Impact Thinking 101: What it Means and How it Can Change Your Business
What if Impact Thinking helped you with getting much better at what you do? Maybe you need a better value proposition and better strategic positioning. Maybe you need to improve your storytelling. Or maybe you need to build a (better) framework for action as well as the related assessment tools… In this Impact Thinking 101 article, we explore the idea that ‘Impact’ can dramatically improve the way you conduct your business, wherever your business is. Sounds relevant? Keep reading.
Ever hear of Impact Thinking? Probably not, yet Impact Thinking it is extremely important from a business perspective. Why? Because business strategies built with Impact in mind are much stronger than those which don’t.
Think about it. If running a business is a matter of solving a problem for someone, what could be more useful than starting from the final Impact you want to have (we call that Impact Thinking) when it comes to building or improving your operations?
There are many ways to look at things here, so we will focus this first article of the Impact Series on explaining why Impact Thinking can be relevant to your business (whatever your business) and what it could change for you should you decide to use it. More articles will be published to explore the “how” side of things - stay tuned and sign up to our newsletter to be kept in the loop.
In the main, there are three main advantages with using Impact Thinking to build whatever you are trying to build.
First and foremost, bringing Impact into your development-building work will help you with positioning yourself. Looking at Impact - i.e. the end result - gives you an opportunity to draw a much clearer and more efficient big picture of what you are trying to do - and that can make a big (very big) difference.
Second, as with reverse engineering, using Impact as a starting point allows you to build a very practical framework around your project. Time-frame, milestones, Key Performance Indicators, team meetings, so forth and so on, Impact can help you to build a process which would otherwise be rather difficult to develop.
Third, and that’s the best news of all, Impact Thinking works for everything. Are you trying to build a business? Impact can help you. Are you trying to build leadership in a field or another? Impact works there too. Are you an academic looking at ways to build better research? Impact works there as well.
Shall we dig in?
Impact Thinking 101: What it Means and How it Can Change Your Business
Impact thinking 101: Why Impact?
Let us start with the basics here: why should you think in terms of Impact when building a project?
The question is obviously legitimate, and the good news is that the answer is very straightforward. By making you look at what result you want to achieve and by making you think about the difference you will be made on a person or on a community, Impact Thinking gives you an opportunity to build a very big and precise picture of whatever project you are working on.
Common flaw: the ‘so what?’ issue.
In our experience as business and Impact development advisers, many projects share a common flaw. The original idea is good, usually, but then… so what? Good storytelling is rare, business plans lack credibility, so forth and so on… and as a result the actual potential for Impact of the project is limited.
Startups (as well as bigger companies) build great products that they see as the last trendy cool thing on the market, yet their strategy is often shallow because they lack a big picture. Who is going to buy the product? Why will they buy this product and not another one? Is the end-user the actual buyer?
Leaders face a similar problem. They want to be known for being charismatic, yet when we dig the existence of a clear message is often a problem. Why? Because the ultimate beneficiary of the message isn’t identified and therefore the storytelling isn’t sharp.
We mentioned research projects earlier, remember? Well, the same applies to researchers. In many cases, grant applications are written yet the actual benefit of the project on society (outside of enriching literature, we mean) isn’t clear and hasn’t been considered. Again, who benefits from the project? How does the research make a difference? Who will have an interest in supporting? So forth and so on…
Ultimately, what is the point of having a great product, service or expertise if the project holders are incapable of explaining precisely what their work and efforts are going to change, who will be affected, and how they are going to make that happen?
Impact as a solution.
The above may sound surprising, but in our experience what we describe here is a very common reality. In all these cases, however, Impact Thinking can help because it provides a fantastic opportunity to think differently.
Instead of building a project for the sake of building a great project with all the budget available (a common mistake), thinking in terms of Impact helps with slowing down and with taking some time to step back and look ahead.
When you look at your project from an Impact perspective, the first thing you see is usually whether there is a Wow! factor in your project - or not. Think about it right now. Take a minute to think about what you do day after day.
‘Just’ vs ‘Wow!’
Let us take a few examples here. Are you just an architect? Just a lawyer? Do you just build car parts? Do you just serve junk food? Do you just try and fight poverty? If you answered yes to one of those questions (or if you feel like your situation is closed to one of these), then chances are that your project is missing a Wow! factor. And that tells a lot in terms of the Impact that you won’t have.
If, however, your job is to build the most beautiful hotels for the most demanding clients, to defend under-represented people, to reinvent Asian cuisine with a modern twist, or to empower women by giving them access to education… then the story different.
What you have here is a source of storytelling and a massive potential for curiosity and questions. Which between you and us is clearly what you want… Very different.
In the former examples, the description tells your audience “what” you do but the result is boring. In the later, however, ‘what’ you do somehow also explains ‘why’ you do it and why there is a huge potential - which turns it into something emotional and exciting that people will want to know about and, who knows, maybe even support. The difference between both is enormous, don’t you think?
Impact thinking 101: Do you need a stronger positioning?
Now that we have explained why Impact thinking can make a difference for your business, let us explore how that difference actually materializes. As mentioned in the introduction of this article, Impact Thinking creates a variety of opportunities, the first of which is to help you design a better positioning for your product, service, company or expert profile.
Impact Thinking helps with building a stronger value proposition.
Having a strong value proposition is very important when it comes to business. Generally speaking, a value proposition is a compact summary of what problem your business solves for a beneficiary. As a person, your value proposition reflects the expertise you possess and the way in which that expertise solves a problem for someone.
Should you need a reminder regarding the importance of having a value proposition (for your business or for yourself) please follow the link.
Otherwise, suffice it to say here that being able to explain in a sentence how what you do to an audience who doesn’t know what you do is probably the best marketing tool you can dream of.
Eventually, this point totally relates to the “just vs Wow!” discussion we had previously, but we thought it was important to state the point clearly at this stage.
Impact Thinking helps with identifying precisely who your customer (or beneficiary) is.
Let’s be very clear here: the only way you can make an Impact is if you have a very precise of who will benefit from whatever you do. Many entrepreneurs run their business with nothing but a vague idea of what difference their efforts make, but can you really gather people around you - clients, users, investors, volunteers, etc. - without a strong belief that your product or service is the solution to a problem?
Starting from the Impact you want to have in the end helps with that, because it gives you a chance to wonder who exactly you will be helping. What really is the problem they face and what type of solution do they need? Does the solution that you have in mind really solve their problem? Is it possible that the solution you imagined doesn’t actually match field reality?
Those questions are extremely important, because they help you position your product, service (and value proposition) in a way that is sharp and precisely matches a demand. You might have the best solution out there, but if it does not actually make a difference chances are that it will not have the success you have in mind…
Impact Thinking helps with differentiation
In a related manner, adding a dose of Impact Thinking into your business strategy is a very efficient way to differentiate your business (or yourself) from the competition.
Competition is fierce these days, so being sure of what your clients will buy can help you differentiate yourself from a more generic offering. Don’t forget that when the competition is high, prices tend to become the main differentiating factor, in which case everybody loses. By contrast, knowing what Impact you make and how you make it when others don’t make you special.
Also worth noting is the fact that not many people think in terms of Impact the way we suggest you do. Therefore, working on your Impact can give you a hedge that you should exploit the best you can. Just saying…
Impact Thinking 101: need a working framework for action and transformation?
It also flows from the above that Impact Thinking is tremendously helpful when it comes to building a working framework for action and transformation, whatever you do. Working backward helps with defining a direction (changing the world), with building general goals (for X or Y…) and progress-measuring targets (… by achieving this and that in a specific timeframe).
Said differently? Starting from the end gives you a frame to play with and knowing what you need to achieve whilst being clear as to how you plan on making a difference will help you with setting some parameters for doing so.
Impact Thinking helps with setting a Direction.
This won’t be a surprised considering all we have said so far: thinking in terms of Impact gives you an opportunity to look ahead and determine what difference you want to make on a given community or group of persons. Said differently? Defining what Impact you want to have from the beginning gives you a direction to follow in the medium and long term. It’s as simple as that!
Now, we know, the idea of defining a direction tends to make people smile. Things never happens as planned so what’s the point, right? Plus, directions, goals and all that are made to make you lose time, we all know that… Yet, how can you make a difference a few years from now if you don’t take the time to define what that difference might be?
In our experience, having a long-term vision and direction is the best way to move forward in a way that makes sense. Those who take the time to clearly identify where they want to be five years from now will certainly get somewhere close to their ambition. Deciding now what Impact you will make in the future gets you one step closer to making it happen…
Impact Thinking helps with setting goals.
It flows from the previous point that Impact Thinking can also help you with building goals - which help to make the general direction more tangible.
For instance, the direction we follow is one of building leadership in the field of business advisory for entrepreneurs, but our major Impact goals in the next five years are i) to become recognized as a regional leader in the industry for the SME and entrepreneurs segment and ii) to turn our current activity (Hong Kong-based so far) into a regional organization with representative offices and partners in the main Asian capital cities. In turn, the number of entrepreneurs we actually want to help and the turnover we want to achieve would rather be an indicator for measuring our progress over the years.
Engineers know the concept very well, as a matter of fact. In their line of work, the point is rarely to build technologies taking a blue sky perspective - it is to work on a problem that needs to be solved and to find a specific solution to that specific problem.
Impact Thinking helps with implementing.
Starting from the end, that is, not only gives you a direction. It also gives you a context which enables you to define implementation steps (i.e. we’ll have an Impact by making this and that happen) and with goals typically come the opportunity of setting milestones (this will be done by Year 1, that will be in place in Year 3, etc.) and Key Performance Indicators (that many customers, that turnover, etc.).
For instance, deciding that you will become a market leader for a given segment will help you take into account the competition and the various market barriers that you will need to manage. It will help you define precisely to which audience you need to talk to (including why, when and how) and what key opinion leaders you will need to get on board.
Perhaps more importantly, it will also force you to think about what processes need to be put into place to manage research and development, sales, marketing but also your human resource and your customer assistance tools. Ultimately, Impact Thinking thus gives you a framework for action, and your job is to be aware of it.
Impact Thinking works for business, leadership-building, academic research, and all that.
To finish this Impact Thinking 101 article, it seemed important to repeat that Impact can help from a variety of perspectives, whether you are trying to build a product or a service, seeking funds to put a research project into place or looking at developing your leadership. The reasons for that are simple
An Impact strategy helps with storytelling
In our experience (once again), storytelling-building is usually an overly complex process - particularly when it is made from the beginning onward. How do you define what constitutes success in the next years? How do you measure what progress has been done? How do you explain precisely who will be affected?
By contrast, those who start from the Impact they want to achieve have an opportunity to think in terms of what needs to be changed, who will benefit from the change and how the change will take place.
When doing that, they tend to gain a clear(er) idea or big picture of what they are trying to put into place - which in turn gives them the basis of the storytelling they need to communicate.
The reason behind this is simple: when your work consists in solving a real problem faced by real people, your storytelling helps you to connect with your interlocutors from an emotional perspective. If people can relate to what you are trying to achieve, their interest in your efforts will increase significantly. You, in return, will gain support and traction.
An Impact strategy helps with branding and leadership
The previous point also leads to the inevitable conclusion that one who thinks in terms of Impact gains an opportunity to develop a stronger branding and a significant dose of leadership.
Having an emotional story to tell help with building a stronger brand, no need to paraphrase what we just wrote. But building a connection with people - from the user to stakeholders of various sorts and the general public - can also help you build some leadership around the project.
If your story helps with creating an emotional bond with people, they will talk about you as being inspirational - and that could make a very big difference.
An Impact strategy helps with gathering partners
Last but not least, having a story to tell and an ability to build a connection whilst being seen as a leader in your field means that you ultimately gain an opportunity to gather partners who will be willing to push your vision a few steps further.
For instance, some will simply talk about you because your message made an effect on them. But others will want to associate their brand or name with yours and will do everything they can to push your agenda as long as it serves theirs. Guy Kawasaki called these types of partners ‘evangelists’ in his book Rules for Revolutionaries, and he clearly had a point.
The bottom line: Impact can be much more than a buzzword, but it takes some serious Impact Thinking and Impact Strategy.
The bottom line of this article is that Impact can be much more than an easy buzzword that people like to use because it is trendy and sexy. Without the slightest doubt, using Impact Thinking and starting your projects from the Impact you are trying to reach has the ability to give you an edge on the competition (because most people don’t think that way), not to mention the opportunities it creates in terms of storytelling, branding, partnership-building and leadership development.
The question is, what will you do about it and how do you plan on making your business and/or leadership strategy truly Impactful? Should you need help, please get in touch - we can help!
Impactified provides business strategy advisory and business coaching to entrepreneurs and executives, as well as impact strategy coaching to academics. Based in Hong Kong, we support our clients in Asia but also in Europe.
Business Strategy Easy as 1, 2, 3 is our motto, how can we help you today?