It’s easy to have blinders on about our own business. We miss areas of vulnerability to economic changes and competition.

No one is too big or too strong to fail. We learned that when some of the financial institutions went out of business in the Great Recession. So, don’t think that your business is immune. But, how can we address what we don’t see? We need some fresh perspectives.

Ask others to think about how to put you out of business. It will not only protect your business but also help you to sleep better at night.

This blog outlines a fast-paced, fun, and productive exercise. We did it in one hour at an executive association meeting. Jack, a senior executive in a large company, invited the rest of us to figure out how to put him out of business. The exercise identified threats and opportunities to help his company survive and thrive.

You can do this exercise with anywhere from six to sixteen people or more who agree to keep the discussions confidential. The participants don’t need to know your business. In fact, it helps to have some people who don’t. The business challenges most likely to put you out of business won’t come from the conditions you track or the competitors whom you know. They’ll come from outside forces or your own blind spots.

Here are the steps.

  1. Presenter takes 5 minutes to describe his or her business and the products and services he or she offers.Crystallize your business in a brief statement from which anyone can understand the essence of what you do. This gives all participants an overview of your business as you see it.

    Even though many of us knew Jack’s business, we learned new dimensions from his description. It helped us focus on his particular situation.

  2. Presenter identifies his business’ internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats in 10 minutes.Be candid. Highlight what’s going on in your business and the issues of concern to you.

    Jack noted the company’s long-standing customer relationships and its dominant position in terms of bricks and mortar locations. He also shared concerns about how new communication technologies where spawning a completely new set of competitors.

  3. Participants break up into small groups of five to seven people. Brainstorm for 20 minutes about how to put the presenter out of business.Come up with as many ideas as you can. Don’t get bogged down evaluating the ideas. Just spin them out.

    Our small group had so much fun with this part that it was difficult to stop us. We had a whole strategy about how to use technology to cherry pick Jack’s best clients with special offers. For example, we’d take the top 20% of his customers with a combination of deep discounts and specialized services delivered without the overhead of a bricks and mortar operation.

  4. Small groups report the most promising ideas to the full group. Take 20 minutes to discuss how the presenter could meet the challenges the small groups identified.Each small group tried to out do the others. This stimulated a wealth of ideas. The groups came up with very different ideas. Jack gained many alternatives to consider.

    Some of the ways we thought of to put Jack out of business offered opportunities for him to modify his business. If we could skim the cream, why not take pre-emptive action to protect those customers with the kinds of strategies we dreamed up?

  5. Presenter summarizes what actions he or she intends to take, a time frame for completion, and the person in the group to whom he or she will be accountable.This step turns the fun into profit. Good ideas that come from outside your organization need an outside presence to keep them alive. Pick someone to help you bring the benefits home.

Jack already had some of the ideas in mind. Others were new. In the hour, he gained added focus, a sense of urgency, and strengthened commitment to act.

Ask your business colleagues to put you out of business. It will be lively and may be the most rewarding hour you’ll ever spend.


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