Don't solve, Increase Sales OR Lower Costs, solve both.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald
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Imagine in your last meeting your sales manager says, “What do you want to do, increase sales or lower costs?” Well, when you put it like that, you must choose? But do you need to choose? Not always! In general, when asked, do you want me to do X or Y we automatically make a choice. Why? Because we think we have to. Let’s provoke your thinking a little?

I suggest the choice of X or Y is easy thinking, because once we pick X or Y, then it is relatively easy to identify what actions to take. In contrast, frame the problem as how do we do X and Y? For example, how do we Increase Sales and Lower Costs? Looking for solutions to doing X and Y is tough thinking. Imagine you have 100 things you could do. Then I suggest 45 would help X (Increase Sales) and not Y (Reduce Costs). 45 would help Y (Reduce Costs) and not help X (Increase Sales). So that’s 90 ideas that are easy to find, simple solutions to X (Increase Sales) or Y (Reduce Costs). 90 simple ideas, easy to find.

However, finding ten things that would support X (Increase Sales) and Y (Reduce Costs) is tough.

It can’t be done!

It’s common to hear that it can’t be done. That’s just a way of relieving the creative tension you feel when you look for actions to help X and Y. In workshops, we warn people that brains are lazy and your brain will tell you that it can’t be done. Then we say, keep the creative tension there: keep asking yourself how can we do X (Increase Sales) and Y (Reduce Costs)?

After this, people often laugh out loud as their brain presents them with a fresh idea and say: how about this idea?

Some Ideas

Some ideas for: how could we Increase Sales and Reduce Costs?

  • Sell on the web instead of face-to-face

  • Source product from China

  • Get customers to assemble themselves and share some cost savings

  • Get customers to install themselves and share some cost savings

  • Get customers to place one order a year and share some costs savings

  • Eliminate some unneeded features and reduce the price

  • Halve the delivery period using Lean

Sleep on it

Its okay to challenge people and then not be able to find a solution immediately. Close the meeting, scheduling another meetings at least one night’s sleep away so the group can do the tough thinking outside the meeting.


Push for better options, and explain the creative tension that says it’s impossible is normal and productive. In practice, frame the problem as it’s easy to do X (Increase Sales) or Y (Reduce Costs); it’s tough to find options that support X (Increase Sales) and Y (Reduce Costs), but that’s what we need to find.

Why? To compete better, to win more business. If it’s easy to find a solution, then guess what your competitor will do. To compete and win, you need to do some things differently. One of those is to do the tough thinking: How do we do X and Y? How do we Increase Sales and Reduce Costs?