures create great products/services. And great products/services generate high profits.
The greatest impact of culture on profitability is synergy. There is nothing as rewarding as a group of people working together to create something bigger than they could have individually achieved. Culture is the fluid that makes high performing companies deliver excellence. When everyone in your organization knows what to do, why it matters and how to do it, magic happens. And customers love a company where magic happens!
The Peculiar Elements Of Profitability
What are the peculiar factors that determine your company’s profitability?
The first peculiar element of profitability is the nature of business you are into. Take it or leave it, some businesses are more profitable than the other. This is why the kind of business you go into is equally important in determining how profitable or not your company will become. So profitability is peculiar to the kind of business you do.
Every business has the potential to be profitable, but the degree or extent to how profitable a business can become is peculiar to the nature of business one is into. Some businesses have irregular revenue or sales cycle while some businesses have regular revenue or sales cycles. A business with regular sales cycle is often more profitable than one with irregular sales cycles.
No wonder cashflow is considered the most important word in finance. It is the relationship between revenue and expenses within a given period. If the frequency of expenses exceeds the frequency of revenue, then you have a negative cashflow.
Businesses with irregular sales cycles are more prone to negative cashflows because they have a longer cycle time. You have to live on your last revenue before the next and in most cases you might end up spending your last revenue while pursuing the next sales. But businesses with regular sales cycle have shorter cycle time and this means before you run out of cash, another sale has been made. In other words, it is harder to run out of cash if you own businesses with regular sales cycles than those with irregular sales cycles.
So the peculiar question you need to answer to be profitable in your business is this; “how often do you make a sale?” Or “what is the average timeline or gap between your previous sales and the next?” The longer the timeline or gap, the more prone to negative cashflow and the less profitable your business becomes. The bitter truth is this; businesses with a higher degree of repeat purchases/sales tend to be more profitable than those with lower degree of repeat purchases/sales.
The second peculiar element that determines your company’s profitability is the environment in which your business is situated. This is when the saying “location matters” holds true. The environment in which your business is located defines a lot about your profitability potentials.
It determines the kind of business you will venture into, it determines the quality level of the products/services you will offer, it determines the price at which you will sell them, it determines the caliber of workers you will employ. All of these factors will either improve or hinder your profitability as a company.
The smart choice is to always analyze the environment before going into business. Check for profitability pointers and killers such as; the standard of living, the prevailing culture, the demography, the income level, the condition of other existing competitions, the religion, level of education, government legislations and many more.
The more receptive the environment is to the kind of value [product/service] you offer, the more profitable your business becomes. The less receptive the environment is to the kind of value you offer, the less profitable your business becomes.
The third peculiar element that determines your company’s profitability is you the entrepreneur. There are certain individual traits and habits that are peculiar to entrepreneurs that can improve or impede your company’s odd of becoming profitable.
As a business rule, the more knowledgeable you are as an entrepreneur about the kind of business you venture into, the more you increase your odds of becoming profitable. So having more experience, knowledge, passion and skills in a particular business can contribute to your bottom-line positively.
In business, there is no way you can exclude the impact and role of the entrepreneur in determining how profitable the company becomes. You are the driver of your business and to a large extent it will only go as far as your eyes can see and your legs can take it.
None of all the things listed above will happen by themselves, it takes you the entrepreneur to make them happen. It is still up to you to determine if your business will be profitable or not through the choices you make and the actions you take as the leader of your company. This is why you need to be up and doing; commit to personal development —learn more, do more and achieve more!
How are you cracking the profitability code in your business?
What specific steps are you taking to make more money in your business?
To what extent has the universal laws of profitability helped or hindered your profitability as a company?
To what extent has the peculiar elements of profitability aided or hindered your profitability as a company?
Share your comments, thoughts and questions below to add more value to the conversation. Thanks in advance, really looking forward to learn from your own side of the story!
I know that you must have been told that marketing is all about gimmicks, tricks or tactics. That it is all about being smart, right?
The moment you begin to see marketing as simply being smart with your target customers using all forms of gimmicks, tricks or tactics to cajole them into buying, then you’ve got it all wrong.
And just so you know, the fact that some companies get away with this form of marketing doesn’t validate it in anyway.
As a matter of fact, it’s the quickest way to devalue your brand and lose the trust of potential customers. It’s a short term solution to a long term problem.
The 3 Levels Of Market Engagement
Gimmicks, tricks and tactics are quick fix approaches to marketing. They may get you the attention of the market, but they can never get you their affection. It’s one thing to be known [attention] is another to be liked [affection] and a whole different thing to be trusted [conviction]. These are the 3 levels of market engagement; each describes the kind of relationship a brand has with her target audience.
Using gimmicks, tricks and tactics alone will only get you to the first level –attention. Which simply means the market knows you, they are aware your brand, product, service or company exists. It doesn’t mean they like you, or trust you or will even buy from you. Being known alone doesn’t guarantee sales. Making the sale is more complicated than that, forget all you’ve been told –sales is NEVER made in an instant!
Customers follow a certain buying process before making a purchase decision, I have written about this before, read more here. However irrational or emotional this buying process takes is irrelevant, what matters is that a buying process occurs before the purchase decision is eventually made.
This is why relying on only gimmicks, tricks or tactics alone is not enough to influence a purchase decision. Marketing is all about INFLUENCE, nothing more, nothing less. It is a game that is played not in the market as many erroneously believe, but rather it is a game played in the MIND –the mind of your target customers!
What many entrepreneurs often overlook is the fact that buying is a DECISION and one that solely rests in the hand of the target customer to make. And when decisions are involved, you can only fool people once, twice or thrice at most. Before long, your gimmicks, tricks and tactics will become a trail that you leave behind and the market starts to avoid you like plague.
Why? Because decisions are personal and emotional, people don’t want to feel cajoled or manipulated. People want to own their decisions and this is why they resent gimmicks, tricks or tactics. No wonder they say salesmen are slimy, because of the gimmicks, tricks or tactics they employ to make the sale by all means. But if your marketing is done right, selling will be less slimy.
The Kind Of Marketing That Works
To get past attention and win the affection and conviction of the market, you need to seek to influence rather than manipulate your target customers. I know what you may be thinking; influence is NOT the same as manipulating.
Manipulation is negative and influence is positive. Manipulation seeks to take advantage of her victim such that he/she will unknowingly act based on false information. While influence seeks to empower such that he/she will knowingly act based on authentic information.
The key difference between influence and manipulation is this; authenticity –are you equipping your target market with authentic information that enables them make the right buying decisions? Are you honestly doing all the best you can to help them solve their problems? Are you making promises you can keep or just saying whatever it takes to make the sale?
Decisions, be it a buying decision or any other form of decision is based on available information. People make up their minds based on what they know per time. If as a marketer, the information you provide to your target audience is false or incomplete and they base their buying decision on this information, then you are manipulating rather than influencing them.
The moment you deny a person the right to know what they ought to know in order to make a decision, then you’ve manipulated them. Manipulation is about using people rather than leading them. Your task as an entrepreneur is to lead your target audience rather than using them. Business is all about win-win relationships; it’s hinged on mutual benefits.
And here’s how to create that win-win relationship that will influence your target market to make the right buying decisions;
1. Begin With Why?
Market The IDEA And Not The Product!
Influence just like marketing is a mind game; the head [reason] and the heart [emotion] must buy in first before the body will follow. You can’t get the hand or leg to move to buy until you have first gotten the head and heart to believe in what you are selling. This is why great companies and great leaders always begin with why?
Beginning with the ‘why’ is how you get your target market to believe in your brand, company, product/service. If marketing is all about influence, influence is all about making people believe in you, your cause, vision, mission or idea. Creating and communicating a shared belief based on certain core values is the foundation of marketing that works.
It involves selling people your idea first before you sell them your product/service. It’s how you get them to connect first with the brand both emotionally and logically long before they make a buying decision. To get people to buy from you, get them to buy–into you, your cause, vision, mission, purpose, message or idea.
The mistake many marketers make is that they begin their marketing with the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. They start by telling the market what their product is and how it works; “our product/service is the best in the market because it has this and that features and this is how it works, so buy from us”.
Going back to the 3 levels of market engagement I mentioned above; attention, affection and conviction, beginning with the ‘why’ is how you win the affection [emotional buy-in] and conviction [logical buy-in] of the market. People will not only get to know your brand, they will like and trust it because it portrays certain values they strongly believe in.
Think about brands like Apple, Google, Virgin, Harley Davidson, Nike, Starbucks, MTV, Oprah, or Disney; they all portray certain core values that resonate with their target market. These core values are what creates a sense of shared belief in the mind of the customer. When it’s time to make a purchase decision, they rely on this shared belief to guide them in making the right choice.
2. Put The Customer First
The Key To Influence Is Putting The Other Person First.
It was the great Dale Carnegie that first wrote in his classic; ‘how to win friends and influence people’ that being genuinely interested in people is one sure of influencing them. Nothing can be truer. When it comes to influence, you simply can’t afford to be self-centered. I have often emphasized this; customers don’t care about your brand, company, product/service until they know how much you care about them first.
They want to know how much you know about them, how much you know about their situation, aspirations, needs, wants, problems, challenges, expectations and many more. They want to know that you care about them first and not about how much you can get from them. They want to be at the centre of your marketing. They want everything you do as a company to revolve around them!
How do you pull this off?
- Get to know everything you can about your target customers [situation, aspirations, needs, wants, problems, challenges, expectations and many more] through research and personal observations.
- Backed with the knowledge of your target customers, create a big picture [vision, idea, USP, message, brand story] of a preferable future.
- Backed with the knowledge of your target customers, create a product/service or a combination of products/services that will serve as solutions/answers to their needs and wants.
- In all your marketing, consistently communicate why it is very important for you as a brand/company to help make the big picture a reality in their life/business.
- Describe how this big picture is going be made a reality through the combination of products/services you offer as a company.
Touch people’s heart before asking for what’s in their hand.
There are so many boring brands out there that don’t do anything inspiring; they just go about business as usual. One great way to influence the market is to inspire it; do something above the norm, do something that wows the market. Do something that makes a difference.
What do consumers do when they are inspired by a company? Trust me, there is an ROI –return on investment for inspiring the market. According to Forbes Amerca’s 25 most inspiring company, a survey conducted revealed this;
“The survey found that 81% of respondents say they would recommend the company to friends and family. Seventy-eight percent would be loyal to that company, and another 72% would share their experience with others. More than half (55%) reported they would spend more on a company that inspires them.”
In what ways have you been influencing your target market?
What is the big idea, the ‘why’ behind your brand, company, product or service?
Do you always put your customers first? What practical steps do you take to ensure the customer always comes first in your business?
Is your company inspiring? If yes, in what way or ways are you inspiring the market?
Join the conversation, share your comments below. Can’t wait to hear from you, thanks!
How To Avoid The Trap Of Worrying And Unlock The Power Of Thinking To Solve Your Business Challenges
Entrepreneurs are problem solvers, as a matter of fact; they are only paid when they solve people’s problems through the creation of products/services.
To a large extent the ability to solve problems is determined by the quality of your thoughts or your thinking skills. Thinking is a skill and just like every other skill, it can be learnt and developed.
In this unusual article, I’ve decided to unveil the mystery behind ‘thinking’ so that the ‘art of thinking’ can be learnt, understood and applied effectively by entrepreneurs.
It’s my aim through this article to explain as clearly as possible what ‘thinking’ really means, point out the differences between ‘thinking’ and ‘worrying’ and how you can tell the one from the other
What Exactly Is THINKING?
“Thought is action in rehearsal”
– Sigmund Freud
According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary, ‘thinking’ means the use of the mind to consider something; to form connected ideas; to try to solve problem[s]. It also means; to have ideas, words or images in your mind; to intend something; to have a plan about something.
So, ‘thinking’ can be defined as the art of using the mind to generate ideas, find solutions to problems and to formulate a plan or strategy for implementing the ideas or solutions generated. Put succinctly, thinking is the art of creating answers or solutions to existing problems. It involves primarily the use of the mind, which means ‘thinking’ cannot be seen, but imagined; it can’t be touched, because it’s invincible.
Thinking is regarded as an ‘ART’ and not an ‘ACT’; because it’s only after thinking that we discover the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ to do. That is; the knowledge of ‘what’ to do and ‘how’ to do is derived from thinking. So, it’s not an action in itself, but has the potential to produce an action or course of action. The art [inspiration] of thinking produces an act [action].
Thinking going by its definition has mainly two objectives.
- Firstly, to generate ideas or find solutions to existing problems, and
- Secondly, to formulate the generated ideas or solutions into plans or strategies that can be implemented.
Combining these two objectives, the essence of thinking is to birth new ideas or find solutions to existing problems and converting the ideas generated or solutions found into workable plans. This is the sole essence of thinking; anything short of these two is another exercise, the opposite of thinking known as worrying. If after thinking you are unable to draw up a plan of action based on the ideas or solutions you generated, then you’ve just finished ‘worrying’ and have not been thinking.
THINKING vs WORRYING
“Worry is like rocking a chair – it gives you something to do but won’t take you anywhere.”
– Unknown Author
Worrying is “thinking” aimlessly; not having a definite purpose or objective in mind. It’s focusing on a problem and all its negative attributes rather than focusing on possible solutions. When you worry, you keep going round a particular problem and never being able to arrive at any possible solution.
You think of all the other things associated with a problem, except its solution. Rather than looking beyond the problem to arrive at a possible solution, ‘worrying’ looks inside the problem so that it can come up with any suitable explanation.
Thinking leaves you motivated, inspired, eager and refreshed; worrying leaves you depressed, de-motivated, sorrowful, and angry with yourself. Thinking is searching for options and solutions; worrying is searching for excuses and explanations. Thinking liberates – it sets your passion loose, it ignites your creativity. Worrying depresses – it shuts down all your creativity, weakens your passion and awakens all your negative emotions.
Thinking is productive, it’s an attempt to generate answers or solutions to problems and not an attempt to create more problems or find excuses for the existing ones. While thinking aims at finding a way out of a problem, worrying tries to find a way to justify the problem by putting the blame on something or someone else.
Thinking is progressive; it leads forward and gives you a new direction. It focuses on lessons learnt from mistakes made; it’s ever ready to accept corrections. It’s projective – opens up new ways.
Worrying is regressive; it always leads backward trying to justify your present condition or situation. It’s starting with the things you cannot do or have limited resources to do. Worrying is refusing to change; doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result.
It’s thinking about the ‘good old days’. Worrying focuses mainly on one’s weaknesses, keeping records of all the things one is unable to get, the things you don’t have. It’s playing the blame game; “if only this …, then ……. That”.
Worrying is not the same as thinking. To ‘think’ means to birth, generate ideas or solutions and to draw up plans or strategies for implementation. ‘Worry’ on the other hand, is focusing on a problem and all the unpleasant things surrounding that problem. Thinking is the deliberate use of the mind to achieve a specific end; this end could either be;
- A generated idea or solution and
- A formulated plan or strategy.
This implies that the ‘art of thinking’ always has a specific agenda it wants to accomplish; it’s never an exercise in futility. Each time you think, at the back of your mind there’s always a set aim or objective you want to accomplish, this could be a pressing problem or need.
So, thinking is the medium through which you work out the ideas or solutions and formulate plans or strategies that can be implemented to accomplish your desired aim or objective.
Thinking as a rule, must always yield a solution and not just a conclusion. A solution is a way out of a problem; a conclusion is an explanation for a problem. Within every problem lies both a difficulty and a possibility; thinking is searching for the possibilities while worrying is searching for the difficulties.
This is what clearly differentiates thinking from worrying; because the former produces a course of action [solution], while the later finds a reason for inaction [conclusion].
There are two ways to tell whether you’ve been thinking or worrying.
- First, by asking yourself this; “what exactly am I focusing on, the problem or a solution”? If your focus is totally on the problem; then you are worrying, but if your focus is on finding a possible solution; then you are thinking.
For example, if a person’s problem is that he doesn’t have a job, ‘thinking’ would be to search for a possible solution – “how can I get a job?” while ‘worrying’ would be to try to justify the situation – “why is it so hard to get a job?”. The emphasis here is on result, what exactly do you want, a solution to the problem or an explanation for the problem.
- The second way to tell whether you’ve been thinking or worrying is by looking at your mood. If you’ve been thinking, you will feel very excited, uplifted and energized, you will have a strong urge to immediately implement the ideas or solutions you’ve been able to generate.
And if you’ve been worrying on the other hand, then the opposite is the case. You’ll feel weak, upset, downcast and self pity will immediately set in. Rather than generating ideas or solutions, you’d have succeeded in creating more issues to brood over.
The bottom-line is this; Thinking is reasoning with the mind; worrying is reasoning with the heart; one is rational, the other emotional. I’ll conclude with this beautiful quote by Denis Waitley, I think it’s a perfect summary;
“Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer”.
Are you thinking or worrying? What lessons did you pick from reading this and how are you going to implement those lessons to solve your business challenges as an entrepreneur?
Can’t wait to hear from you, share your thoughts and comments below!