Have you heard the saying “Thinking outside the box”?
It has been used so much over the years by business gurus and management consultants that it has almost become a cliché along with “pushing the envelope” and “blue-sky thinking” all ways of saying, “let’s think about this from another angle.“ And entrepreneurs have been doing these years before all the fancy phrases came into being.
One of the best examples of this way of thinking is that of the Michelin brothers, makers of tyres for motor vehicles. The brothers began making their tyres at the end of the nineteenth century and were initially fairly successful, too successful as it turned out.
In 1900, there were only about three thousand cars in the whole of France and the owners of these cars did not use them enough to wear the tyres out. To make matters worse the tyres the Michelin brothers made were top quality and unless people started using their cars, the tyres were not going to be replaced fast enough for them to continue their business.
The Michelin brothers knew they had to come up with some original thinking before they lost their tyre business.
So they sat down and weighed up their options.
The first option to be discounted was reducing the quality of their tyres. An option they knew would be counter-productive, even in the early years of the twentieth-century people knew the importance of protecting their brand.
Another option I can only imagine may have crossed their minds, was building their own cars, a sure way of creating demand for their product, but possibly beyond the resources available to them.
They knew they had to come up with an idea to make their customers use their cars more and, therefore, wear the tyres out faster than they were.
The answer they came up with was the Michelin Guide.
Yes, the Michelin Guide, now world famous as a guide to all the best restaurants in the world, and dispenser of the coveted Michelin Star was originally created to help the Michelin brothers sell their tyres.
The early versions of the guide contained car care tips and maps with reviews and descriptions of the best restaurants and hotels plus places of interest that could be driven to. It also contained advice on how to change a tyre (Michelin of course.)
The guide was created to encourage people to use their car and wear their tyres out.
It is highly unlikely the brothers Michelin sat down and said “let’s think outside the box on this one” or “it needs some blue sky thinking” when faced with the problem of diminishing sales. It is more likely they said, “Let’s think of something to increase demand for our tyres” (although they would have said it in French.)
But, whatever they said, the idea they came up with turned their small business into a multi-million-pound global corporation.
And it is this kind of original thinking that could help small businesses experiencing the same static or diminishing sales the Michelin brothers experienced over a hundred years ago.
If you are faced with the same problem as they faced, then you need to take a leaf out of their book.
What can you do?
Thinking outside the box should not be as hard as some people make it sound. To get some ideas to boost your flagging sale you could do a number of things.
Look outside of your industry and see what other people have added to their businesses to help create a demand for their product.
Share your ideas and get some feedback from friends or business colleagues. I am convinced that all the great thinkers must have asked someone what they thought of a particular idea. Sometimes a mediocre idea turns into a great one when another person adds something to it.
If all else fails just free your mind to wander wherever it wants to go. Involve yourself in non-business related pastimes. Read a book on art or politics; go for a walk, anything that will take your mind away from your problem. You may find a great idea pops into your head when you are thinking about something else. Who knows what the Michelin Brothers were thinking about when they came up with the Michelin Guide?
Remember thinking outside the box, pushing the envelope and blue-sky thinking are just fancy terms for original thought.
Once you have created your original thought, you can call it anything you like.
What have you done recently to think outside the box?