When the going gets tough, the tough get…creative. With the economy still gasping to catch its breath, survival is top priority for many business and organizational leaders or those looking to start up. Struggling to just keep your head above water in turbulent economic waters can be terrifying, but it pays to heed the age-old advice of “Don’t panic!” People still need products and services, and my guess is you’ve got a great one. How do we get it into the hands of the right people?
Increased sales, more customers or a new business altogether… sounds good, right? It is good and the even better news is that salvation is in reach of those with even the most modest of resources and it’s not difficult.
How do you grow your business during trying times? By using a method of thinking called effectuation. Scrappy entrepreneurs are often credited with being sharp effectual thinkers, but this nimble, bob-and-weave approach to growth can also benefit established companies, especially under tough circumstances. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
“OK, but what is effectuation? This sounds like something I need, stat.” you implore.
Effectuation involves using available resources in creative ways to reach a goal, iterating on strategy (and sometimes the goal itself) as the landscape and competition changes and doing all this with minimal risk (think car sharing via Zipcar instead of buying a new BMW). In contrast, causal thinkers make plans and struggle to stick to them for better or worse, which means they may be missing out on unforeseen opportunities.
Seems simple enough. For some people, this is a natural way of thinking, but for others (you control freaks out there might be nodding your heads), this is a major shift.
How about an inspiring example of effectuation? A great professor of mine used the story of U-Haul—a company you are likely familiar with—to illustrate effectual thinking in action. In 1945, Leonard and Anna Shoen scraped together U-Haul using the resources they had around them. With barely $5,000 they collected from relatives, the young couple began buying used trailers and painting them bright orange in the family garage. To maximize their purchasing power, the pair then had the brilliant idea to sell the trailers to family and friends who in turn leased the trailers back to U-Haul. This dispersing of investment (and risk) freed up capital that was then applied toward the purchase of more trailers.
Newlyweds Leonard and Anna certainly didn’t have the resources to run their own nation-wide network of dealerships, so they arranged for gas station owners to keep and rent out trailers instead. Now there’s a clever partnership. Ten years later, there were over 10,000 trailers and today the bright orange U-Haul trucks are a common sight on roads across America. Not bad with $5,000, even in 1945 dollars.
“OK,” you say, “but I’m not in the one-way trailer rental business and I don’t have $5,000. What can I do today, on a shoestring budget, to yield great results like that?”
No matter what your goal, the Internet is littered with software-as-a-service tools (that are available for little to no cost) that you can use to build and grow a business. And the big mother of them all is social media. Maybe you are happily using social media or maybe you’ve heard of it but avoid it like the plague (many people are). Regardless, with social media marketing, you get the world-wide, lightning fast reach of the internet coupled with personal recommendations made from friend to friend (also known as word of mouth marketing, which as any student of marketing will tell you, is the crème de la crème of all recommendations).
How about another, more current, example of a group using effectual thinking and social media? In May 2009, the California State Parks Foundation used a social media centered campaign to raise almost $1,000,000. Facing crippling budget cuts as the economy withered, the foundation had a goal of leveraging its tepid Facebook page with just 517 fans into a robust PR and fundraising machine with over 5,000 fans in just two weeks. To their surprise and delight, they leapt to over 33,000 fans! That’s an almost 64x increase in engagement and it paid off handsomely for both the foundation and those people that treasure our state parks. It was a win-win.
“Oh! Oh!” you say, “I NEED that!” But then you pause. Maybe you are too busy treading water right now to take on a whole new social media marketing campaign, or perhaps you don’t know a lot about social media (or even how to turn on a computer), or maybe creative thinking isn’t your strong point (sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, especially if the wolves are nipping at your feet).
Well, here is your first chance to overcome this obstacle using effectual thinking (and you haven’t even finished the article yet!): leverage your networks and ask someone for help. Maybe you have a niece or nephew who is doing a business project for school or a tech-savvy friend or relative who can pitch in or recommend someone you can talk to. Maybe you want to take the plunge and start your own social media marketing campaign (there are lots of great how-to books on the subject).
Or maybe there’s a creative, tech-savvy author whose article you just read that seems like a nice person to have on your side when the going gets rough. Or maybe you’ll pass on social media marketing, thank you very much. Either way, you can use effectual thinking to help you navigate stormy waters to calm, sunny seas.
Get scrappy. Get creative. Get going.
Have you used effectual thinking or social media marketing to grow your business or organization? If so, tell everyone about it in the comments!