It’s Not All Doom And Gloom

Constructive thinking is about overcoming the odds, it is about surviving, or even thriving, in adverse conditions. The key premise of constructive thinking revolves around finding creative and innovative solutions to overcome difficulties. The innovator uses various thinking tools that collectively, serve as a methodology for sparking new ideas. So far, we have examined four of these constructive thinking tools in this series. Last week we looked at T3 – a tool that focuses the innovator’s mind on the positive and encourages him to seek solutions by turning negative factors into positive ones. T3 underlines the belief the there is a solution hiding in every problem, just waiting to be discovered by the curious innovator.

This week, we inspect the fifth constructive thinking tool – DAG (Doom And Gloom). The objective of the DAG tool is to amplify the doom and gloom surrounding a situation by a factor of 10, at least. DAG is the exact opposite of T3, it’s aim is to stimulate the thinking process by magnifying and enlarging the negative factors in a situation. While T3 attempts to find the good in the bad, DAG makes no such attempt. By making the assumption that the doom and gloom is going to increase by leaps and bounds, DAG attempts to build scenarios, uncover solutions and ideas that have the potential to put the innovator on a whole new path entirely.

On first glance, DAG seems counter-intuitive. Surely a technique that emphasises doom and gloom cannot belong in the realm of constructive thinking? As the innovator knows by now, things are seldom as they seem. A vast gulf separates perception and reality. The clever innovator uses DAG to build scenarios around the postulation that things are worse than they actually are. This hypothesis allows the innovator to chart a new direction for the future by understanding the current landscape better. Let’s inspect a few examples that highlight how DAG works.

Take the Swiss watch industry for example. When digital watches first became popular in the 1970s, Swiss watch makes became worried that the popularity of digital watches would affect their business. The state of affairs became worse as digital watches stole the march on two fronts – cost and accuracy. It became difficult to imagine why anyone would buy expensive Swiss watches when their digital counterparts were just as accurate, at a fraction of the cost.

The DAG tool was put into action by the Swiss watch makers to understand future scenarios and to determine appropriate countermeasures. DAG zoomed in on the doom and gloom. The emerging scenarios underlined the fact that if accuracy and cost were the key criteria, Swiss watches were doomed. DAG forced the Swiss watch makers to agree that they could not compete on time and accuracy, they had to find a different basis for competing with digital watches. Today, Swiss watches are marketed as either jewellery for men and women or as reliable timepieces to hand down from generation to generation. Without DAG, the industry might have considered putting up a fight on the cost or accuracy fronts.

In the 80s, dot matrix printers ruled the day, they were the main technology for low-cost printing. Laser printers had been introduced but they were high-cost items that belonged in the corporate world. For SMEs and home users, there was no other option. By the early 90s, inkjet printers were introduced as low-cost competitors to dot matrix printers. Most of the dot matrix printer manufacturers launched extensive campaigns to highlight the poor print quality (first generation inkjets did suffer from poor quality), the widespread smudging effect and the higher cost of the consumables.

For a short while, these campaigns were effective but within a couple of years, the improved quality of inkjet printers silenced their critics. Star Micronics, a dot matrix company, invoked DAG to understand the implications on their product range. DAG scenarios were built on the assumption that inkjet printers would soon resolve their teething problems and given their small size and quiet operation, would win the consumer and SME markets. Star Micronics used DAG to chart a new direction for their technology, they repositioned their dot matrix printers for POS (Point of Sale) applications in retail shops, restaurants, kiosks, gaming and ticketing markets and the like. While many other dot matrix printer manufacturers went bust, DAG allowed Star Micronics to move to a new target market.

The innovator uses DAG to build scenarios for the different possible future. These scenarios allow him to chart multiple directions that he can take in the future, should the factor being examined becomes worse than it is presently. DAG is easily undertaken by asking ‘what if’ questions. The Swiss watch makers for example, asked ‘what if digital watches become as accurate as our watches?’ along with ‘what if the cost of digital watches falls to the level that they become commodities?’. They then charted the paths for each of the answers to both the questions.

Constructive thinking does not mean that you cannot concede defeat on all fronts, it means that you must find creative and innovative solutions for the fronts that you can no longer defend. No position is defensible eternally; you must change with the tide and accept inevitable transformations that the market drives. DAG shows the innovator alternative futures that are possible it stimulates the mind to look for better positions under the sun. While the mediocre entrepreneur fights and defends his place in the market, the innovator uses DAG to capitalise on the change and fuel his journey forward.

Source: Dr. Kamal Jit Singh is the regional director of British Telecom’s Asian Research Centre and specialises in using innovation as a strategy for increasing competitiveness. He also teaches strategic management to an MBA class in¬†Singapore. Comments:¬†singhk@pd.jaring.my