The Secret of Transubstantiation, Part 2

“All things must change to something new, to something strange.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My friend Paul L. is an expert transubstantiator. Lacking any specific talent or experience in screenwriting, he woke up one day several years ago and decided to write screenplays. He admits that his early attempts were awful (and I can verify it), but he didn’t let that deter him. He was writing screenplays . . . so, therefore, he was a screenwriter. And when he presented himself to other people, that’s how he confidently described himself.

At first, this didn’t mean much. But because he had made his commitment to being a screenwriter so public, he was motivated to keep at it. And today, less than three years later, he has about a half-dozen movies optioned and one that is currently being made with a multimillion-dollar budget. Good for Paul! He understood how to transubstantiate his best product: himself.

Now, here’s how you can transubstantiate your business, your most important product — even yourself:

1. Recognize that what you have now is not quite good enough. You are struggling for sales, recognition, market share, etc., but it seems as if the market has too much of the same thing that you’re trying to make work. You have tried every trick in the book to make your business/product stand out by emphasizing its uniqueness, but it never takes off. This is the time to recognize that the market may be as bored with this idea as you are. It’s time to reinvent it. To make it better by looking at it in a new way and identifying a problem that you can solve or an opportunity you can take advantage of.

2. Believe that you are smart enough to come up with something better. It’s not enough to recognize the need for a breakthrough idea. You must believe that you can be the person who comes up with it. The secret here is to recognize that good ideas are usually not a product of brilliance. They usually come to people who are willing to spend the time asking “What if?”

3. Ask yourself “What if?” Spend some time letting your imagination run wild. With respect to the problem or opportunity you’ve identified, create a list of solutions and/or answers that seem wonderful — even if you think they might be absurd or unrealistic. (Don’t edit yourself at this point. Just explore the possibilities.)

4. Make the Big, Improbable Promise that you’re going to make to your customers the answer to “What if?” Once you have identified at least several new ideas, discuss them with colleagues (again, screening out all negatives) and zero in on the one that feels the strongest. Don’t worry — for the moment — about how you are going to make it real. Call in your marketing team and tell them, “Our next promotional campaign is going to be based on this promise . . .” They will be both shocked and pleased. Shocked at its audacity but pleased to be able to go to the marketplace with such a powerful and innovative benefit.

5. Articulate the Big, Improbable Promise. A single big and bold promise is not enough. You’ll need to flesh it out by making smaller claims and promises that will support and define it. This will help you understand what you need to do. It will create a de facto (see “Word to the Wise,” below) business/product-development plan.

6. Now, follow through. Bring your people together and tell them the news. They won’t be happy campers. They may think you’ve lost your mind. Convince them that there is . . . there must be . . . a way to make this transition. To improve or recreate your product/business so it can do what you want it to do. Tell them you have faith in them. Remind them of the successes they’ve had in the past. Advise them not to take the Big Promise you’ve come up with too literally at first, but to recognize the promise contained within the promise. Assure them that if they come up with something just as good but different, that will be fine too.

This is the system I use to reinvent foundering products and businesses. It hasn’t always worked, but it has been responsible for most of the major advances I’ve experienced.