Celebrating the oddballs
“If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” George. S. Patton
I was running a workshop for a major international hotel chain a few years ago. They were faced with the challenge of persuading female business travellers to spend money in their restaurants rather than spending money on room service. It was more profitable downstairs. Research had told them that this segment of the market felt uncomfortable dining alone and they wanted to identify what was required to change their dining routines.
I remember one woman being interviewed by the moderator in a focus group setting. For five or six minutes, she talked somewhat aimlessly about life on the road, life in hotels, eating in and eating out, when she was asked to describe her hotel bedroom. She hesitated briefly before proudly stating that for her the bedroom was an ‘oasis of pleasure’!
The moderator stopped looking at her notes, looked up inquisitively and then asked her to explain what she meant. The woman went on to say that she was married with three young kids, home was a hectic place, and she positively looked forward to spending an evening or two away on business. The moderator asked her to be more specific. The woman continued by saying that the highlight of her day was going up to her hotel room, ordering room service, enjoying a glass of wine, watching a movie or two. No screaming kids, no needy husband! Bliss.
The powerful insight that emerged transformed the business challenge. Instead of trying to encourage women to spend more in the hotel restaurants, they would now concentrate on making the in-room experience even more pleasurable and idyllic than it already was.
The moderator demonstrated three qualities of a great Spotter:
1. Always be on the lookout for the slightly unusual.
Something or somebody that goes against the grain. There could be something really interesting lurking underneath.
2. Once you have stumbled across the unusual, have the courage to stick with it and explore further.
Another moderator might well have heard the phrase ‘oasis of pleasure’, smiled and moved on to the next question. Opportunity missed.
3. In the process of digging, be on the lookout for the Ka-ching moment, the sound of a till register!
The moment when you realise you are on to something commercially interesting. All digging does not always lead to the gold, but you cannot afford to miss out when you hit a rich seam.
In his book, The Rare Find, Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, Pulitzer Prize – winning editor, George Anders describes the story of Evan Priestly. He had changed his college major three times before dropping out of college altogether. He started a job as a junior web designer, working for a small company, based in Portland (USA) called Me. His CV and credentials were unimpressive to say the least. He then answered a programming puzzle that Facebook had publicized over the internet and the company were so taken aback by the quality of his response that they invited him to Palo Alto for further interviews. Despite his uninspiring background, they hired him and he went on assume to legendary status at Facebook, leading a team of engineers to fast forward all aspects of the company’s infrastructure.
This story demonstrates the same three qualities of a great Spotter, this time in a different environment: Firstly, don’t skip past something simply because it doesn’t fit the norm. Secondly, once you have found it, embrace it, explore it, give it a chance to thrive and survive. Thirdly, evaluate its potential and be prepared either to grab it or leave it in the graveyard of oddballs that never quite made the light of day.
“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” Martin Luther King