Getting something from nothing

One of the things I often talk about with infopreneurs I’m coaching is the importance of knowing how to make something out of nothing. We may have thought the project we took on would be easy to handle, and it turns out the resources we thought we could use didn’t pan out. Or we thought there would be plenty of information on a topic and we find out that, nope, no one’s talking about it. In these cases, we have to be able to tell a story about what the lack of results tells us.

So, when a project results in far less than either my client or I had anticipated, I ask myself these questions:

  • If there is no information on this market, does that indicate it’s a really small market? Or that it’s a new breakthrough market no one knows about yet? Why does no one care enough to count it? What do I think explains the lack of available information?
  • Can I take a different approach? Am I just not looking at this market in the right way? Did my client or I introduce an unacknowledged bias to how we’re looking at the question?
  • If there is nothing on this specific topic, can I expand the query to a broader concept? What are the bigger trends that are likely to be reflected in the specific topic I’m researching? Are there related topics that might parallel my topic? What else would help my client understand the bigger context?
  • If I can’t find anything on this topic, what would be second best? How else can I think about this so that I can get something to help my client accomplish what she is trying to do?

Most importantly, I try to imagine what the situation is like from my client’s point of view. He needs to make a decision or move forward on something. I can’t find him exactly what he needs, but he still needs to make that decision or take that action. What is the best thing I can get, given that the ideal information isn’t available? 

If we work from the assumption that there’s always something we can provide that will help with the client’s outcome, even if it isn’t exactly what the client hoped for, we are more likely to be able to find a way to keep our client happy.

3 comments on “Getting something from nothing

  1. This is very true! In science, lack of results (or the null hypothesis) doesn’t mean you failed. It’s a result. It might not be the result you wanted, or the result you expected, or the result you hoped for. But it is still a result. Search and NOT found is still worth reporting, for all the reasons you’ve given. Maybe it is a new thought/market. Maybe it’s one that’s been explored and results were no good so tell your client that – saves them wasting their time. Or their idea is different from what has been tried before, so maybe their idea might work.
    This is related to the issue of being paid for time and effort, not outcomes. You deserve to be paid for your professional efforts at doing an extensive and comprehensive search; if there’s nothing to be found at least they can now be sure of that.

  2. Your blog came in at a very appropriate time. I am struggling with finding exactly what my client wants but now I know that the dead ends and the suspicions I have about what I’ve found may be what my client actually needs! I will write up my report and send it off to him.

    Many thanks!

  3. Yes, it’s really a matter of listening to our gut and re-thinking our assumptions about what we’ll find. I just had a conversation with a client in which we had a nothing-found result, and through the discussions we identified what that told us about an unrecognized and untapped market.

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