Venturing Out? Start with What You Know - The Story of Boing Boing
Imagine. You spent 40 years developing and commercializing a breakthrough life sciences technology called BioglassŒ¬. The results of your research have been published, patented, recognized by the field, and have helped millions of people who suffer bone damage. Time for the golf course? Not for Larry Hench.
Inventory of an Entrepreneur's Life
Nearly a septuagenarian, Hench wanted to extend his creativity into new areas. And so he took stock of his means ? the knowledge, assets and relationships he had accumulated over his life. One was his understanding of core scientific research, particularly in the repair of human bone, through his work with BioglassŒ¬. Another was his grandchildren, for whom he wanted accessible information about science, but was disappointed with what was available. And with more than 500 research papers and 22 books to his credit, he also had strong ability as a writer.
Assembling the Pieces of an Opportunity
So what can you build with this seemingly unrelated set of means? To Hench, the answer was obvious: Boing-Boing, the bionic cat. Or more specifically, fictional children's books about the adventures of Boing-Boing. Tales that combine Hench's penchant for storytelling with his understanding of and passion for technology, and his interest in offering education to children.
The Bionic Power of Starting with Means
It is easy to imagine dozens of other avenues Hench might have taken given the means he had available to him. A life sciences start-up specializing in solutions for children with bone damage. A summer program for children wanting to get into medicine or clinical research. Children's games built around science. Seeing all these different business options offers two insights into entrepreneurship. The first is that there is no one right choice ? no best opportunity. It is impossible to compare what he did with what might have been. And the second is that by starting the entrepreneurial path with his personal means, Hench gained perspective into a broad range of possibilities where he has a unique insight, a differentiated approach and a competitive advantage. By starting with means, Hench was able to make Boing-Boing the best opportunity for him. It's about doing what you can with what you know, who you are, and whom you know.
Boing-Boing started life as a robotic 'cat substitute' for a boy with allergies, and has already gone on to wrangle with lion's claws, and chase jewel thieves in subsequent adventures. Hench has also extended the product line to include Boing-Boing branded educational materials such as workbooks, experiment books and hands-on kits for school children. The fun question now is: What next? Having added 'children's book publisher', 'brand owner' and children's science educator' to his set of means expands Hench's range of opportunities to create in the future. Imagine the possibilities ahead of Hench in his 80s. More important, imagine the possibilities for you to combine your means into something novel. It could even be more interesting than the golf course.
Stuart Read is professor of marketing, IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland. Robert Wiltbank is assistant professor of strategic management, Atkinson School, Willamette University, Oregon.
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