This week, I’d like to share three simple, CounterThink tactics with you.  I’ve personally used each of them, over and over, to kick my competitor’s ass.

See if you can pick them out…

Being a CounterThinker means– at its most basic foundational terms– thinking and acting in direct opposition to the mainstream crowd.

In practice, it means watching what everybody else is doing, and then doing the exact opposite.  To accomplish this, requires you to question everything you think you know about everything.  It also requires you to risk unpopularity and challenge many of the very things that you, your colleagues, and society in general hold dear: trends, standard practices, benchmarks, traditions, established norms and conventional wisdom.  It even requires you to confront your fears–both those unique to your own psyche and those common to all of us.

Current science tells us, we are only born with only two natural fears–fear of sudden loud noises, and the fear of falling.  Most of our fears we learn from others, and a few are believed to be predisposed.  One of those predisposed fears is our fear of the unknown.  And when it comes to learning to think and act like a CounterThinker, this simple fear can translate into the greatest roadblock of all and the hardest to overcome…

There’s an old Italian proverb that so eloquently extolls the problem we all must confront when faced with the unknown.  I’ve heard many variations, but the one I learned as a child goes like this: “Chi lascia la stada veccia per la nuova, sa quello che lascia, ma non sa quell che trova.”

Loosely translated: “Who leaves the old road for the new, knows what he leaves behind, but knows not what he will find.”

By nature, we tend to cling to what is familiar– almost reverentially–and shy away from what is unfamiliar. When given the choice between the known and the unknown, most people will choose the familiar–regardless of how counterproductive, unprofitable or shitty might be.

I know of no greater opportunity killer…

During production of the 1982 blockbuster movie “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”, Amblin Productions approached Mars, Inc. about a possible tie-in between M&Ms and the film.

The producers of the film, including Steven Spielberg, wanted their lovable little space creature to be lured from the shadows by the iconic, colorfully candy-coated, melts-in-your-mouth-not-in-your-hand, milk-chocolate treats.

For Mars, the decision to go made perfect business and marketing sense. M&M’s candies were already being sold in the concession stands of damn near every movie theater in the country, and positioning their product as the favorite snack of both earthlings and aliens alike could only mean one thing: a huge bump in sales.  A no-brainer, right?

Mars response was a flat-out “No.” Why? No one really knows for sure, or if they do, they’re happy to keep the details a secret. Many reasons for the unbelievably short-sighted decision have been offered by a variety of sources, most of which seem laughable.

My guess is far more banal and predictable: Mars, being the size it is, its very likely that its advertising budget was already in place and locked for that year, and no one in command had either the foresight or balls to challenge the bean-counters to up the ante. Or, maybe it was simply the old-school mentality–“this is how it’s always been done”–that caused them to be leery of dealing with such a new advertising medium (the concept of paid product placement in movies was new at that point in time).

Specifics aside, it all comes back to fear of the unknown.

Fear of loss is a far more powerful psychological motivator than the possibility of gain. It’s called “loss aversion,” and it’s powerful as hell.

The outcome of Mars boneheaded decision was inevitable once Hershey got its turn at bat:  M&Ms were replaced by Reese’s Pieces in the script.

Within two weeks of the movie’s premiere, Reese’s Pieces —up until then, the candy equivalent of the forgotten, ugly step-child; hardly known by the U.S. candy-consuming public— were suddenly being gobbled up by the shitload.

There’s a moral to be learned here. It’s the same moral you’ll find it repeated in any number of life’s stories– including a classic told, for decades, by just about every great motivational speaker I’ve ever known. It goes something like this…

“Every morning on the plains of the Serengeti, a gazelle awakens and begins to run. The gazelle knows, it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed and eaten. Every morning, on that same plain, a lion wakes. The lion knows that it must outrun at least the slowest gazelle, or it will surely starve to death.

The moral?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or the gazelle…when the sun comes up, you had better be running.”

If you want to succeed… at anything, you have to hit the ground running. Which means you’re gonna have to put aside your fears, and think some thoughts, make some decisions and do some things that will push you out of your comfort zone.

Opportunity is rarely ever convenient. There’s never going to be enough time or enough money. There are times when you’re just going to have to do the best you can, with what you’ve got, right were you are.

Don’t wait for opportunity to fall from the sky, either. Go out in search of it. Look for gaps and flaws in an existing product, service or delivery system.  Then figure out how to fill those gaps. Which is exactly how I— a young, opportunistic, smart-assed-upstart, operating out of the living room of a rented house, with barely enough seed money to turn on the telephone, and no formal training in business founded my first company—a medical research firm.

In less than two years, we were kicking Goliath’s ass– gobbling up huge amounts of market share, right under the noses of the huge, old-school multi-nationals.  By the time they realized we were there, it was way too late for them to react. We wiped the floor with them.  Lean, mean and quick acting beats big, bloated and sluggish every time.

In case you missed any of them, here are all three tactics, spelled out: 1) Prepare yourself and your business to seize opportunity. 2) Resist your natural tendency to cling to the familiar–embrace new ways of doing things.  And 3) When opportunity presents itself, don’t vacillate. Jump on it.

If you get stuck on any one of these tactics and fall back to your natural tendencies, you’ll likely miss out– because whether you realize it or not, some smarts,  upstart like me is already out there… eyeing your candy.