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Bunker Busting Transitions, Stage Five - Answers and Solutions

Editor's note: This article is part five of a 10-part series. Click here to read stage four. 

You have cast a wide net and you have launched scores of curious minds trying to seek answers to your question. Here is what you do now:

1) ANSWERS
  1. Open a file in your computer.

  2. Make sure you identify each contact including phone and e-mail.

  3. Circle back to each contact and ask them if they have any underserved needs. Thank them and ask them the following questions:

  4. a. Ask them if they have any answers to your question about underserved needs.
    b. If so, ask them "How would you solve that need?"
    c. Then ask, "Who would buy that solution?"
    d. And finally ask them, "Who would like to SELL the solution if they could?"
  5. Accumulate the answers to these questions as if your life depended upon them. Keep them in a safe place and don't let others see them -- just yet.

  6. This process can go on for years and years and there is no law, regulation or policy that is violated by your curiosity. So, keep asking and keep getting answers.

  7. Note that you are accumulating the names of people, institutions or enterprises that are above and below you in a continuum that Michael Porter of Harvard immortalized in his analysis of the "Value Chain." The value chain asks you to sell yourself to both sides - one for your employer's interests and the other for your hire. Try to position yourself in the chain between the people who want to hire you so that you can serve or sell to the people "below" you. Porter's observation is that nearly all endeavors include a certain vortex where demand is met by supply. For example, if you need a toothbrush, you go to a store where there is an inventory of toothbrushes. A distributor supplied that inventory. The manufacturer made the toothbrushes from plastic materials that came from a manufacturer of plastic components, which often came from a petroleum by product...you get the point. Dr. Porter would probably call that a "toothbrush value chain." There are thousands of these value chains all over our economy.

2) SOLUTIONS

By now you have a collection of ideas that have at least one winner. My experience is that you will have discovered several critical underserved needs and solutions that will some day emerge as enormous success stories. AFLAC is my favorite example of a squandered opportunity. Dr. Thomas McCabe in Arlington, Va., was a practicing medical doctor in the mid 1980s and he spotted the critical underserved need in insurance that is now filled by Aflac.

So how do you sift through all the information you are collecting? Let's create a process.

Step one: What are the critical needs you have uncovered?
Step two: What are the possible solutions to each need?
Step three: Who would buy the solutions?
Step four: Who would like to SELL the solution if they owned it?

Now to test your conclusions.

Secrets. Do not overdo this or you will get exactly nowhere. However, remember that you have entered a new magic realm where information has become intrinsically valuable as if it were made of gold. You are almost certain to have training in managing information that is a national secret. If you must test critical need or solution information with due diligence, the one way to maintain its value is to not give away the whole secret in your conversations. Try also to keep your contacts limited to people whom you know will almost certainly keep quiet about your idea and what you are working on. Please remember this: ideas and products morph and change by the hour. By the time anyone can steal your idea, you should have moved on with your changes and enhancements. Keep moving! Speed is likely to be your great protector. You have to be mindful of secrecy but you must move forward at the same time. It is one of the basic conundrums of commerce: How can you sell something that others will copy and sell better and cheaper? You move fast and bottle up resources so that you cannot be harmed. Critically, your employer will be very sensitive to this matter and you might as well start worrying about it now.

Market Research. In every sense of the word, you are conducting market research. This is exactly what large corporations, universities, museums, politicians, religious groups and other institutions do to discover new revenue streams that flow from new demand for new products and services. They are testing the market and validating preliminary conclusions. This time however you are just little old you, trying to get a job. What is the need, what is the solution, and who would buy it? Those are your questions and the answers are quite valuable. Next? Let's put some weight on this baby.

Sustainable Uniqueness. This is the appropriate time for you to begin thinking in terms of establishing and sustaining uniqueness in your solutions. This will involve bottling up the solution in some way so that you can own it and no one else can. Can you create a solution where you or your employer can own the only supply of a key resource? Is a patent possible? It is probably too much to expect an absolutely unique solution to a critical need but it is important for you to think in those terms from the beginning. The reason is that the more unique your solution to a critical need, the higher the profit margin for the institution you hope will hire you. Once again, this principal works in all employment fields. Try it.

Your Retirement Dinner. Imagine a grand dinner, with lots of folks in black tie and gowns. The speaker is someone renowned in your field. They take the podium and give the most touching speech of their lives. It's all about a person who protected America and then launched the career that is culminating on that day, maybe 20 years from now. They mention some of the astounding things that were accomplished and there isn't a dry eye in the house. And then they say something that causes an eruption of applause and a standing ovation: they say your name. What was it they said that caused such an outpouring of affection, gratitude and awe? Did it have anything to do with the need and solution you are entertaining in this exercise? You should have one of these dreams with every need that you are about to solve. They will be the glue that connects all the dots.

Your next step is Stage Six, Consumers

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