Kung Hai Fat Choy, Happy Chinese New Year! Tomorrow marks the start of the Year of the Dog, or to be more precise, the Brown Earth Dog. The dog was the first species that humans domesticated, and thanks to this long bond with humans, dogs are uniquely accustomed to our behaviors. What creative inspirations can we obtain from “man’s best friend” to help us flourish in the coming 12 months?
Being of Value
Compared to other animals, dogs have developed a strong influence on human society because of both their practical usefulness and the emotional companionship they offer. Dogs serve a wide range of practical roles: hunting, herding, guarding and protection, pulling loads, assisting the police and military, rescuing people in emergencies, aiding the disabled individuals and in other therapeutic roles.
Moreover, dogs are loyal companions who can light up the day with their playful enthusiasm, sincere affection and emotional sensitivity towards their two-legged friends. As the humorist Josh Billings noted: “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
Wouldn’t you enjoy doing business with someone who is helpful and at the same time fun to be with? So, ask yourself: How close are we with our customers? How intimately do we know their true wants and needs? How can we become more useful for our core customers? What other roles may we perform for them to make ourselves more useful? How can we design better emotional experiences for the users of our products and services? How can we better satisfy both the functional and emotional wants and needs of our customers?
Breeding Out Meaningful New Ideas
Humans have selected certain dogs to breed with each other, due to particular physical and behavioral characteristics that support desired functional roles. This selective breeding has led to the hundreds of modern breeds that are classified into certain dog types (such as companion dogs, guard dogs, or herding dogs). These types vary greatly in size, character and behavior and functional roles — from the tiny Chihuahua to the tall Great Dane, or from the stubbornly-dopey Bulldog to the energetically intelligent Border Collie. By the way, did you know that most dog breeds are only a few hundred years old?
The breeding process is similar to the approach taken by a classic creativity technique, Morphological Matrix. So in the Year of the Dog, how can you engage in morphological thinking?
First, create a matrix listing all the morphologies covered by your value offerings. Such categories might be: product features (functional and emotional benefits), service types, customers types, related promotional activities, etc.). Then, list elements under each category (B2B, B2C, NGOs in the customer category, for example), and add as many new elements as possible into each (don’t forget that we’re in the digital age). Finally, ask yourself: How to create meaningful new product and service “breeds” by connecting certain desired features and elements?
Being a Smart Dog
Are dogs intelligent creatures? If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’re likely to nod affirmatively. While breeds vary in intelligence, dogs can perceive information, retain this as knowledge, and later apply it to solve certain problems. They can also learn to respond to different body postures and voice commands. But how do dogs fare when compared to other canines?
Although dogs and wolves share a lineage, there are noticeable differences between the two species. Free-roaming wolves have longer teeth, bigger skulls and also bigger brains than their domesticated fellow canines. Moreover, experiments have shown that Australian dingos outperform domestic modern dogs in non-social problem-solving.
Likewise, researchers have found that when presented with an unsolvable variation of an original problem solving task, socialized wolves tried to find a solution themselves, while dogs looked to a human for help. Domestic dogs seem to have “outsourced” more advanced problem-solving to humans, which is convenient but makes them highly dependent.
Many multinational and large corporations today outsource internal competencies and certain functional roles to outside suppliers. While outsourcing has reduced headcount and —to some extent— overhead costs, it has also led to an organizational brain drain.
The situation is comparable to a dog turning to humans to “do the thinking for us”, “solve our problems on our behalf” and “tell us what to do”. But just as a dog is dependent on the smarts of others, so do companies depend on the intelligence of their outsourcing partner. So, ask yourself: “What problem areas and functional roles are so important for our business that we should “insource” the ability again? What topics do we want to resolve by ourselves to control our fate?”
Dogs are often plagued by parasites such as fleas, ticks, mites, and worms. Parasites live in or on another organism and obtain nutrients at the host’s expense. While they typically don’t cause severe harm, they steadily impair health, energy and performance levels.
Just as you want to keep your dog parasite-free, you may use the Year of the Dog to rid your business of parasitic elements. Ask yourself: Who has benefited from us and derived monetary nutrients at our expense without returning an adequate benefit? Such freeloaders may be suppliers and service providers, advisors and lobbyists, and maybe even certain managers and staff. Investigate how much benefit each derived from you, and what you really got in return. If you notice a gross mismatch, clean out the parasite.
Chinese astrology tends to ascribe characteristics and behaviors observed in an animal of the Chinese Zodiac to sum-up personality traits of people born in the corresponding year. People born in the Year of the Dog are said to be loyal and honest, amiable and kind, responsible and prudent, lively and courageous. Due to having a strong sense of loyalty and sincerity, dogs will do everything for a person —or business— who cares for them.
Who are key members of your company or team who have loyally and responsibly worked for you for a long time, and contributed to the success of your business? Who are your long-term customers who loyally continue buying from you? Who are other loyalists who have served your cause as loyal suppliers, advisors, advocates, opportunists and cheerleaders? In the Year of the Dog, think about ways to say “Thank you” to these loyal, dependable and sensible companions.
Learning From Abraham Lincoln’s Dog
Let’s end with a little riddle relating to dogs. Here’s a question of the famous US president Abraham Lincoln: “How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg?” Think about this question for a moment, then settle on a number.
Got it? Say it out loud. Now here is “Honest” Abe’s answer: “Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”
Nowadays, people are very quick at attaching labels at people or things (this even happened before Donald Trump popularized “fake news”). But notice that, for example, calling something going on that affects your business a problem doesn’t mean that it’s really a problem, or that it is the real problem your business faces. So in the Year of the Dog, ponder these questions: What things are we labeling or framing in ways that prevent us from noticing what’s really going on? What uncomfortable realities do we shy away from —or label as “fake news”— so that we can continue staying in our comfort zone? What are the real problems we’re facing and should tackle in the next 12 months? And aren’t these real problems rather opportunities to make a giant leap into a better future?
Are you ready to get creative in the Year of the Dog? Why don’t you enrol your team in of our Thinkergy training courses?
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2018. This article is co-published in today’s Bangkok Post.