Conventional wisdom: Do one thing, do it very well, and you'll be a success.

On the contrary: Do one thing very well. Then do another. Then another. Then another.

So you've made a good product or developed a good service. It's selling well and you're rolling in the dough. Well, good on ya, mate. But don't let success go to your head just yet.

I'm here to tell you that if you stick with that product and service--and only that product or service--you risk paddling around in the small eddy you've made until you gradually and ultimately get sucked down the drain. So don't just stick with what's worked so far. There's a lot of room in the big blue ocean to create an even more successful business in less familiar waters.

Whether you're breaking into an existing industry or pioneering something completely new, as soon as you start making any money at all you're going to have competition breathing down your neck, making whatever you sell but just a little better or just a little cheaper.

You know how they say that when you're being chased by an alligator, your best bet is to zig-zag? You can't just run in a straight line; you have to keep switching direction, because it can't do that as quickly. That's how you beat the alligator, and that's how you beat your competition, too.

Widen Your Stance

So many businesses are just hanging by a thread because they're focused completely--and narrowly--on whatever particular thing it is that they're making. They've got one tiny corner of one particular market, and they're too scared of losing that to try anything new.

Don't be like them. Look around and see how your product is being used, and then figure out what else your customers need that you can provide. At Big Ass Fans, we started out with industrial fans but developed new models once we figured out customers were putting our products in churches and homes. We just expanded into lighting because poor lighting was another issue our customers faced. By expanding our product line and customer base, we survived the last recession with no layoffs, were able to grow more rapidly in a more robust economy, and discovered that the opportunities we seized led us to even more new opportunities to explore.

The classic example of failing to look wider is railroads. As Theodore Levitt said in his famous "Marketing Myopia" article, railroads "let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business, rather than in the transportation business." Toss out whatever conceptions you might have of your business, and expand your view.

The Google Gambit

Who's doing this really, really well? Google. They may have started as a search engine, but they rose above the dozens of others by outgrowing the competition. Today they're so much more--they have email, maps, translation software, web browsers, laptops, phones and self-driving cars. (It's important to remember that they've rolled out some failures, too--remember Google Buzz? Google Wave? Google Voice?)

If they'd been content to stay a search engine, Google might have gone the way of so many others: Ask Jeeves, Dogpile, Gopher, AltaVista, the list could go on. But they kept expanding into new projects--some winners, some losers--and now they're ingrained in our daily lives in all sorts of ways, not just on a computer screen.

Keep It Flexible

The trick is to not get locked into one product in the first place. If you stay flexible, you can change quickly and adapt to whatever the market seeks. Remember the alligator? It's a lot easier to outrun it if you're already on your toes.

That kind of flexibility actually gives you more control. When you're actively changing and adapting and growing, instead of just doing one thing and hoping it works (and that the others don't catch up with you), you'll sleep a lot better at night. You'll be in control, and you won't be so scared of trying something new. I get it--it's hard to mess with success. But if you don't, you won't be successful for long.

Published on: Dec 12, 2014