Craft Beer and the “Curse of Knowledge”

Need a new Niche?

I recently met with a business leader who was faced with the daunting task of searching for a new niche. He described major changes in his market (think Amazon getting into your vertical) that have forced his formerly successful niche to become a commodity.

For some of us this change could happen overnight.  For others it’s a slow and steady erosion of value and then we wake up one morning wondering if the effort is even worth it anymore.

What to do?

Faced with a similar issue, this imperfect leader once tried to stimulate a bit of creativity through an exercise intended to overcome the “curse of knowledge.” You know, the stuff we’ve learned through our experiences that keep us both grounded and stuck. I asked my team to be creative and answer this questions. If there was a completely different type of business that this same team could work in, what would it be?

A Brewery.

Yes my team wanted to make craft beer.  Sounds fun! 

Side note: This was many years ago but the funny thing is that many craft breweries today are in the same position as the business leader I just met with, looking desperately for ways to differentiate in a market that got too hot, too fast.

Ok back to the exercise. This exercise was striving to change the basis of our knowledge and ultimately encourage thoughts and creativity.  By looking at the same problem through a different lens we can hopefully beat the curse, lift ourselves above our issue and attack it like a recent college graduate ready to solve world hunger.

If I recall the exercise was moderately successful. The team had fun, we experienced creativity, but more importantly it reminded us of what a niche really was. A niche is value that is not easily found in the marketplace. Sometimes the market is actively searching for this value and sometimes you have to engineer the demand itself. Either way it’s not obvious or it wouldn’t be a niche. But here is the imperfect insight:

It’s not up to me to have the next great idea. It takes a highly functioning team working in a creative environment. It’s the environment I’m responsible for.

I couldn’t tell my new business leader friend what to do or what niche to pursue, but I could encourage him to seek input and foster a creative environment with his team. Somewhere around a small conference room table – a new niche can be born!