Drown your puppies

no-dogs-allowedIf you’re familiar with the Boston Matrix (a marketing tool not a Hollywood blockbuster) you’ll also probably know the term ‘dogs’. These are activities that are not making money nor contributing to the mission of the organisation being assessed.

If you identify any ‘dogs’ in your organisation the advice is to drop this activity or, as some put it more provocatively, ‘drown your puppies’.

The beauty of this particular phrase is that it grabs the reader’s attention (whether or not you’re a puppy-lover) and it also encapsulates the truth that organisations often have pet projects that are kept alive, often by the people who created them, for emotional reasons. Blind to evidence that an activity has become a waste of time and money (it may always have been so) charities are probably more guilty than the average for-profit business of getting their head and heart balance wrong. Smaller charities are particularly good at ‘flogging dead horses’ (another brutal animal image!)

For social enterprises – businesses with a social purpose – success is often defined as achieving the ‘triple bottom line’ of social, financial and environmental objectives. This makes the identification of ‘dogs’ more difficult because the activity may be justified for non-financial reasons. At the Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead, where men aged 50+ come together to stay healthier and happier for longer through making, mending and learning, we’re dealing with ‘pet project issues’ of a different kind.

As readers of a recent blog may remember, the making part of Repair Shed members’ activity has to date largely involved using reclaimed timber to make products for homes and gardens. I think some of us have surprised ourselves with the quality of the work we’ve turned out – I know I have – pleased with the result and… reluctant to see it offered for sale.

Objectively, the Repair Shed should be trying to sell as many products as possible – to make money, create more storage space, and to save more timber from becoming waste. Subjectively however, perhaps we’re worried others might not be as proud to own the products as we were to make them. So there are mixed feelings when a project that people have been working on is sold – because making it again will never generate the same sense of achievement. The silver lining is that if your creation remains unsold, you can always take it home and show if off to friends and family who will appreciate it (or say they do).

It must be the same when starting out on any creative journey. In retirement, my friend Carl has taken up painting. This year he bravely submitted two pieces to our annual art exhibition and put a £60 price tag on each of them. Much to his surprise he sold one of them but, excited though he was, he couldn’t disguise his relief that the ‘right’ painting (ie the one in which he’d invested less time) had been bought.

It’s a tough lesson – if you want to succeed in a creative business you must be prepared to let go of your best work and risk it being under-valued.

A related blog – The paying customer is always right – is at https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/the-paying-customer-is-always-right

More on the Boston Matrix at http://www.oxlearn.com/arg_Marketing-Resources-The-Boston-Matrix_11_35

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