Designing a Business is Counter Intuitive

As a child I found great fun solving the maze problems published in the Sunday edition of daily newspapers like ‘The Statesman’. The task was to rescue a boy or a rat trapped in the maze. I quickly learned that it was never a clever idea to start where the ‘victim’ was. Stating from the ‘exit’ was the easiest way to solve such problems. It was counter intuitive but effective. The great mathematician Euler when he was in class 3 or 4 astounded his teachers by the way he solved the problem of adding the numbers 1 to 100 in less than a few seconds. All he did was to mentally line up the numbers 1 to 100 as in a series. Below it he placed another series in the reverse order, i.e. 100 to 1. When he added up the numbers for each pair it was exactly 101. So it was 101 repeated 100 times, which gave him a total of 10100. This he divided by 2 to gave him 5050, which was the solution. Well that was also counter intuitive. Now suppose there are 100 male tennis players who want to win the Wimbeldon men’s single title then how many games must be played in the tournament? We can find the answer by working from the beginning to the end, starting with 50 first round matches followed by 25 matches and so on. As it turns out the other way is to work backwards. Since there must be 99 losers for us to obtain one winner we must then have 99 matches. Now that is also counter intuitive. It is the same with designing buildings. We dont start by designing the kitchen and then the bedrooms working our way to designing the entire building. We do just the opposite. We begin with the overall concept to formulate the vision and then work our way down to the details of each space having specific functions. This is also counter intuitive. It is exactly by a similar counter intuitive method we design businesses. We can’t start with what all we are going to sell and how much we are going to sell to exceed our break even point to start making decent profits and then analyze competitive intelligence to check how the market dynamics would change over time.

Surely that is not the way a business is designed. You must have guessed it by now. We design businesses in a counter intuitive fashion. We start with the ‘vision’ of how the business would look and be like. Once that vision is fixed we then work backwards to fill in the details. That too is strongly counter intuitive!


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