As I pulled back the curtains yesterday morning, I saw three birds on the trunk of the tree at the front of our house: a pair of green woodpeckers and a nuthatch.


Now, I’m not an overly knowledgeable ornithologist, but I’ve never seen a pair of woodpeckers on the same tree, let alone with other birds, and so I watched them all feeding for a few minutes. As I did so I realised that the birds had different feeding strategies.


The woodpeckers, like most other birds, such as tits and finches, were upright on the trunk, facing up the tree. The nuthatch, however, took the opposite approach, facing down the trunk.


I immediately went to Google to discover why nuthatches have adopted this upside-down approach. The reason is that it allows them to find food that the woodpeckers and others can’t see. As a result, even though the nuthatch and the woodpeckers were feeding from the same tree, they weren’t really in competition.


You can see many examples of this upside-down, nuthatch approach succeeding in business. For example:


  • Southwest Airlines became the most profitable US airline by focusing on travellers who didn’t normally travel by plane. Instead, they offered low fares and reliable convenience to US families and business travellers who had previously used the train, bus and their cars.
  • Similarly, Charles Schwab succeeded by using the latest technology to offer low-fee share-dealing and investment management services to individuals who couldn’t previously afford the high cost of normal stockbrokers. As the companies put it, their focused on clients from ‘Main Street’ not ‘Wall Street’.
  • A different nuthatch approach was used by James Dyson, when his firm created its unique vacuum cleaner that used the company’s ‘root cyclone’ technology. Unlike the existing players in the market, who had begun to see vacuum cleaners as a non-innovative, generic product, Dyson saw an opportunity for significant technological investment and innovation. And by linking their technology with striking design and effective marketing, Dyson were able to become market leaders even with far higher price points than their main rivals.


How are you viewing your market? Are you looking at it in the same conventional way as your main rivals, or are you taking the nuthatch approach and adopting a different, upside-down perspective? And what new opportunities can you see for your customers and your business when you do this?


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.