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What is the BOW model, and how to use it


The BOW model is one of those cool business acronyms that everyone seems to have heard of when you say what it is, but no one seems to know where the term came from. It’s a decision-making tool that can be used in 2 ways. Just like to word itself has 2 meanings, so does this model.

If you don’t know where you are going to end up, it’s like the bow of a ship. The captain, or the leader of the business in this context, knows what direction the ship is going when they look out from the bridge to the bow of the ship. That is if the ship is going forward, of course, you can go full steam ahead.

But this didn’t work out so well for the Titanic, so the model, too, doesn’t always work out for you.

The other context is as a bow and arrow when you have a clear target to shoot for, which is likely to be the purpose of the business. The problem in this context is once you let the arrow fly, there is nothing more you can do.

Sure, you can shoot another arrow, if you have one, but until you decide to do that you are left standing there holding the bow waiting to see the consequences of your actions.

Why do people use the BOW model in two ways?

The thing with the arrow model is as the target gets further away, you need a bigger bow with more leverage to cover the distance to the moving target.

But the chances of hitting the target are slim to none as it moves further away, which happens in a regularly changing market. When that happens, you can jump in your ship and go full steam ahead pointing the bow at the target. When you get in range of your bow, you can have another shot at the target.

With each passing arrow, you get closer to the target and increase your chances of hitting it with your arrow. Even if you have no skill with a bow and arrow, any idiot can hit a target with a ship once they get going. They just point the bow at it, and don’t have to do any more work. These people will only miss if they stop.

But ships don’t go on land, so this may seem an unlikely fable to you. So, if you’ve read Sinek’s book, think of it this way. The bow on a ship is used by infinite gamers, whereas the bow and arrow are used by finite gamers.

Does that make sense?

What does BOW stand for?

I mentioned it was a decision-making tool, but I should have mentioned what the letter stood for, right? Well, if I did that, would you have read my story above? PR experts tell you to tell the story of what you do, not just say what you do. So now we’ve made the copywriters happy…

BOW stands for:

  • Best
  • Ok
  • Worst

Simple, right?

But you won’t find it on Google, and there is no point asking ChatGPT either.

When I first started using it a few years ago, I was told it must have a name if I wanted to use it for my business training. So in the spirit of the acronym MUST, as in Make Up Shit Too, that’s what I did and the BOW model was born. But then we had to go out and validate the ideas in business.

How I use this to identify and recognize skills and recommend career pathways giving people options, and enough information about the options for that person to make an informed decision as to what is best for them.

The problem I’ve found is that giving too much information causes analysis paralysis, and people become indifferent to all options.

How much information does each person need? Well for that, look up the diffusion of innovation personality types. That’s a whole other session on its own. Just keep moving on and if you want advice on this, book a call at the end of the blog.

Are you joking?

What started as a joke, just like “trickle-down economics”, does have sound theory behind it. It is similar to what others say is the “good, better, best” model, which is where people usually run to. However, to me, that sounds like a positive mindset BS if you don’t believe you can make a bad decision. And, more than a little bit narcissistic to me. Not who I was looking for Validation from.

That model also doesn’t take into account that a bad decision is not the opposite of a good decision. Both good and bad still require a decision to be made. So indifference, as the opposite of both a good and bad decision, sits in the middle of the 2 for fence sitters. Who could go either way depending on the consequences for them of not deciding what to do?

This just got real!

This is no joke to the business owner as indecisive people cost money, which Small businesses can’t afford to lose. And people that really want what you do will decide faster than people who feel they “need” to buy from you.

I’ve found that people that say they “need” to do anything and think they have no other options, which is more likely to lead to bad decisions. So the worst customers are usually in business and take sooo long to decide to pay you too.

Here is a chart that we put together to show how if you do what you love (your best option), rather than loving what you do (the OK option), you chose to be in the top 1/3 of performers using this decision-making model.

If you use this decision tool 3 times to decide a course of action, you have 27 different outcomes. So if you do what you love, you can put in the least amount of effort possible and go through 3 lots of 6 monthly performance reviews, and employers will usually still see their “best” candidates for a job rate their performance at 66%.

If new hires just put in an OK effort their rating generally stays at 80%.

This is why they say “if you do what you love, it’s no longer called work”. However, this causes resentment from people that “need” to keep their job, as these people have to put in 100% effort or more just to get out of the bottom 33% of workers.

How to get over yourself, and your success

To get over this, the top 1/3 only need to do an “OK” job to help get the “needy” people up to an average employee, and it also keeps the “best” workers operating at 66%.

Otherwise, the team will work at the pace of the slowest member, at a huge financial cost to any business. But it’s the responsibility of true business leaders to recognize this.

The leaders are not always the business owners, sometimes they are the managers. But if you don’t understand this, your leaders will leave, and all the people that you thought were your followers will go wherever your former leader goes.

It’s lonely for managers at the top If they don’t have someone to follow. That’s where mentors come in at any level in business.

Being your best

The “best” doesn’t mean the best at making decisions.

Part of a growth mindset is praising people for going through the process, in this case of making a decision based on the available information as to what you think is best for them. This may conflict with the business interest, but it forces them to make their own decision they must live with, not blame you for it.

“Quiet quitting”, I’ve found out, describes people who are indifferent to both staying or going. And if they did leave, they don’t know what else they would do next. They generally just want job security, and money coming in. They may be picky, but not fussy if that makes sense to you.

Can you do what you love?

People that do what they love, different from loving what you do, would still do it even if they were not getting paid, so don’t quit quietly. Conflict arises with people that love what they do, including people that love being a manager or leader title rather than loving doing the actual job.

People who want to do keep doing what they love, sooner or later, say “I’ve had enough of this shit, incompetent people telling me what to do”, and often look at starting their own business

If you are looking for further explanation or validation for this, look up the “Peter Principle”, which has been around since the 60’s. It is the main reason I’ve found most employees leave when unemployment rates are low. It also explains why some people are not suited to promote themselves to being business owners.

When you own your own business, you still have people telling you what to do. They are called regulators, customers, and clients, and if you don’t listen to them pretty soon you’ll have to sack yourself from that job, too.

“People don’t leave bad jobs. They leave bad bosses.” – Simon Sinek

Do you agree with that?

Startup Group
Startup Group

How to use the BOW model in business

Here is an example from our skills program as to how you can use it to decide who is your ideal customer in business, integrating it with a bunch of other tools, including #1 on our list of 100 tools, the Business Model Canvas (BMC).

The first thing to do when using a BMC as a business health check tool is to decide who is your customer segments as part of the business model canvas for the business you wish to work for.

We don’t start filling out the information in the same order as listed from 1 to 9 on the canvas template and the first thing you have to identify who your business will be of service to.

This you your business’ why, and determines what you want to do in what-if situations for your ideal customers. Then you can reverse-engineer your business operations to find and develop how you can deliver products and services to customers.

To keep it simple, and practical for you to use, in each section of the Business Model canvas you only write down 3 options, using the BOW model to simplify your decision into the following categories:

The Best Customers

Your ideal customer, someone who loves to do what you love doing, and also wants to do it the way you do it. They are likely to be the 20% of your customers that generate 80% of your profits. Why I ask business owners to tell me who are their best customers, they describe their avatar of their ideal customer (every time).

But when I ask business owners to tell me the name of their top five favorite customers and describe those customers to me, what those 5 customers have in common rarely sounds anything like their ideal customer. That’s usually when the lights go on, and they start to understand why their business is so much hard work for so little money, too.

Think of it like the old dad joke, but, again, it’s no joke in business:

“How many Psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only 1, but the lightbulb must want to be changed.’

The OK option

These are customers that love what you do but don’t love the way you do it. These are likely to be 20% of your customers and 80% of your problems. While they are good for generating income but are too much hard work to keep your business profitable as they take too many resources, away from growing your business. When you get OK customers to 25% of your business, you start to go broke as 100% of your financial resources are spent on fixing problems with current customers, not keeping up with market changes or trends. A terminal illness in business.

The Worst Option

These are the customers that desperately need a solution. If someone says they “need” to do anything then they believe there are no other options. In business, you always have options, so if you “need” to take on these customers it adds to the 20% of the customers that cause 80% of your problems (see above for the result).  While you may provide short-term fixes for these customers, they are a big drain on your resources, even more than the OK options. The business might take them on as charity cases to have a social change impact.

Putting it all together…

If just 5% of your customers fall under this last (worst) category, it is likely to take up 80% of your resources to fix their problems. They are that “needy”.

You don’t have the spare capacity to take on new OK customers, but may get funding to take them on, so still list them on your canvas as the last option of customers to take on, but only when and if you can afford your worst customers on. You would be better offer referring them to someone else setup to help them. You can’t help everyone, and it is abuse if you try to manipulate people into doing what you want them to do when it is clearly not the best option for you or them.

The golden rule in a service business is, like they say in the airline safety briefing, “you must put your own oxygen mask on before you can help others”.

Even not-for-profits and charities have to be able to generate income. But at this stage, we are not looking and funding options, that will come in section 9 of the canvas when we look at revenue options.

So for now, just use these questions as the criteria to decide on the customer segments of the business and see if it comes up with a different target market to what you think is your ideal customer:

  • Who do you help?
  • Which groups are you creating value for?
  • Who is your most important audience?
  • Avatars of individual people and their interests
  • What problems are you trying to solve for them?

If you need help with this, we can help you in a free 15-minute discovery call

If you what to change the way you do business, or just want to know what options are out there so you can work out what is best for you, we love talking to you.

It’s what we do best.