Generally it is considered mutually exclusive to take the “shotgun” approach to innovation or the “sniper” approach to innovation. You are either in one camp or the other, but certainly not in both. In the shotgun approach you fire lots of little ideas at the wall in a seemingly random fashion in hopes that one of those ideas sticks and becomes a hit. With the sniper approach you spend much more time planning and you fire a single higher calibre round at the defined target, having done the prework and testing to validate that the selected target is the highest value option.
This same mutual exclusivity can be seen in many things we approach including product or service development, job searching, recruiting, and a host of other situations where we are reaching into the somewhat unknown in hopes of delivering a positive outcome.
I don’t subscribe to the fact that you need to think of this as an either/or proposition however. There is no reason in the metaphorical world that you can’t go sniping with a shotgun (accepting that this may not be true in the real world of hunting or military activity). In fact the more I think about it when it comes to these situations you are far better off to use a “sniper with a shotgun” approach if you want to maximize your odds of success.
Let’s use a job search as an example. Joe, who has been out of work for two months, is leveraging a shotgun approach. He spends 4 hours a day trolling the job boards, LinkedIn, corporate career portals, and the like and sends his resume into almost anything that remotely looks like a fit for his skills and experience. Because he’s using a shotgun approach he pays little attention to things like industry, company size, company culture, or other little details – the goal is to launch the maximum volume of applications into the recruitment universe to maximize exposure. While Joe will eventually be successful in his search to find work, it is highly likely he will not be as happy with the role he ultimately finds himself in and he may be forced back into this same situation sooner than later.
Doris has similarly been hunting for work for two months, but she has elected to use a sniper approach to her search. Doris spends her days researching specific companies or company segments to identify network connections within those companies and to understand as much as she can about the specific companies and roles she feels would be a good fit for her. While Doris is only sending in one or two applications a week as opposed to the 60-70 that Joe manages, she is targeting high value positions which fit with her needs and where she feels she will have best fit. Doris as well will be successful with this approach and she will likely be much happier with the resulting new job, but she may find that she will take longer to land in a new role due to her ultra-narrow scope.
Andrea (also out of work for two months) has elected to take the sniper with a shotgun approach to her search. In her case she has documented for herself some high level needs, reflected on the capabilities she uniquely excels at, and has matched that to industry segments and role types. She has some basic criteria for selecting a role which are quite broad, but which are based around her core values and value proposition to maximize the chances for alignment in a new job. Andrea spends her day leveraging filtered searches through job boards, targeted messages into specific areas of her network, and participates in networking events and visits locations where she can maximize her exposure in her desired areas. She is not down to the level of specific companies or roles, but more broadly at the level of the types of companies, segments, and roles which complement her needs and can best benefit from her unique value. Andrea is averaging 20-30 applications per week but each of those is targeted, has some basic research into the role and company evident, and is tailored to her needs and values.
Between these three job hunters it is very likely that Andrea will not only land faster in a new role, but also land into a role and company that is a good fit for her values, skills, and abilities.
The other advantage to Andrea’s approach is that as she learns more about specific industries, companies, and roles through her search it is easy to quickly adapt parts of her approach without having to rethink the entire target and do deep research again. When you are shooting indiscriminately with a shotgun you are simply hoping to catch a piece of the desired target, but you may not make a kill shot first time. The sniper approach will likely be better suited to get the kill shot, but you need to be very certain of the correct selection of a target before you fire.
With the sniper with a shotgun approach you can do the basic work to identify the most likely group of targets, then take a more scattered approach within that target area, maximizing both your chances of a kill shot and your ability to quickly adjust if your target isn’t quite perfect.
When innovating in your business you can use the same approach to new product/service development. Rather than simply innovating randomly with rapid prototyping all across your business segment, or putting all your eggs in a single well developed target area, why not narrow your target area and do the basic research to give you a foundation from which to innovate, then leverage the broader rapid prototyping and brainstorming methods to determine which narrower targets in that space will bear the most fruit.
If you leverage a sniper with a shotgun approach you can maximize your return on your innovation investment, get to market faster, and ultimately create more new value for your company.
Ready. Aim. Fire.
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.