Do You Need to Think Big to Win in Business or Should You Play it Safe?

I was recently in a new product idea meeting, and Greg was proposing his latest idea. Greg and I have worked together, on and off, for over 20 years, and Greg has always thought big ever since we met. Today was no different…

“This product will capture 50% of the market for this function because it is so much better than anything else out there.” Greg passionately says to the team. Greg is right. If he can design what he is proposing, we will be very successful in this product category.

Greg designs the product in what seems like a day, and he begins running simulations. Lo and behold, his new idea and architecture work just as he proposed. We are likely to win big!

Greg’s genius has always been this combination of being a theoretician who shoots for the stars and being a super-talented designer capable of reaching them. Many times he comes up short, but he wins big when he gets to within 80% or so of what he is aiming for.

And those big wins more than make up for the failures.

Believe me, Greg has had some epic failures.   In fact, the first project I ever worked on with Greg was an epic failure. It was a great idea that we just never could get to work right. The beautiful thing about Greg is he never lets these momentary – or not so momentary – setbacks stop him from thinking big.

Greg just dusts himself off, learns from his mistakes, and comes back swinging. He’s not aiming for singles. Greg wants homeruns, and so do I. That’s why I want to work with the Gregs of the world.

I have always believed that disrupting a new market means you have to be ten times better then the competition.

I have always believed that disrupting a new market means you have to be 10 times better then the competition.

Why 10 times better? Shooting for 10X improvements gives you a large margin of safety:

  • Even if you get to an 8X improvement, or 80% of what you are shooting for, you still are going to win big.
  • Even if you get a 5X improvement, or 50% of what you are shooting for, you still are going to win. Maybe you will win big.
  • Even if you get a 2X improvement, or 20% of what you are shooting for, you will likely win at some level.

What if you improve on the status quo by 20%. Well, that is just noise. Ask yourself how many times you’ve seen a new entrant claim to be 20% better then the competition?

Was it enough to get you to switch? I’ll bet it wasn’t.

It never is. Winning means dominating. Dominating takes working with people like Greg. Greg’s track record isn’t perfect – no one's is – but the home runs more than make up for the misses.

We’ve all worked with the, “I’ll just play it safe, that can’t be done designer.” Playing it safe gets you killed, though you may get to keep your job…for a bit.

One more thing about thinking big: you need an environment that allows you to think big and fail. Yes, that’s right. Your environment must allow you fail without unreasonable consequences. There is no faster way to stop innovation, creativity, and thinking big than chopping someone’s head off if they fail.

To win big you have to think big.   You have to be willing to accept that you may fail. Not everyone is built this way, and that’s okay. But, for those of us who are willing to take the risk, the reward can be really sweet.


Like what you read?  Click here for more advice for startup CEOs.

Photo: Depositphotos