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Help! I Can’t Break Free!


Going around in circles and getting dizzy is great fun at the fairgrounds. Children, in particular love the feeling of being pressed into their seat with the safety of a cable holding them in place. Adults in business don’t feel the same when they are forced to run around in circles with chains holding them back, unable to break free of the centripetal force holding them back and preventing the centrifugal force from propelling them forward.

Consider the hammer throw in track & field competitions. A cord with a handle has a heavy weight at the other end. The competitor goes around in circles, faster and faster, until enough momentum is built up. Then, at just the right moment, the hands release the cord and let the weight fly in the desired direction. For many businesses, that’s what marketing constraints and government regulations feel like. They are the cord holding the business back from flying in the intended direction.

Let’s say you want to advertise that you are a “Fair Trade” company. To earn a license from the authorizing Fair Trade USA company, your company must buy from certified farms and organizations, pay Fair Trade prices and premiums (probably higher than competitors) and submit to a rigorous supply chain audit. To market the way you want, you have to submit to constraints in your business. Another example would be wanting to market as USDA Organic. You’ll have five steps including selecting a certifying agent, submitting an application, paying fees, submitting to on-site inspections with annual reviews. More examples would include Angie’s List® , Bluetooth®, and UL Certified®.

How did a good idea turn into something that keeps you running in circles? It starts out as a new idea that helps you create differentiation in the market. You spend a great deal of time, effort, and money to educate buyers and consumers, convincing them it is something they desire. As customers accept this notion, it becomes a competitive advantage that does, indeed, differentiate you from competitors. Competitors realize the potential and flock to the idea, proliferating the idea. Customers no longer see its as a differentiator, but as a need, maybe a basic need. Now that great idea has become a basic price to compete in the market. It’s no longer a good idea providing market differentiation, but a market constraint. In some industries, it takes a great new product from differentiation to being a commodity with no differentiating value to command premium profits.

What good ideas in your business have become market constraints that eat profits, increase expenses, and don’t provide value? Minimize the effort and find a new, good idea, that provides differentiation and does not hold you back.