Connecting The Dots: engage in the BizDev creative process (Pt. 1)
In the previous post, I made an argument that at first glance might seem as if it contains an inherent contradiction; I argued that business development is an abstract, almost artistic endeavor, and despite that, there is a methodology to an effective business development process. A method that is constructed from three consecutive but equally important stages:
1. connecting the dots
2. validating assumptions
In this post, I hope to convince you that my argument actually makes sense, and to deconstruct the first stage of the business development process; connecting the dots.
But before we dive into the tasty goodness of this fun subject (and believe me, this is one of the most exciting subjects of our profession), let’s talk about Silicon Valley (the show, not the silicon harvesting valley in California).
The eureka moment
On the third episode, first season, of Silicon Valley there is a great subplot; while one of the companies the character of Peter Gregory invests in requests an emergency capital injection, Peter seems to ignore the presence of the representatives and is absolutely engaged in discovering Burger King:
"Have any of you ever eaten at Bur-gur King?
Well, I was just driven past one. And while I know that their market cap is $7 billion plus, I realize I am unfamiliar with their offerings. Is it popular among your peers? Is it. . . enjoyed?
And their selection consists solely of these bur-gurs of which they are presumably king [tiny laugh]?"
Later in the episode, we are taken to a journey along Peter’s thinking process – after ordering the entire menu, and spending hours of self-brainstorming, he concludes that there are sesame seeds all over the buns. These sesame seeds are primarily grown in three countries, two of which are about to experience a cicadas outbreak next year which will consume all of their sesame crops. He understands that this outbreak is about to spike the pricing of sesame from the third unaffected country. This leads him to invest in the Indonesian sesame industry, which leads to an ROI of $70 million, from which he loans $15 million to the struggling company. And they all live happily ever after.
Not only that this subplot is highly entertaining (seriously, watch it!), it also depicts a very effective business development process which teaches us how we can achieve insights by zooming-out from the micro to the macro.
There is only a small tiny problem: this is not how it works.
This scene is an excellent example of the way our culture perceives a creative problem-solving process – a lone genius contemplating a problem, connecting the dots in his or her head, until a “Eureka!” moment is reached. While in real life, this process looks almost the complete opposite.
How creativity really works
In 2015, there was a study conducted about creative idea production. It was given the not-so-creative name “Default and Executive Network Coupling Supports Creative Idea Production.” In this study the researchers, using an MRI, followed the neural connections which are activated during a creative thinking process. You can hear the bottom line of this research in these two videos by Scott Barry Kaufman, which was one of the researchers.
This research concludes that a creative process relies on three different neural networks which work simultaneously and combine the ability to focus and learn our external and immediate environment while being mindful of our internal thought process. This means that a creative process is combined from two operations that happen almost simultaneously in our brain; the first is registering and storing information, and the second is contemplating on this information and forming new neural connections.
Or in other words; our ability to soak up both relevant and irrelevant information, and then day-dream about it.
This conclusion is also explored in the book “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson. In his book, Johnson researched the history of innovation and reviewed the forming of 189 successful ideas; from the isolation of oxygen to the invention of the World Wide Web.
Johnson highlights nine factors that drive innovation, three of them express the relationship between taking in information and contemplating:
World-changing ideas generally evolve over time as slow hunches
Random connections which often happen in day-dreaming, working on other tasks, or even while sleeping – drive serendipitous discoveries
The way to facilitate serendipitous connections is a matter of simultaneously introducing ideas from different disciplines into the consciousness
The other factors which drive innovation, according to Johnson, are connected to the environmental conditions and the prerequisites which allow ideas to form. This is not a book summary so I won’t elaborate on each factor (and I highly recommend that you’ll read the book), but in general, the thesis is that Ideas form through networks and collaborations. The author shows how collaborations made some of the most significant achievements, and even the so-called “solo geniuses” were part of a network of people or in a social environment that allowed them to share thoughts and get their ideas fertilized by other’s minds.
So, assuming you agree with me that the first step in any business development process is coming up with an idea about what opportunities your business needs to explore, and that now you understand the theory behind the process of connecting the dots – let’s get practical.
The business development network
Let’s start with the foundation – the idea provoking network.
When organization leaders consult with me about the formation of a business development entity, Usually, they plan to start with a single business development manager and expand the team according to the manager’s effectiveness. For the exact reasons I mentioned above, my advice is to construct a business development team from the beginning, if possible.
Ideas need minds and different perspectives to bounce off from, that’s why teams are always more effective than individuals. A classic case of a whole which is bigger from the sum of its parts.
How big should the team be? It depends on how many products the company offers, and in how many domains does the company operate. We are talking about a team, so the minimum is two. Also, you don’t want the team to be too big because then it won’t be productive, but sometimes there is a need, and then the team will be segmented into units with different areas of responsibility.
I believe that the most effective units are teams of three. There can (and should) be a hierarchy in the group, but the mindset of the individuals should be that they operate as colleagues who have a different area of responsibility; A team leader, an analyst, and an executioner. It’s important to note that this is merely areas of responsibility and not the actual work of the individuals in the team. I already mentioned in the previous post that the business development team should operate like a startup within the organization; so everyone in the team needs to do, or at least be part of, everything. This ensures the most fruitful collaborations and promises that everyone has the most relevant and updated information.
If you are a solo business development gunslinger, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get your dots connected. You simply need to be more mindful.
Your networks don’t have to be people who work with you or trying to solve the same problem, but you do have to build or join networks that will support your creative process. Join Facebook groups and forums which deal with business development and/or entrepreneurship, and engage in them actively. Go to meet-ups. Be part of the local eco-system. Share your thoughts with friends and family (even if you think they don’t care). Bounce ideas of your colleges, even if they know nothing about BizDeving. And if your workspace doesn’t serve as a useful network, work from coffee shops and shared workspaces part of the time (but not all of it, you need to have friction with the business you are developing).
You will find the social environments that will encourage your creative process, just remember to maintain them and engage with them actively.