Once those rabbits jump, you need to figure out if the ones you have a shot at are going to make much of a meal. The danger of firing first is that you can get caught up in the hunt and lose sight of your objective. All that initial shooting is just to show you what’s out there. After you get some action, you must have the discipline to decide: which rabbit do I go for? Imagine yourself as a stealthy lion focused on one zebra and one zebra only. You’re ready to pounce and start chasing that one zebra. It’s the same with your rabbits. You need to focus on just one or two, rather than running all over the field after every last one. Simultaneously chasing them all is a surefire way to go home empty handed. Interestingly, the skill that it took to find the opportunities is the exact opposite mindset needed to transform one into success. It’s time to Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire!
I know another young, idea-rich entrepreneur whose ability to stumble across ideas initially fascinated me. He would think up a dozen different ventures at the drop of a hat and start to build one up a little. If another great idea didn’t take its place, he’d soon get bored and jump on the next big thing. This is the “a rabbit, a rabbit, a rabbit!” syndrome. He bounced from opportunity to opportunity but never exerted enough focused energy to make even one of his ideas fruitful.
One of my business associates uses an analogy to describe this that I love. Imagine that you are standing in front of four different soda machines. To get a soda out, you have to put four quarters in. It so happens that you have exactly four quarters. You approach the first machine, put a quarter in and hit the soda button. Nothing happens. You get frustrated and leave the machine, going to the next machine to stick in another quarter. You continue the pattern until you’ve dumped four quarters in four different soda machines.
Only then does it hit you—you’ve expended all your means and you’re still thirsty! So many people put their four quarters in four separate soda machines, then stand there pounding on the door and wondering why the soda isn’t coming out. If you want to drink from the deep, refreshing well of entrepreneurship, you must put enough focused energy at the right time into one soda machine.
I remember one really great quarters-and-soda machines moment. I was working at Mitsubishi Electric with a team that developed motherboards. Competition in the market was intense. To make its way through the thick underbrush, the team quickly investigated the market using the trusted Fire, Fire, Fire, Aim method. Ten to fifteen opportunities jumped up immediately, but some proved more valuable as we examined each rabbit. Even so, I recall how painful it was to mentally transition to the Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire mindset with all that plentiful game hopping around, just begging to be shot. However difficult it was to leave some of the rabbits behind, it was a critical transition.
More rabbits were to come. Through the team’s investigations, they wisely discovered a niche and established some barriers. It appeared that most companies were focusing on motherboards with frequent component rotation. Our team decided to target a more stable motherboard market for gear like medical apparatus, video game machines, and gambling equipment.
At the same time, Dr. Horne, my mentor and the worldwide head of Mitsubishi’s PC division, had established several strict parameters for us in accepting orders for the motherboards. Specifically, he mandated that we not accept orders unless they were at least $100,000. This was my first time in the role of general manager; while eager to earn my stripes, I wasn’t mature in the GM role. Although I agreed to the limit, I found it difficult, as our shooting had turned up plenty of smaller prey.
It frustrated me to no end that I had to let a number of lower contracts go by. How would we ever sell anything? Suddenly, my dismay quickly turned to exuberance as we landed a seven-million-dollar-per-year deal. Dr. Horne was right: waiting for the big fish was worth it. For all of the extra effort it takes to support a smaller client, you don’t get nearly as good of a payout. If we had tried to hook all the little fish, we would still be struggling for pennies that wouldn’t have even made a dent in our eventual catch.
Porter’s Points – Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire
- It will be hard to make the move from Fire, Fire, Fire, Aim to Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire. Set a limit in the amount of firing you will do; once you have hit your limit, start aiming and pick the best ideas. Focus on only one or two.
- Always write down all of your ideas (Rich and I call this list the “parking lot”). If you reach your cease-fire limits on personal time, duration of the venture, or cash flow, you might be able to take a shot at some of your parked ideas.
- Decide right now what kind of customers and orders you will accept. What are your requirements? Visibility? Sales volume? Sustained ordering? Say “no” to those that don’t fit.