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.


Innovation is your Crisis Protection Plan

Crisis management gets a bad rap. The phrase conjures up pictures of your management team running around in chaos mode putting out fires, stuck in place, instead of casting a vision, developing a strategic plan and executing to win with a proven process. Crisis management is something every seasoned, successful management team seeks to avoid.


Except today you can’t. The combination of COVID-19 and global political and economic turmoil has created a crisis environment that every business owner, entrepreneur and executive team has to manage in and through. Crisis management is a skillset your team must acquire.


Innovation is the answer. Innovation, finding that new method, product, idea, that opens up new doors and opportunities in a time of turmoil, is your crisis protection plan. Innovation is not an activity. Innovation is a mindset.


It’s a mindset that is willing to look at every component of your business with a new perspective. It’s a mindset that questions everything, especially the tried and true. When innovation works it’s a little scary on its own. Even more so now with all the other upheavals your team is dealing with. At the same time, embracing innovation also got easier because we all know that what we are used to doing won’t work today as it has in the past.


The Octain Growth approach to the innovation mindset with clients is three-fold: identify strengths, develop a mind map and create a blueprint for implementation.


A mature software company was trapped in an aging market space with little growth potential. Several new products were suggested, none was innovative. They were all safe bets. We worked with executive team using our product fuel template and the innovation questions in our mind map to identify the best ROI-based options. With stakeholder agreement, the choice was narrowed to one—launch an upgrade in new market space which opened a new geographic market, changed the company’s competitive position and drove new sales growth of 24% in first the 12 months following the launch.

Assessing your strengths

Ready to innovate? Here’s the first step: A quick checklist for assessing the competitive and market strengths of your product or services. Consider how you can use these strengths to innovate better in the remote worker economy.

Map your possibilities

It’s time to blue sky how you might rethink, reinvent and innovate your products and services for the remote economy. The mind map of What’s Next is the secret sauce. Here’s mine to get you started. This mind map was created in Whimsical.


Note the four categories:

  • Improve – How can you make your product/service easier to use, more affordable or faster to get customer results?
  • Extend – How can you expand your product/service capabilities or customer reach?
  • Reinvent – How can your product/service solve a related problem or serve another customer group?
  • Innovate – What can you do to push the boundaries of your current product/service focus and limitations? What’s the one crazy thing you can do (may seem impossible today) to better serve your market and customers?


Each of these categories requires a new perspective and a willingness to step beyond your current activity. Which one are you willing to step into today?


It’s critical to get all company stakeholders from executive management to customer service involved in the creation on your corporate mind map. Capture all ideas first without debate and then prioritize your wish list according to time, talent and resources available.


Blueprint the implementation

Once your mind map is complete, you’ll need to create a blueprint that takes you from the ideation to the actualization of your goals.


Octain has a proven process for delivering results from innovation especially in today’s remote economy and the global turmoil we are enduring. We’d love to chat with you now.


For more on how your company can Make Remote Work, download the ebook.


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.

Turn Competitive Info into Cash


There’s information gold in knowing what your competitors are doing and how they’re doing it. The trick is finding it and then knowing what to do with it.

Most of us know in general who our competitors are and what products and services they offer. But too often we don’t know much more than that or if we do know we may not be using the information as effectively as we could to improve sales, marketing and customer service operations.

This is where a new focus on competitors, called Competitive Marketing can help. When you focus more specifically and directly on what your competitors are doing and how well they are doing it, you gain the competitive advantage.

Done well, Competitive Marketing means you can almost predict what your competitors are going to do next and convert that information into cash.

Know Them

A strong Competitive Marketing plan includes these ten elements.

  1. Competitor name and general background information
  2. Corporate Team Background
  3. Products and Services
  4. Market Strength and Presence
  5. Branding/Message/Customer Focus
  6. Customer Loyalty Index
  7. Pricing
  8. Product Trends and Directions
  9. Lead Sources/Win-Loss Analysis
  10. SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

Beat Them

If this sounds a lot like competitive research or analysis, you’re right. The difference between competitive analysis and Competitive Marketing is what you do with what you know.

Competitive research gathers the data, competitive analysis draws conclusions and provides recommendations, Competitive Marketing turns that information into better, more effective sales and marketing tools. Tools that result in your company’s ability to:

  • Win more sales deals
  • Arm internal customer champions with competitive facts
  • Give customer confidence in their choice of product/service
  • Train new sales reps
  • Provided a better customer experience
  • Improve strategic planning
  • Accelerate new product development

Competitive Marketing is an emerging new area of marketing that entrepreneurs, marketers and business owners can use to create tools to leverage their company strengths and protect against their weaknesses. To know your competitors is to beat them at their own game.







What’s Your Social Business Personality?

How you show up in your social communities matters. It matters a lot. Your personality probably shows up naturally in your personal social media interactions. But what about your business?

Global corporations spend millions creating “personalities” to represent their businesses. Personalities like “Flo” from Progressive Insurance or the AFLAC duck or even good ole “Tony the Tiger” from yester-year.

Your business has a personality too. Especially when it comes to social business. Your personality is more than just a way of connecting, it has an impact on the kind of content you deliver, the kind of connections you make, and how people will do business with you and refer you.

It’s that important.

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Is Your Content a Little Tyrant?

We all know that content is king but what do you do when your “content king” turns into a little tyrant? What happens to your marketing campaigns when content becomes an end in itself instead of a means to the end of connecting you to your customers?

Content becomes a tyrant when it drives the message instead of amplifying the message, the vision or the story. It becomes a tyrannical beast when the end goal of your content production is meeting a content quantity goal or due date instead of providing valuable educational, inspirational or practical insights.

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