How to Engage in Blue Sky Thinking When It’s Raining

How do we plan in a time of complete turmoil and uncertainty? That’s the question most of us are asking in this year of unprecedented change. One thing we know won’t work is pulling out last year’s plan and updating it. So, what will?


For my hybrid work team, the secret ingredient for 2021 growth planning is Blue Sky Thinking.


What? That’s crazy, right? We need to focus on recovery and crisis management, don’t we?


Of course. Shoring up your defenses is needed for business continuation. But it won’t get you to what’s next. Blue Sky Thinking will. Blue Sky Thinking is that attitude of optimism that looks into the universe and sees endless possibilities.


The “What if? Why Not? Can we? Will we?” questions that drive Blue Sky Thinking can boost creativity and energy for you as the business owner and leader and for your entire team. Now is the time to consider wild and crazy ideas that just might open the door to your next big marketing campaign or new product development.


Optimism! Like laughter, optimism delivers  real health benefits that strengthen teams and bottom lines. Your team needs the confidence right now to look beyond the rain and see the rainbow.


Here are seven steps for engaging in Blue Sky Thinking for your 2021 growth planning.


  1. Review the fundamentals: your core strengths; your solid and enduring successes; your team; your resources and capabilities.
  2. Don’t focus too much on COVID impacts. Focusing on COVID will limit your thinking and likely cause you to miss emerging opportunities. Also, too much is unknown to make predictions about the full impacts meaningful. Instead, use the successes and failures of the past six months as guardrails to future expectations.
  3. Look at COVID as an opportunity that you didn’t see coming six months ago. Evaluate the changes that have happened in your industry. What’s needed now that wasn’t before? How can your business serve that need?
  4. Create a flexible framework rather than a specific action plan for 2021. A framework allows you to adjust your plan within your capabilities and resources and to pivot when necessary.
  5. Reevaluate your mission statement. Your business has changed this year. Does your mission statement reflect where you are going? Re-crafting your mission statement with an eye toward where you are going next will infuse energy and enthusiasm into your 2021 plan.
  6. Consider the big leap. What if you could enter a new market? Completely redesign your product line? Buy out a competitor? What would it take? How would you do it?
  7. Enlarge your world view and include (DEI) diversity, equity, and inclusion steps in your planning efforts. What business practices changes do you need to make to better include people of all ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, abilities, and ages in your product development, hiring and business operations?

If you need help facilitating a Blue Sky Thinking session for your team, contact me here.


Growth in Crisis

Coronavirus. Stock Market plunge. Presidential Elections. It’s a drumbeat of panic that is quickly becoming a self-fulling prophecy. In the here and now it’s tempting to keep your head down, focus on the day to day and wait for the storm to pass. That’s one option.


Another option is to face the turbulence head on, pilot through it and land safely and profitably on the other side. If that’s the course you’ve chosen to take, here are four steps to help you get there.


Be Proactive. Get out in front of any concerns that your customers and employees might be having. Not sure what to say? Gather your leadership team and brainstorm the list and then rather than wait for them to call you reach out and call them. Let customers and employees know you’re on it. The big guys are doing it. I’ve gotten emails from SWA, Lyft and Target among many others sharing their new processes for coronavirus. Small businesses can too. A personal message from the business owner with specifics is a great start.


Be Creative. I don’t know of a better antidote to anxiety and overwhelm than stepping back and letting those creative juices flow. Think about your product or service. What could you do today to make it easier for your customers to buy or use your services? Think about your customers. What could you do today to make their lives easier or better now? We always like things to be easier or faster and never more than when we are under stress.


Be Bold. It’s tempting to go dark now with your marketing or sales activities. You have your hands full. Resist the temptation. Let people know you are out here and working. Be reassuring. Dig deep. Recall and reiterate your corporate values to your customers and your employees. Express them confidently and strongly. Send that message out through your sales team. Remind your people of what you’ve accomplished together and are still focused on to help them and theirs. Get that message out across all your direct and social channels.


Remember life goes on. People still need you and what you have. Consider in this environment who else might need it and reach out to them. Your product or service may be their lifeline.

Turmoil and tumult will test your resolve. It will give you pause for thought and, could if you let it, stunt your company’s growth. But it doesn’t have to. You can grow stronger through the crisis.

Six Growth Maximizers for Scaling Your Business

Gaining traction. Scaling up. Maximizing business value. Whatever your definition of business growth is, investing in these six proven business accelerators is bound to make a difference.

We call them Market Fuel Strategies because they are designed to bring new energy to your business operations and increased profit to your bottom-line.

In hundreds of client engagements across the past 15 years, I have found that these six factors, when planned for, can have a dramatic impact on company, product and customer success.

As you consider these six accelerators, ask yourself:
1) How well are we doing today in this area?
2) Where do we want to be this time next year?
3) What is it going to take to get us there?

There’s a lot to unpack here so let’s look at each in detail. Today, we take a deep dive into product/service fuel. Over the next few weeks we will examine the rest of these six business accelerators and offer ideas on how to make them work better for your business.

Product Fuel

Your product fuel is driven by these three attributes:
• Product Strength: the marketability of your product/service based on the benefits and features that you offer to your customers.
• Competitive Strength: capabilities which enable you to take advantage of new market potential in competitive situations.
• Customer Strength: the match between your product results and your customer’s needs and wants. This drives market penetration.

Think of these as the lens from which to evaluate your product/service success.

Here’s a tool to help you determine the competitive and market strengths of your products and services. The key question is listed across the top. Examples are product strength features to consider. Add your own!

First, list the product or service’s top three strengths. You can determine that by answering a simple question: Why do customers choose your product over the alternative? The top three reasons are, from a market perspective, your top strengths.

Second, consider your competitive strength from two angles: 1) List your competitive advantages (product features, service practices, pricing, delivery, etc.); 2) consider your market opportunity: how many customers who could buy this product or service are actually buying it?

State as a percentage from 1% to 100%. The difference between your number and 100% is your market penetration opportunity.

Third, consider your customer strength by your ability to sell more of your product or service to additional customers (upsell) and new customer or market types you might be able to reach.

Once you have completed this snapshot, you should have a pretty good answer to the first and second accelerator questions: How well are we doing today in this area? Where do we want to be this time next year?

The third question – what is going to take to get us there? That’s all about resources: time, money, tool and talent. What resources do you have in your company to address the challenge and what do you need to get?

What’s the next step? Consider these:

• Where you are strong but not well known in the market, the accelerator step is most likely a new marketing or sales program.

• Where you are weak, especially competitively, the accelerator step is most likely product improvements or new product development.

Innovation, Future Thinking Shines at TechEdge 2019

The strength, vibrancy and innovation of Sacramento’s tech community was in full motion at the 2019 TechEdge conference held yesterday at the Sheraton Grand hotel. The event featured speakers from across the technology ecosystem from startup founders to investors and technology leaders such as Uber and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Of particular note was the lively discussion on the Future of Mobility with panelists CSUS’ Yvonne Harris, Uber’s Austin Heyworth, Arien Orchard of SMUD and AWS’ Phil Silver. Key takeaways included the need for universities to better prepare students for opportunities in mobility-related jobs, the special mobility challenges of disadvantaged communities, and the value of data sharing between public and private entities to better understand how to align mobility options and population needs. The panel noted the technology sweet spot for Sacramento technology companies is in component manufacturing and automation testing.

Four innovative Game Changer companies were recognized for their growth in the region.

• Engage3 provides an omni-channel competitive intelligence SaaS platform, MissionControl™, that improves CPG companies’ competitive visibility and maximizes their ROI.
• NeuroVision Imaging is focused on delivering a novel and breakthrough measurement of retinal autofluorescence.
• Rhombus Systems offers next generation video security powered by AI and computer vision, through centralized cloud management. The video surveillance system eliminates servers, hard drives and bulky hardware.
• Thinci provides hardware and data infrastructure for AI applications, optimizing machine learning workflows, and using AI to power the next generation of smart devices from drones and automobiles to smart cities and homes.

In addition to the Future of Mobility, innovation topics included:

• StartUp Funding
• New Media Technology
• The intersection of Sports, Business, Gaming and Technology
• Exploring the World of IoT
• How Government is Fostering Innovation through Technology
• The Future of Medical Technology
• AGtech in the Region

It’s great to see the Sacramento region come together to celebrate and learn about our vibrant technology sector.