Our executive sponsor at a long-time client used to start off every Grassroots Strategy session by telling the teams to put a jar in the middle of their table and every time someone mentioned the word ‘product’ they had to put $5 in it. She told them that she was sure that every team would be able to throw a pretty good party by the end of the week with the money they collected. Her point was that they needed to focus on the customer and the problems that they could solve for customers rather than on their product. Professor Theodore Levitt said it best decades ago when he said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”
In 1759, Arthur Guinness leased a disused brewery in Dublin and began producing beer for the local market. Like most brewers of his time, he produced a variety of beers to meet a variety of tastes. But by the late 1770’s, Guinness was becoming known for his porter. The dark beer that used roasted barley to produce a deep brown color and rich complex aroma had become quite popular, especially among the dockhands in Dublin. In 1799, faced with a shortage of capacity, Guinness made the bold decision to discontinue production of his various other ales and focus exclusively on the porter – the beer we know today as Guinness Stout.
This historical tale underscores one of the most powerful and difficult challenges of strategy – focus.
Frequently, we are asked to tailor our ‘Grassroots Strategy’ workshops to serve as training for product managers. Typically, the identified need is a lack of strategic thinking and/or tools for analyzing markets in a company’s product manager group. Beneath the surface, however, we believe that the problem may run deeper. The problem may be grounded in the very definition of what a product manager is and therefore what the rest of the organization expects from them.
We are asked from time to time if our ‘Grassroots Strategy’ framework applies in the nonprofit world. After some reflection and a couple of attempts to make it work, we are convinced that it does work. However, we have come to realize that nonprofits frequently need to add an additional step at the beginning of their strategy discussions.