A Recipe for Dealing with the Unexpected – in Life and in Business

Much to the surprise of my mother, I’ve turned out to be a pretty darned good cook. Her idea of cooking is visiting the Dierberg’s deli, putting her finds in a big bowl, and sprinkling paprika or parsley over the top of her dish. Voila. She’s got “homemade” fare to add to the family holiday spread. I learned this skill, and these secret family recipes from her. And it worked for me until it didn’t.

Several years ago, I developed food allergies. It threw a wrench into my enjoyment of mom’s secret family recipes and led me to change courses. I went hungry a lot in the beginning, not quite sure what would agree with me versus what would cause an ugly reaction. So I started cooking.

I could always technically do it before, but now I was faced with an entirely different set of circumstances and a new reality. It took time and there is always trial and error involved, but I’ve learned to navigate each day for nearly the last decade with a sense of adventure and abundance, focusing not on what I couldn’t have but rather on all of the amazing new things I was able to eat. It’s changed my outlook and my approach to many things.

What my journey with food means for your marketing

There are many challenges, opportunities and lessons I’ve experienced that directly relate to what you may be facing with your marketing:

Always expect the unexpected

I never imagined that I’d be a person faced with food problems. I was rolling along, enjoying whatever dishes I had a craving for, and was blissfully unaware that such a thing could happen. The same is true in business. Your market could change in an instant. A new crop of competitors can creep into your space, public sentiment about what you have to offer can change, or government regulations may impact how you operate. These are things you cannot control, but as the old saying goes, you can control how you respond to these outside pressures. What are the things you can implement to address them? How can you differentiate or create your own space? Are you telling your story loudly and consistently?

Set aside the fear

my journey started with a sense of fear and uncertainty. I knew if I made certain moves with food, the consequences would not be pretty. But I was unwilling to live hungry and terrified of getting sick. I let it go and started exploring, and it changed the course of my life. It’s natural to be afraid when adversity strikes, but you must take a stand against the fear as it’s a hinderance to progress and action. Explore, let your mind wander to new possibilities rather than dwelling on the old realities. Once you imagine what things could look like, start trying new things. You don’t have to implement everything at once. Phase things in and start experiencing small successes. If the fear creeps up, ask yourself: what’s the worst thing that could happen if we try this one new thing? In most cases, you’ll find that the “what if” isn’t quite so terrible.

Embrace trial and error

I’ll be the first to admit that I have many cooking failures. I’ve glued my waffle iron shut with a new flour blend I was trying out, made curry that shot a flame thrower through my entire body, and concocted many other things that landed in the garbage can. Each of these experiences helped me learn what works and what doesn’t, and in some cases I have even uncovered miracle fixes to salvage or modify a bad dish. I’ve got a few secret weapons in my kitchen now to help make this happen. But I’d never have this knowledge if I didn’t try. I’m a firm believer that no recipe or no amount of research is 100% on target. You never know until you get into the kitchen and start cooking – or in the case of marketing, until you get out there and let the audience respond. It’s then, and only then, that you can make adjustments and make things bigger and better.

Avoid analysis paralysis

sometimes I find myself reading a recipe and thinking ten steps ahead or questioning if I’m really going to like it when it’s all said and done. I start thinking about how long it’s going to take, or how much of a mess I’ll make. In the end I always tell myself, MAKE THE MESS! It’s worth it and I’m always happy I did. Marketing is not always easy or straightforward, there are usually a number of factors that pop up that you never expected, and timelines are typically longer than you expect. It’s OK. This is how great things are created.

Start with something for inspiration

I tend to be a bit of a rebel in the kitchen. I’ll spend countless hours looking through cookbooks and browsing my favorite websites, but it’s quite rare that I follow a recipe. Instead, I use them for inspiration. It’s much easier than starting with a blank slate, and sparks ideas for how I can create something that will really appeal to my tastes. When it comes to marketing, there are many sources of inspiration that will help you avoid the dreaded blank piece of paper that may be sitting in front of you. Explore an exercise such as reverse brainstorming in which you’re asking questions about how to “break” your product as a means to identifying solutions. Leverage a technique such as appreciative inquiry that will help you envision when and how your audience is happiest about your product. Find a good book or blog that really speaks to you. I recently read a book called “Brain Surfing” by Heather LeFevre that helped me think differently about how we approach strategy. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas, and you should be too.

There are many uncertainties that we’ll all face throughout the course of our businesses, lives and careers. But with a little dash of this and a pinch of that, coupled with new ways of thinking and inspiration when adversity strikes, I believe that we can confidently tackle these challenges. It’s all about exploration and the refusal to feel stuck in fear. It’s easier said than done (it took me hours and a great deal of elbow grease to “unglue” my waffle iron, and that memory was seared in my brain for years), but small steps each day can add up to big progress, and a big impact in your market.