​I’d love to have my own business – if only I knew what kind of business to start!

Does this sound familiar? For me, I’m always surprised when I hear this, although I hear it over and over again. The easiest business to start is one that solves a problem, one that people will pay to have solved. Whether that’s creating delicious homemade cakes that make the person celebrating feel extra-special, to measuring air quality and helping clients to put systems in place to improve it so they can breathe better, or even providing custom home renovation services for someone with ideas but who’s all thumbs – businesses that solve problems or challenges are simply easier to sell. That’s because you don’t need to invest as much time educating the customer as to why they would want to solve that problem in the first place. They’re already actively looking for a solution!

Of course, the next step is a bit trickier: you also need to have the wherewithal to solve the problem. If you’re not a baker, or an environmental scientist, or handy with tools and building materials, none of our examples are going to be a fit for you. So what CAN you do? This is an area where mind-mapping can come in handy. The mind-map is a great tool for capturing a lot of free-flowing, uncensored ideas. Set a timer for 15 minutes – no more. This is more work than it sounds, and by then you’ll need a break from thinking. Get yourself a large piece of paper, or a white board, or a large expanse of wall and a stack of sticky notes. Start by writing down all the things you can do, that solve problems for people. Capture everything. Don’t try and narrow it down yet. What sorts of things do people ask you to do already, because you’re good at them, or you know how to do them in a unique way, or because those same people don’t know how to do them for themselves? Keep writing. If one “job” makes you think of another, great. Write that one down too. Just keep going until the timer tells you to stop. Although it might be tough to get started, I’m pretty certain you’ll be on a roll as you move toward the end of your 15 minutes. Ideas always bring more ideas.

Now, go get a drink of water, or a cup of tea, or take a little walk. Then  come back to your mind-map. It’s time to start sorting. Which ones do you really like doing? Which are you uniquely qualified to do, more than most people? And here’s the million-dollar question: which will people pay you to do? Often the things you’re best at, or that are most enjoyable, don’t obviously intersect with what customers will pay for. It’s up to you to find that intersection between work that works for you, and work that’s lucrative enough to make a living. So while I never advocate working at work you dislike every day, if something feels like a real calling, AND you feel like you’re fairly compensated for doing it, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it when your business hits its inevitable valleys.

Do you have some ideas that look like they might actually be the start of a business? Great! Next time let’s talk about ways to see whether customers really will pay what you think they’ll pay – or in more technical language, defining and validating your value proposition.

14 Things to Ask Now For a Better Business Year

This is a re-post of a blog from 2018, but the advice is still worth sharing…

Are you planning to grow by starting a new business over the next year? Or do you just want to make more money from the business you’re in? Those are the first two questions to explore. If you haven’t already, take time today to figure out what you want, and it will help you get off on the right foot for a strong 2018. Imagine if this time next year, were busier and more successful than ever!

These are the 14 Questions that will help you get there:

If you’re not into DIY, or you’d like help putting your plan together to answer one or more of these, we’d love to help. Whether you need strategic research, a facilitated strategy session, coaching, a speaker or a workshop, we’re looking forward to seeing you succeed. 

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the partners at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them see everything they need to know to find, know, and keep customers. You can find daily content from us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and for weekly ideas delivered straight to your inbox, you can subscribe using the orange button, below. 


Oooh, Our Spider Sense is Tingling



What does a spider have to do with understanding your customers? No, it’s not a metaphor for entangling them in a sticky web and holding them captive while you make a meal of them. But there is a metaphor involved. Let me explain! 


We like to use metaphor-based serious games like Innovation Games® to help teams become more customer-centric. It’s a fun way to reinforce this important perspective, when your team may have had a nice relaxing summer, and now, in a panic to get sales back on track, they’re focusing too much on features, and not enough on the people the features are for. Or, they may be thinking too much about the competition, and not enough about those same customers. We’re experts at the Innovation Game Spider Web, and we love using it as a tool to get teams back in touch with the thing that should be at the centre of their world. (Hint: it’s not your product). With the customer at the centre of the web, we guide your team in an in-depth exploration of 

  1. The problems customers encounter that could be solved by your product or service
  2. Why those problems are important (and what job they’re trying to do when they encounter them)
  3. How the problems are connected, and
  4. What emotional or personal values are impacted by solving/not solving the problem

If you’d like to connect with us about a custom workshop for your team, we’d love to hear from you. To hear more about the ways we’re helping our customers to see everything and make better decisions, why not sign up for our newsletter? 

Megann and Steve Willson are the Partners and Founders of PANOPTIKA, and the Authors of this blog. If you’d like to learn more about what they’ve got to share, you can follow on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or on Facebook. You can also become part of our inner circle and receive free content direct to your inbox. 


Customers aren’t Complicated. They’re Complex.

We’ve been reading a great book from our friend Dr. Rick Nason of Dalhousie University, called It’s Not Complicated: The Art and Science of Complexity for Bsiness SuccessIt’s definitely on our “read and recommended list for all our clients. When Megann met with Rick recently, they were discussing analogies for complex versus complicated things, such as: “Complex is like mayonnaise – once you make it, it can’t be separated back into eggs, oil, and lemon juice”. She shared her favourite description of companies who expect to be able to use complicated thinking for complex problems, like the way customers make decisions:

“It’s as though they think customers can be handled like the cakes in an Easy Bake (TM) oven. If they just apply all the same tactics the same way, all the consumer behaviours will pop out the same way at the other end of the machine.”

Hopefully you haven’t been managing your customers like inputs in an Easy Bake oven, but if you have, and you’d like to work on building your team’s complexity thinking, we can help. Why don’t you give us a call, and we can get started with an introductory conversation about how to use the right thinking tools at the right time?

We’re Megann and Steve Willson, and we’re the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We’d love to work with you and your team to help you see everything you need to know to make better decisions. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, or on LinkedIn. And if you’d like to play the home game with us, and get insights direct to your inbox, you can subscribe using the orange button. 

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.


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.