When Is a Widget a Widget?

September 18th, 2009 by | Print



So when is a widget a widget? No, I’m not joking and, no, this isn’t a trick question.


A widget is a widget when you say that it is a widget. If you say that it is a widget, you will market it as a widget and your customers will believe that it is a widget. They will buy it and use it as a widget.


But, why stop there? When can a widget be more than just a widget?


The answer is the same, “when you say that it is”, but there is one caveat – it actually has to do what you say it will do, otherwise, you are a snake-oil solopreneur soon to be losing many customers.


Now some consultants may challenge you to apply creativity – to “think outside of the box” – when the market is tough; and this is not a bad strategy. You have a greater chance of delivering a product quicker to market and cheaper when you find a new use, a new market or a slight modification for it than developing something from scratch.


But, why only apply this strategy when the market is down? You need to make creative thinking SOP (standard operating procedure) for your product / service development.


Let’s use a quick example of something that we all know; GPS (Global Positioning System). You can click on the link to get the complete Wikipedia history rundown if you like, but here’s a quick synopsis. The military developed GPS technology over several decades as a navigational system for, well, military purposes.


It wasn’t until 1983, when the former USSR shot down a Korean commercial flight (that they claim flew into their prohibited airspace) that President Reagan issued a directive to allow the civilian market to have access to the technology.


And once John Q Public got his hands on it, he found all new kinds of uses for it – from finding the best deep sea fishing spots, to locating restaurants from his rental car, to an emergency locator on his kid’s cell phone, and a state-of-the-art tour guide on trails and around monuments.


Did the original eggheads that developed the technology anticipate this mass appeal? Probably not.


And the good news is, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the alternatives either. But, what separates the widget mental midgets from the widget wonders?


Here are the 5 key steps.



1. Apply Creativity When You Create

Take some time for creativity during your product development phase for best results. Yes, you can apply creativity to an already existing product, but taking the time to think up multiple possibilities for your product during the design phase gives you the greatest flexibility. Once you produce a product, it can be more costly to alter it as a new product or for a new market.



2. Make a Top Ten List

When you are creating your product or service, force yourself to create a top ten list of alternative options. Think grand. Big results don’t come from thinking small. And if you can come up with ten options easily, force yourself to come up with another ten. The key during this phase is don’t edit your ideas as you create the list. Don’t worry, no one will laugh. You’re a solopreneur, so no one else will get to see the list. Editing will come later.



3. Stealing the Wheel Is Better Than Re-Inventing It

Our parents’ products have been a primary source for inspiration for the items that we use today – just updated to meet new demands that we have that didn’t exist at the time that the inventors created the original product. However, when applying creativity, don’t limit yourself to proven products and processes from your industry; sometimes the best solutions come from successful creations for other markets.


Need some good examples? Go to my Resources page and scroll down to the section titled, “Creative & Innovative Thinking”. I could go on with examples here, but I recommend instead that you give Frans Johansson book, “The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation” a read. It gives excellent examples of how two seemingly unrelated items when paired together create revolutionary ideas.



4. Research, Research, Research

Now that you’ve created the top ten (or twenty) list of far flung ideas, do your research. It is through research that you will edit down your list from the “sounded great at the time” category to “I think I have something here”. You will need to research your new ideas like any other new product that you create, but don ‘t let lengthy research create rigor mortis. Your need for cash flow weighed against the option of introducing your new ideas at a later phase will be your guide.



5. If Creativity Isn’t Your Strong Suit, Find a Consultant

If you find that you are struggling with these steps or that you simply don’t have the time, drop me a line. I will brag a bit that creativity applied to business is one of my strong suits. No, I am not only recommending me because it is my blog – then again why not – I am up for the challenge.


Want some proof? Check out the quote from the letter of recommendation that the Petkovich’s wrote for me on my About page – in italics, under “How Can I Help?”


John is a plumbing contractor by trade. The zenith of my plumbing knowledge is how to unclog a toilet. Unfortunately, for John, his problem was much more severe than some minor stoppage. His options? Either continue to use the standard methods within his industry that failed to produce results or hire a consultant with fresh ideas.


He wisely chose the latter. But, how did I, who knows little to nothing about the plumbing industry, help a pro that struggled to sell a product he created for his industry? I followed the steps outlined above, “thought outside the box” and found an alternative market.



So I re-iterate, if after reading this, you are still struggling, please allow me to help. It is my passion and my mission.


All The Best,

Doug Dolan
The Solopreneur’s Guide


One Response to “When Is a Widget a Widget?”

  1. Duke Getzinger Says:


    Great insight and observations. It is important to fight perception and "face value" thinking, but if your mind is open to it, the possibilities are endless. As I often suggest to people – take a look at a cell phone 10 years ago, what could it do? What can it do today? Forget about what something’s intended for and force yourself to stop and look beyond the obvious.

    Nice piece! Always interesting.


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