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Fix It–Even If It Ain’t Broke

When something works, peoplegrow fixated on it. They stop looking for alternative options. And thisfixation creates an opportunity for those willing to reconsider the acceptedapproach. The company I introduced last week, Rosetta Stone (RST), hasn’t beensatisfied with the fact that its products work. Instead, it continues tochallenge the norm.

When something works, peoplegrow fixated on it. They stop looking for alternative options. And thisfixation creates an opportunity for those willing to reconsider the acceptedapproach. The company I introduced last week, Rosetta Stone (RST), hasn’t beensatisfied with the fact that its products work. Instead, it continues tochallenge the norm.

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In 1995, RST executivesdecided to bundle their language tool products and sell the package for $300,which was much more expensive than their competitors’ price tag of $5 to $20.If they accepted that the only way to sell language tools was throughbookstores and catalogs, like their competitors were doing, it would be almostimpossible to sell a $300 product. People are unlikely to put that much moneyon their credit cards after only reading the back cover of a box.

Recognizing this, RST had toeither give up its $300 pricing strategy or diverge from industry norms. Itdared to veer. RST headed for the mall and airports. It lined up its high-endlanguage learning software with other kiosks hocking sunglasses and hairextensions.

RST seemed perhaps a fish outof water – $300 software next to $20 sunglasses – but this is precisely what asmart strategist wants. Because the fishout of water has no other fish to contend with.

The strategy worked. RST’swell-informed sales people could walk customers through its unique product,addressing in full detail the concerns that stand between curiosity andpurchase. These kiosks also allowed the sales person to show potentialcustomers the software and process that makes RST so effective.

“We needed to open placeswhere we could demonstrate the products,” says CEO Tom Adams.  “So weopened kiosks. We bet that if we demonstrated it to 10 people, five would buy,because they’d get it.”

This pattern of taking theunorthodox path has worked for millennia. Genghis Khan used it often tosurprise his opponents. They expected he would come over the flat land, whilehe marched his men over mountains and frozen lakes to appear out of nowhere atthe back door. This approach also gave Dell a two-decade-long competitivevacuum, for others would not risk upsetting retailers to sell directly toend-users.

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RST’s kiosk strategy may keepcompetitors out of the way for a while. It may take a few years for them tocopy. But what may offer long-term value is the company’s willingness to veerfrom the orthodox path. Tom says, “If everyone is telling you not to dosomething, it is very likely the right thing to do. My theory is ‘do theopposite.’”

If this is true, if RST canmake the propensity for the unorthodox part of its DNA rather than a one-offstrategy, it may repeatedly surprise the market for years. Ask yourself thequestions below to see if you can find an uncharted path to success.

1.    What path areothers fixated on because they assume it is the right one? 

2.    What ideas do Ihave to change that approach?

3.    How can I make thingsbetter, faster and more efficient?

4. Howcan I research my ideas without spending a lot of money upfront?

About the author

Author of Outthink the Competition business strategy keynote speaker and CEO of Outthinker, a strategic innovation firm, Kaihan Krippendorff teaches executives, managers and business owners how to seize opportunities others ignore, unlock innovation, and build strategic thinking skills. Companies such as Microsoft, Citigroup, and Johnson & Johnson have successfully implemented Kaihan’s approach because their executive leadership sees the value of his innovative technique.

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