(This originally appeared on my Blogspot site.)
I will freely admit up-front that I know little, if anything about businesses, startups or even management – except for the kinds of work environments and management styles I prefer to be an employee of/in/for.
Having said that, your article on the Phoenix principal reminded me of Crayola. I’m not SURE it’s a good example, mind you, which is why this is a letter and not a comment. Crayola might be something entirely different and perhaps worthy of it’s own essay.
In my mind, the starting point is “what does Crayola do?” – well, they make crayons. Everyone knows that. As far as market diversity, “everyone knows” that they make different sized boxes of crayons, and that they’ve branched out into washable markers. They probably get some revenue from supplying those small 3- or 4-crayon packs to resturants. After that, there’s not much to say, right?
Take one look at their web site though, and the whole theory is blown out of the water. This isn’t a crayon company. This isn’t even an art-supply company. Crayola sells artistic inspiration, and sells it specifically to (or at least for) the one market that is universally – to the last person – open to the idea that they themselves are imminently talented artists. Kids.
What really got me thinking about this was when my wife came home with a sidewalk paint foam sprayer.
Sprayer. For paint. That foams. On your driveway.
That’s about as far from waxy crayons as you can get and still be in the same solar system.
Maybe I’m lionizing them and this is just good business (again, I’m not a business guy so I could be overly impressed by nothing). But it seems to be that this is a company that is thinking hard about their essential mission, and choosing not to be stopped by artificial boundaries with regard to “this is what we make”.
Relating it to IT (I think you have to do that, right?), someone once told me that Cisco bills itself (internally at least) as a software company. Not hardware, that’s just a means to an end, which is delivering the IOS (among other things) to customers. I have a few friends in Cisco now, and I’m not sure that’s really the case. But at the time it struck me as a novel way for them to look at themselves.
So that’s it, my big idea for the week. I think I’m going to go crack open that package of glow-in-the-dark finger paints and see what kind of mess I can make.