What does golf instruction have to do with successful product development and launch?

If you knew nothing about golf and were shown videos of Jim Furyk and Fred Couples hitting a golf ball, you would likely find yourself wondering if they were actually playing the same game.  Freddy’s smooth, effortless, and technically classical swing stands in sharp contrast to Furyk’s unorthodox loop-at-the-top motion.  Yet, both golfers have been wildly successful for many years.   Successful outcomes can be achieved in a number of ways, provided it works for the individual.   So, how do you know which swing to emulate?  How do you know when to radically change course or simply adjust your current model?

Consultants and golf instructors can generally be placed into one of two groups.  The first group has a firm belief that there is a proper way to achieve success.  Whether hitting a controlled draw or bringing a new digital offering to the market, their method is tried and true, and if you follow the path prescribed, you should experience similar success to those who came before you.  This may mean radically restructuring your organization, jettisoning existing plans, or pivoting from your current business model.  This may indeed be the right path to follow to give yourself the greatest chance of succeeding, just as making a fuller shoulder turn should help you hit your drives more solidly.   However, this could also be as foolish as a golf pro trying to get Jim Furyk to swing more like Fred Couples.

The second group takes a “from the inside out” perspective; one where making changes to your current product can have a significant impact on your bottom line.  For instance, perhaps you are looking to extend the reach of an existing product line or want to enter a new market—you might be better served by following a path more analogous to the golf instructor who looks at your current swing and works from that starting point.  There is often value locked deep in your product, your services, and your markets that you may have missed.  Perhaps making marginal changes to your product offering, small but powerful to your customers, can lead to substantial revenue growth.

The fundamental challenge is in knowing which of these paths to follow.  It is certainly more comfortable (and usually requires less investment) to opt for the second path, but your existing strengths as a company simply may not translate to capitalizing on new market dynamics.  Navigating the path best for your company requires the right coach, one who can help you change your swing when necessary and adjust your swing when appropriate.   Has your consultant worked with—or better yet, worked in—companies, situations and/or markets similar to yours?  Will the recommendations and activities you contract for be crafted around the unique characteristics and needs of your company? Is the work being done by experienced professionals or delegated to their staff?

Who are you trusting with your swing?