Which is worse? Sunk cost, or sinking your whole business?

Sinking ship Pendleton
We see startups and “stay ups” all the time, reaching a point where their costs are escalating as they work to get their product or service to market. Sometimes the issue is insufficient validation at the early stages. Other times, it can be that new information comes to light that wasn’t previously available – and it is a complete game-changer. The trouble arises when there has already been significant investment in taking the current route. Those sunk costs make it incredibly expensive reverse the engines or take a new tack. 


At times like that, it’s helpful to think of the current way forward as a metaphorical sinking ship. No matter how much you’ve invested, you’re better to get out with your life (and that of your product or service), than to hang on because of your sunk costs.

If you’ve sunk a lot of time and effort into your business, and evidence is making the way forward less evident, rather than clearer, we’re here to help.

We’re Megann and Steve Willson, and we’re the Founders and Partners of PANOPTIKA. We’ll work with you and your team to help you see everything you need to know to make better business decisions. You can find us on social media, too – on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Sign up for our weekly news before the next issue drops on Friday afternoon, using the orange button, and learn what else we’re learning by working with B2B customers around the world.


How’s your oatmeal doing?

​When was the last time you sat down and had a long talk with your oatmeal?
To those who’ve been around a while, this might remind them of a John Prine song…

But the point I’m trying to get at is: “What is the job your oatmeal is doing for you?”
If it’s a cold day, your oatmeal is warming you for the long day ahead.
If you had a too fun, late night, your oatmeal is settling your stomach, so you can reset your head.

Maybe oatmeal reminds you of those carefree mornings in the kitchen with your Grandmother.Or perhaps it’s helping you lower your cholesterol so you can increase the chances that you’ll meet your own grandchildren.

So if a simple product such as oatmeal can do all these jobs, and more…what jobs do people need your product to do?  And how can you use that understanding to develop long-term, profitable, customer relationships?
We’d like to help, and maybe even give you a legal smile!

Kudos to Clayton Christensen for introducing me to the concept of jobs your products do in his book: “The Innovator’s Dilemma”

The Wisdom of The (Right) Crowd…



Crowdsourcing is a fantastic way to get ideas, feedback, information, and synergistic thinking. As long as you’re hanging with the right crowd. 

Thinking carefully about who needs to be in the room for your sprint, who should be invited to respond to your survey, or whose opinion will really make a difference when you are interviewing experts for a report, has never been more important.

If you need help deciding who to ask, poll, invite, or share your concept with, just ask. We do that.

3 ways targeting will help you build a better product

Target with arrows
Last week was jam-packed with events! We had a great time at one of them, watching startups, students, facilitators and generally-interested folks collaborate to come up with new ideas to help a young business grow and flourish. Everything was going swimmingly, until we heard this: 

“The first iteration of our product has had a great response and excellent feedback. With release 2 we hope to find out who our target market is.”

SCREEEEEEEEECH! What’s wrong with this picture? We love to work with growing companies, helping them develop and build their business model and validate their canvas. Getting them to ship their MVP (minimum viable product) instead of adding every possible feature all at once is exciting! Can you imagine our disappointment when we hear words that mean, “We came up with a solution to a problem, or helped a customer do a job that needs doing…but we don’t know who that customer is”?

If you’ve got a product or a prototype, and you haven’t yet validated that there are customers, and who those customers are, you’re investing an awful lot of effort in something that may never fly. Wouldn’t you rather have a product that really does “sell itself”, because it:

  1. Is just what your customer needs?
  2. Has a customer who is already looking for a solution, and is willing to pay?
  3. Adds value in some way that other solutions don’t?

If you’re worried that your latest product or service has gotten off on the wrong foot, and is flying around in search of a customer, we can help you figure out who the customer is, or isn’t, and validate that they want what you’re selling. Moreover, let’s put together your Value Proposition Canvas together, and get your business growing!

We’re Megann and Steve Willson, and we’re the Partners and Founders here at PANOPTIKA. If you need help to find, understand, or keep customers, and you’re a B2B (business-to-business) company, you’re in OUR target market. We’ll help you grow your business and make more money. You can find us on Twitter, on Facebook, or on LinkedIn. With a click of the orange button below this post, you can also subscribe for insights, offers, and ideas to help you see everything you need to know, to make better decisions.


Businesses with Benefits

There’s something we’ve observed as we work with business owners – whether they’re startups or seasoned entrepreneurs, growing and scaling. Especially if the product is technical, or if it is solving something that hasn’t really been solved before, the story of what it is, can quickly get derailed. 

Entrepreneurship programs have done a great job of explaining and exploring the minimum viable product. But when it comes to talking about that product (or service, for that matter), there’s a real tendency to default to describing the features. It’s easier to answer “What does it do?” with “Here’s how it works”, or “Let me describe the features that are different from X”, than to talk about the benefits. 

Just yesterday we had a chance to sit in with a great startup group in K-W, called Startup Tech Unleashed.  There was a seasoned entrepreneur, talking about his business, and giving some really helpful, useful guidance to his peers. But we couldn’t help but notice that he started his story with the features. When he got to the benefits, POW! The story came alive. We could really understand why users were interested in the product, and why the founders created it.  There was another entrepreneur, who described himself as “not even a startup yet”, who described what his product would do, but went into lots of detail about the code, how it would work, essentially, “what would go on inside”. Again, benefits were missing from the story, and the story was weaker for it. 

We love to coach businesses to do a better job of understanding their customers, their products, their services, and their story. If your team is struggling with the difference between features and benefits, we can help. Get in touch, and let’s build a customized workshop that fits your question, and your budget. 

By the way, the startup that did get to the benefit story was Coosha – a cool calendar solution – why don’t you check them out and see if they can keep YOU from double buying the refrigerator staples that your partner already picked up this afternoon. (That sounds like a benefit to us!)

We’re Megann and Steve Willson, the Partners and Founders of PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients so they can see everything they need to know to find new customers, and gain a richer understanding of the ones they already have. You can find more insights from us on Twitter, on Facebook, or LinkedIn. We also send weekly news you can use to our subscribers. Join our inner circle  by clicking the button below. 


What if we can’t come up with any ideas?

Wall with many post-it notes

Worse yet, what if we can? 

It’s a funny thing, idea generation. Once the first idea comes, it can sometimes feel like a floodgate has been opened – and it leads to another, and another. Before you know it, you’ve generated more ideas than you know what to do with. How will you ever rein them all in?

Next time, you might want to start by putting some constraints on your ideation process. Take time to frame the session with any limits that are non-negotiable:

1. We only have a thousand dollars to spend
2. There is a one-week timeline to complete the prototype
3. We have to be sure that students can complete the projects without parents’ help

Each constraint allows for a bit of sorting along the way and, surprisingly, often result in even more imaginative solutions.

That’s not the problem at hand, though, so how can you prioritize? This is where frameworks come in handy. Using something like Product Tree will let you use metaphors to narrow down that overwhelming pile of ideas. As an example, the trunk of the tree can represent the job to be done. Branches can stand for approaches, and leaves for ways of implementing that approach. Where the tree really becomes useful, is when you start looking at the roots – they’re the resources, effort, or infrastructure required to actually bring the ideas to fruition. We’ve found that getting people back down to ground level, looking at the roots, is one of the most effective ways we can think of to eliminate ideas that are not possible (or not possible for now).

Every great idea has limits – so the next time you’re planning for creativity, you may want to make life a little easier, by using a framework to establish some constraints.

We’re Megann and Steve Willson, the Partners behind PANOPTIKA. We help you see everything you need to know to make better decisions, so you can find, understand, and engage with your customers. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. If this blog was useful for you and you’d like more ideas like this, subscribe using the handy button, below.

How to make excellent decisions under pressure

We had a strategy, we assembled a great team of folks who had been successful in their prior jobs, we met on a regular basis, we used a bunch of co-working tools to foster collaboration…but we still couldn’t seem to make excellent, impactful decisions! Sound familiar? It’s hard to make excellent decisions under pressure.

We’ve been conditioned to think that make decisions is easy; after all, we make  hundreds of decisions each day.  But what we forget is that most of those are subconscious, requiring little or no functional brain power.

Making a real decision, one which affects money, people and other large-scale problems, is hard.

So, what can you do to make it easier?  The first thing we recommend is to use a framework.  Frameworks are simply a standardized method to guide you through the process of making the decision.  There are numerous advantages that flow from frameworks, but the best, we think, is that it eliminates the bickering about how you and the group are going to go about the task of decision making.  Everyone will assume that you have put hours of research into designing the process.  Well done, you!

We’ve developed a simple framework, in the form of a checklist, to help you.  Essentially you need to address five areas to make great decisions:

  1. Context
  2. Problem/Decision Definition
  3. Developing the Solution
  4. Validating with Stakeholders
  5. Making Your Plan

If you address these areas, and there are a number of questions to challenge your team in each of them, you will develop better understanding and make great decisions for you and you business.

​Please contact us for a free introductory conversation.  It may be the best decision you’ll make all day.

What happens when your change methods seem like madness?

Change is hard, especially in organizations, and many people don’t want it, or at least they don’t want the discomfort that often seems to accompany it. If you’re brought in to be an agent for change, there are typically two paths that will get you there – evolution (which feels cumbersome and slow) or revolution (which is frequently accompanied by destruction, creative or otherwise, pain, and even some suffering).

If you are in a hurry to make things happen, one cause of pain is  having the right intention, but taking action in a way that makes that action seem more sinister than necessary. How do you remove a Band-Aid? Ripping it off can be hurtful and unsettling, but taking time to prepare the team (“this might sting a little, but it’s going to heal better once we put a fresh dressing on there”) lets them in on your thinking a little, and allows them to focus on the outcome, not just the action. On the other hand, telling them everything will be painless and then making the change with a “rrrrrip!” creates distrust, confusion, and fear. Fear and confusion breed questions like:
  • Don’t they care about our feelings?
  • I didn’t see that coming! Were they being truthful when they said I didn’t have to worry?
  • If change can just happen no matter what the circumstances…what if I’m next?

As a changemaker, your instincts may tell you to get things done quickly so your initiatives don’t stall; that’s valid. Taking a little extra time to set the stage and “p-reinforce” the benefits, though, will help you fix the situation without leaving any scars.

5 Tips to Shut Down the Meeting Room Bully

Stop Bullying Now
​Have you ever been in a meeting, where one person takes over the agenda, commandeers the conversation, and virtually sucks the energy and oxygen out of the room? Sometimes you can be so taken aback, that you don’t even know how to fight. Here are some tips that may come in handy:

  1.  Stare them down. Just like when a two-year-old is throwing a tantrum. Sometimes if everyone simply stops and silently waits, the lack of attention will cut their tirade off at the knees.
  2. Circle the wagons. If they have decided to target an individual and are in attack mode, ignore the bully, but address as many supportive comments as you can to the targeted person.
  3. Keep your buts to yourself. “But” is a signal that you’re not listening, just waiting to interject. It is the same tactic the bully may use. Instead, try “I hear you, and I also think…” 
  4. Take another way home. Sometimes you can’t shut the bully down, but you can work around them and isolate the path to your goal from their negative influence. Eventually they will get the message, or sulk off to their own corner.
  5. The last one, we credit to Megann’s grandfather. Don’t start a fight,  but if they do, stand up for yourself and fight to win. Then walk away.

If you have some boardroom bullies, some negative nitwits, or scared smarties in your office, you may also enlist the help of a professional facilitator. We’d be happy to help.

I’m Megann Willson, and together with my Partner, Steve Willson, we’re PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to see everthing they need to know (and nothing extraneous) about their customers so they can grow their businesses and make more money. You can find us here, or if you like the blog but forget to check in, you can subscribe. You can also find us on Twitter, or Facebook, or LinkedIn. Did you find this useful? We’d be grateful if you’