Look out for silver bullets

Have you ever heard (or said) a sentence like this?

  • "Once we get this video out the door, we'll really start to see the customers come through."
  • "The whole team's working on a big campaign, we don't have time to edit your brochure. "
  • "The new website is taking longer than expected, but it's going to have a big impact once it's live." 

These are examples of silver bullets, and they're an easy trap to fall into. A silver bullet is that One Big Thing you need that’s going to get you out of a slump, or skyrocket you from good to great. It’s big, it’s exciting, it’s new and it's going to solve every problem you have, once you launch it. I didn't make up this term. It comes from a blogpost by venture capitalist Ben Horowitz

Here's the problem with silver bullets: organisations have loads of moving parts. Spending a bunch of time and resources on one part to the detriment of others is unlikely to get you the results you want, or need. But even though this seems intuitive, silver bullets are all over the place. It’s not hard to see why: 

  • They’re easy. If you just need to do One Big Thing to be wildly successful, then you just need to focus on that One Thing. 

  • They’re exciting. Working  on a Big Thing that will Change Everything is a lot more exciting than incremental improvements, like arm-wrestling with sales managers over commission structure. 

  • They let you avoid existing issues. The odds are, your product, supply chain, distribution network and all manner of things could be better. But if you get obsessed with a silver bullet, you can convince yourself that it’s going to be so good that there’s no need to spend any time on these less exciting, improvements. 

In content

When it it comes to content, I generally advise my clients to look for small, consistent things they can do rather than seeking out that One Big Thing. For example:

  • An ongoing series of written case studies, rather than a budget-busting video case study.
  • Making your onboarding process better at turning your existing leads into customers, rather than investing in a massive campaign to get a bunch of new leads.
  • Providing sales staff with better tools and resources to close more deals, faster, rather than putting a bunch of them on One Big Deal. 

None of this is to say that you shouldn't take risks or be bold. There's nothing wrong with investing in a big initiative. But to get the best bang for your buck, it's usually best to invest in a bunch of little things, rather than exclusively investing in one big thing. The silver bullet is always going to be just one thing - and your organisation is probably much too complex to benefit from just one thing, no matter how shiny it may be. 

Sam Grover7 Comments