This week Tamsen shows how asking the little questions will help you answer the big ones. By breaking down your mission into the five pieces of the Red Thread, you can find specific answers that will help you carve out your own path.
Even if some elements of the Goal, the Problem, the Idea, the Change, and the Action are the same as someone else, there are bound to be some differences. It’s these differences that add up to make you unique.
Tamsen breaks down various ways that companies look at the same problem, idea, or change to highlight how similar answers can lead to wildly different companies, each with their own Red Thread.
- Starbucks, “The Third Place”, and Creating the Ultimate Customer Experience
- Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, a Tale of Two Marketing Giants
- How to Make The Universal Individual
Is every Red Thread different? Yes. How? Math! I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com, and this is “Find the Red Thread.”
A question I often get when people first hear about this idea of the Red Thread, this thing that ties together everything that they do, they often have a question: “what if mine’s not different? What if it’s not unique?” The challenge of thinking about what’s different or unique is a lot of times when we are thinking about in terms of a brand, or a passion, or a purpose, or even what’s my message or big idea? We look at it as if that’s the thing we have to find. We don’t realize that, in fact, that thing, that single solitary statement is the product of several things.
In other words, it’s the end product, not where you start. So, where do you start? Well, we have to start at the pieces of the Red Thread, and we’ve talked about them before, but here they are. First, the goal. This is the thing that you want. Second, a problem that’s getting in the way of the goal. Third, an idea that unlocks why the problem is such a problem, and sets the stage for someone to say yes to the fourth piece, which is the change.
The change is the high-level solution or approach that someone has to take in order to solve their problem. Finally, the fifth piece are the actions. These are the specific components, steps, processes, criteria that are needed to effect the change.
So: goal, problem, idea, change, action. Now, how does this uniqueness come in? Well, first thing is, is as you’re thinking through, what are my, or my businesses, answers to those questions. You want to try to make them as unique as possible. You want to try to find a way to frame the problem, for instance, that other people haven’t framed it. Try to think of a realization, an idea, a core belief, that not everyone has. Or, if they do have it, what’s a way that you can say it differently? Third, that change, that high-level solution that you take, is there a way that can approach it differently than anybody else?
Here’s the thing. Even if any one of those individually isn’t all that unique, you can still get a very unique product at the end of it. You can still get a fully different, fully ownable, fully you, Red Thread. Let’s look at it a little deeper. Let’s take the core pieces of finding a Red Thread— the problem, the idea, and the change— and look at it through the lens of some brands.
So, let’s talk about the problem first. Now, multiple companies solve the problem of office space. You can work in the building your company owns or leases; you can work out of a home office, but there’s a huge need, as we know, for people to work somewhere in-between, for any number of reasons. There’s also any number of companies that solve that problem. So, there is Regis, which is contracted office space; you’ve got places like Breather.com, which rents office space by the hour; we even have Starbucks, which their idea of the third space, so an interesting recapturing and recasting the problem, was behind the whole idea. They want to create a third space between home and office.
So, already, you can start to see that multiple companies, multiple brands, can solve the same problem and still be quite different from one another. Well, where does that difference come from? Well, the next place it can come is the idea that’s behind it. Now, your idea, the core beliefs, core values, are going to dramatically affect why you think a problem is a problem, and how you are drawn to solve it.
So, multiple companies can solve the same idea and still be wildly different from one another. So, you can think of all the companies that exist to do well by doing good, think of Tom’s Shoes or Warby Parker. You can even look at companies like Everlane, that are transparent about their pricing. Each of those things is a different cast on a core belief that, if we do good by others, whether in the supply chain or to the world, or some other group of people, it will ultimately be good for our business.
Let’s look at the change. Now, the solution to a problem is, say something fairly commodity-like, like coffee. Which is a solution to a lack-of-caffeine problem. Then you can also think through… Let’s think of all the different ways that you can solve the caffeine problem: there are caffeine pills, there’s tea, there’s coffee, and if you drill down, even in coffee, you realize there’s a whole bunch of different way to solve that same problem.
So, here in New England, where I live, we’ve got Dunkin’ Donuts, which exists around the idea that you’re always moving. So, let’s make sure that whole experience is built to be fast. You’ve got Starbucks, which is built on their idea of a third space. You’ve got craft coffee places, like Stumptown Roasters, or here in Boston, we’ve got George Howell. These are, these are companies who are solving that problem with a different idea, about how can we raise the quality of every step of the process of making coffee.
So, when this translates to you or to your business, that’s really the first step. It’s to look at each of those pieces and think about how can I make them mine? The second thing to realize is that it’s how you combine them that creates that difference. That’s the uniqueness to you, what you do, what your message is, or what your brand is. And sometimes, it’s true, that these individual elements are not that remarkable. In fact, you can think that there’s probably only, at heart, a certain set number of problems in the world. There are fundamental problems in the world.
There are probably a fundamental set of core idea and beliefs, but those sets are fairly limited. Even if they’re giant, they are going to be limited. And this is where the math comes in. If you take one thing from a limited but large set, and you match it with another thing from a limited but large set. And a third thing from a limited but large set, you get factorials. In other words, you get this one thing multiplied by another thing, multiplied by another thing. Which means that the possibility of combinations from all of those limited but large sets is mathematically pretty close to unique.
Now, you can say to me, “oh, but Tamsen, I’m looking at all, I’ve got all my pieces, and they’re still just not that different. There’s other people who can say they solve the same problem and they have some of the same approaches, and it’s all based on a very similar idea.” This is where you go to the story that leads you to these individual pieces.
What is the history of your company? What’s your life story? What are the reasons why you have that idea? What are the reasons that draw you to solve those problems? Did you make discoveries that allowed you to develop the solutions that you have? That story can make an idea, or a message that might seem similar, incredibly different. Don’t discount that, how you come up with your Red Thread, how you produced it. No matter what else might be the same, that is always going to be unique.
So, that’s how you make your Red Thread different. If you want more information, check out my website, TamsenWebster.com, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about your Red Thread.