Market Intelligence is Picking a Good Spot (and Books Won’t Find It)

Market Intelligence is Picking a Good Spot (and Books Won’t Find It) post image

In his excellent book on the birth of the modern prison, Foucault describes a blueprint for a new type of prison– the panopticon.

The design calls for a circular prison built around a guard tower. The prisoner’s cells are arranged in such a way that the guard, positioned in the tower, can see into any of the prisoner’s cells. The guard tower is equipped with 1-way glass so the prisoners have no idea if they are being monitored at any given moment.

We imagine that prisoners must assume their every move is being watched.

Panopticon – Guard stands in a tower in the middle with 1-way glass. Cells are against the wall.

Foucault uses the panopticon in part to develop a metaphor for the modern soul (I’m not sure he was familiar with the IRS). If you are interested in more you can pick up the book here or listen to a podcast on it here.

*  *  *

This image of the panopticon pops up in my head when I think about starting online businesses (and sometimes in my nightmares!). One of the key elements to entrepreneurial success seems to be understanding valuable information. Great entrepreneurs find themselves in the panopticon of their marketplaces– positioning themselves to consistently be exposed to the best information from their industry. (Of course the metaphor breaks down quick, but it’s so f-ed up I had to share it with you!)

Many people underestimate the pleasure and intrigue of positioning yourself in the center of an industry or a market problem.

9 times out of 10, when I suggest what I see as winning niches to people with the potential to build something meaningful to a hungry marketplace, I’ll get one of the two answers:

“I can’t imagine being passionate about that for more than a few months.”

Somewhere along the line, sell a product you use yourself (good advice) became sell a product you are passionate about (misleading advice). It’s misleading because it often cashes out for people as “do something you want to do.” 

An attitude more likely to create a winner: “What you want to do” is build a business that solves lucrative problems in a responsible way. “What you are passionate about” is building great businesses. Injecting a host of other concerns, in an already difficult situation, hurts your chances of success.

It’s an attitude I have a difficult time relating to. You’re talking with a guy who sells cat furniture! I always saw stuff like writing this “follow my journey” blog as an extreme luxury– one created from doing work elsewhere that people cared about more.

When I got started with my own business it seemed natural to me that building an income for myself meant shouldering burdens for others, doing difficult work, taking hell from your customers, and making the types of decisions others refuse to.

Another response I hear a lot is:

“That sounds like a lot of work to get that moving, I’m not sure how to do it.”

People are looking for answers on blogs, books, and programs. And hey, they are useful for optimizations. But the fundamental answers to how businesses get off the ground are boring. They come from being on the phone with 50 customers, 10 suppliers, and 5 potential partners. From talking about a product they can buy. They emerge after 100 conversations of consequence and years of work thereafter.

Aspiring online entrepreneurs, in particular, can find themselves in situations where they aren’t talking to customers for months– even years. That’s not good enough. If the information you are tracking down is hidden behind a few clicks, or a couple paywals, it’s probably not good enough to get a business off the ground.

Unless of course, that information said something like: “Put a buy now button and a phone number on a website and start talking with real customers.”

So what does all that have to do with the panopticon? Nothing much. It’s just badass, and I wanted to share it.



PS, I’ve delayed the sales message I talked about earlier this week, we’ll still be sending it out shortly. It’s just not ready due to some other stuff that came up.

PPS, you can get on the TMBA mailing list by putting your email address into the form below:

Published on 02.16.12
  • #BOOM

    That’s all I can say right now.

  • I blame it on the “make it easy” consumerist approach of the last few decades.

    “Food” coming out of a drive-through window or a microwave ready pack. “Running” indoors on a threadmill that never moves. “Animal watching” on National Geographic.

    You name it and it’s usually a button push away (or a mouse click).

    Now add “passive income” and a “four hour work week” to that mix and people will expect a whole lot of results for a modicum of work and time investment. And in the real world things just don’t work that way. Strawberries don’t grow on trees, you know …

  • I think the question of whether or not passion about the niche matters depends on the person.

    I’ve made money in the diet industry, in the dating industry and in the internet marketing industry. Many of the things I marketed, I had no passion for. I still made money.

    That said, I could only keep it up for a short (less than 6 month) period of time. I can’t imagine being dedicated to promoting diet sites without wanting to shoot myself in 6 months.

    I think learning how to and how not to motivate yourself is a key part of being an entrepreneur. Yes, some people can just get passionate about building a successful business and the product doesn’t matter. For others, it does. Still others will overestimate their ability to persevere in spite of boredom and drop the ball months down the line.

    My 2 cents.

  • I liked the panopticon.  Does that make me a bad person?

    Agree with the Four Hour Work Week comment.  If I could distill my business into four hours a week, I’d just start a couple more to take up the slack.  I love my business, love what I do.

  • Why isn’t that prison design being used everywhere? It seems like it would just work so much better.

    Figured something came up when the email didn’t come the other day, no worries though I’m sure it’s worth the wait.

    I think your right, in that most people will not be passionate about every business they’re involved in. But that shouldn’t matter for the most part, for me it’s all about the process of starting and following through with a business whether it makes money or not, it is a learning experience. And learning something is always a good thing! 

    Too many people are just out looking to make money quick using the newest techniques, methods, ebooks, courses, etc… I don’t think that ever makes any one happy or excited to work, it will always come down to hard work and just getting in there and producing…


  • Dan

    No idea!? Yeah ya know I think a lot of people are looking for those techniques because marketers are finding them easier to sell, instead of boring “distribution channels for your products” they become “business opportunities” 

  • Dan

    haha that alone doesn’t make you evil but it might make you slightly evil!

    Seems a common line of biz success is people loving doing their business. 

  • Dan

    I agree with this as well. I think the key thing for a lot of people who don’t enjoy the process of building businesses independent of specific verticals of products, info, or services, is to ensure they aren’t braking up the wrong tree! I see a lot of people talking about this kind of stuff and I sometimes I just wonder if they are interested in the practice of doing business at all. 

  • Dan

    I’m working on a Strawberry tree….. want to invest? 

  • Dan


  • Nice that you mention the panopticon, always taught it was a clever idea and it’s probably the only thing I remember of my philosophy classes :P

    Back to the topic, I find it so funny when I hear people saying “I can’t imagine doing that (business) because I’m not passionnate about the topic”. I mean having a passion in what your business is about is great, but after all it all comes down to business. I don’t give a shit about cat, but I do LOVE selling cat products, optimizing my websites and building something with it. I mean that’s what we do right? Building businesses… MY passion is entrepreneurship and building assets/businesses whatever it is about… building something that gives value. Thanks for the post Dan, totally share your opinion on that one so keep it up man!

  • Dan

    haha, it was seared into my brain! :) 

    totally agree, “being passionate” about your product is sorta like an Adam Carolla rich man/poor man thing, in this case is a wantra-preneur / rockstar thing… you’ve gotta be established or nowhere to be thinking about your passions, for the vast majority in the middle, it’s all business baby.

  • I don’t like the word ‘passion’ in business either. 

    I like the way Cal Newport talks about it best. 
    “The world doesn’t owe you happiness. Your boss has no
    reason to let you choose your own projects, or spend one week out of
    every four writing a novel at your beach house. These rewards are
    valuable. To earn them, you must accumulate your own career capital by
    mastering a skill that’s equally rare and valuable.
    It’s important, however, that you cash in this capital, once
    accumulated, for the right rewards. The word “right,” in this context,
    is defined by the traits of SDT. In other words, once you have something
    valuable to offer, use it to gain as much autonomy, competence, and
    relatedness as you can possibly cram into your life.”

  • Dan

    I love that quote :) I read Cal’s blog regularly and his ideas about people being fulfilled by positioning themselves in a meaningful place in society rings very true with me and my experience corroborates that. 

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