Thinking Differently, Finding Opportunity – One Simple Way

I found myself at the park during the holidays looking back toward the houses on my street. Each house has a characteristic ugly TV antenna rising from the roof line. There is a very steep hill with houses rising up it so in some cases the TV antenna is smack in the middle of the view for the house behind.

That is every house has an antenna on the roof except mine – more about that later.

Development is typically about looking at multiple options for a site to extract the one that will create the most profitable opportunity  Finding the best opportunity requires substantial analysis helped by experience, research and a little bit of thinking outside the box. Many developers by their very entrepreneurial and innovative nature seek to think outside the box, to find the new type of product that will sell out quickly and generate the greatest return on cost.

Yes there is substantial risk with trying something different and the uncertainty of success will simply be too great for many to try. However, for those that do and where the trial and error (hopefully not too much!) leads to something that really takes off the rewards are significant.

Written by two Boston Consulting Group experts in strategic thinking, the book ‘Thinking in New Boxes‘  found its way on my holiday reading list. They look at a number of ways to reframe your inherent biases, to doubt what you think should be and to explore alternative scenarios. This is all with the aim to prepare for and take advantage of prospective future business opportunities. For the strategically minded this book has a comprehensive process for executives leading a company to think differently.

A key part of their process involves ‘divergent’ thinking – that is exploring new ideas without rebuke. The rebuke or critique comes later as the ‘convergence’ phase when you must explore what is fanciful into something realistic.

One simple way to explore new ideas and think ‘divergently’ is to join words both from within your industry and other seemingly unassociated industries together.

For example in development you may chose to select all the different types of buildings and cross reference with concepts  from another industry – say aviation. Or you could choose to cross reference with verbs or types of customers or something completely random.  This will create a list of new linkages – some of which will make no sense but many should prompt different thinking in a slightly new (and hopefully profitable) direction.

From the resulting list you scan for any phrases that sound logical and warrant investigation for their commercial merit.

For example, lets take some word linkages from two basic word lists in real estate and aviation.

List one (Real Estate): Apartment, Office

List two (Aviation): Check-in, Flight-path

Combining these words generates the following matrix
– Apartment Office
– Check-in Flight-path
– Check-in Apartment
– Check-in Office
– Flight-path Office
– Flight-path Apartment

Now some of these linkages will be meaningless and some will mean more to those in development than in aviation and vice versa. However, lets take a look at four examples from the list:

1. Apartment Office – whilst not a particularly novel idea there has been a resurgence of live-work condo/apartment development in recent years.

2. Check-in Office – at some point in the past someone thought of combining check-in with an office environment for business people – ala frequent flyer lounges.

3. Check-in Apartment – could this be something developed by airports for the elite ? It could be place to stay even more accommodating than frequent flier lounges – and certainly more children friendly. Airport hotels often accommodate transit passengers but what if they were internal to airport security (and revenue for the airport) for the most discerning of travelers. Remember critique comes later !

4. Flight-path Apartment – this sounds like a stupid idea right? Well maybe not. Some house subdivision developers, who thinking differently,  have made living next door to the runway their number one sales pitch. Examples include the ‘house and hangar’ developments Pukaki Airport  in New Zealand and Skyranch in Arizona, USA.

So simply by linking words can open up a world of new ideas, puts you in a frame of mind to think differently and for some, may create significant opportunity.

Too easy you say?

Well sometimes its the discipline of actually making the lists and writing down the resultant combinations that is the first problem. However, help is at hand via this basic excel tool we developed – free for you to download and use (its very simple!).
Simply input some of your industry key words, borrow a few words from somewhere else and review to find your next big opportunity.

Back to the antenna on the roof. When I purchased my house, I did not even think about looking to see if there was a TV antenna but alas when we plugged the television in on our first night ready to relax after a big day moving furniture, there was only one channel: ‘No Signal’.

[Readers, New Zealand does not have typical cable TV, and whilst there are satellite operators and I had a dish on the roof below the ridge-line, I didn’t have nor want a subscription – remember don’t critique!]

The easy option was to call up a specialist and get them to sort out a new antenna on the highest point of my roof – like all my neighbors. However, putting an aerial up there would cause me a little bit of grief with my cross lease neighbor as it would impact on their view. I did call a few aerial installers and their solution was to buy a converter and stick to the satellite dish, however I wanted the full HD that digital signals now provided.

So I brought a big outdoor aerial from the local electrical store, pointed it in the general direction of everyone’s roof top aerials and placed it between the joists in the subfloor space under my house. Every channel works crystal clear!

It was only after the resident renovator expert at work said ‘that’s a bit different I would never think of that, roof space maybe but not stuck under the house’ that I actually thought I had done some of my very own ‘thinking differently’.




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