Disruption

What do World Book Encyclopedias, the Sony Walkman, public pay phones, cassette tapes, flopping disks, Palm Pilots and manual typewriters have in common? OK, I realize it’s an easy question – they are all obsolete products. But the real question is why they became obsolete in the first place. You may be thinking, “Other more advanced products came along and replaced them.” True again. But why didn’t the makers of these products create newer and more advanced versions? And therein lays the dilemma. I’m going to make a sweeping generalization here to prove my point – and the individual situations may have been more complex than I am purporting. The bottom line – there was a failure to embrace change and a desire to embrace the status quo.

For many people change is scary. It’s filled with uncertainty and risk. Think of all the businesses you know about that have adopted the philosophy, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Yet, maintaining the status quo is actually falling behind. Why? Because we’re in a highly competitive age where information flows more quickly and more substantively than at any time in history. Someone is always looking for a better way to do everything all the time. What steps should we take to avoid becoming the next World Book?

Step One. Constantly stay in touch with the customer. We need to mine every customer interaction for the data that can be produced. And we need to create customer interactions outside the regular purchasing process through surveys, focus groups, etc. What do our customers like about our product or service? What don’t they like? What do they like and dislike about our competitor’s product or service?

Step Two. From our ongoing customer feedback process we can continuously fine tune our product or service offering with incremental improvements. This enables us to keep from falling behind in the competitive race.

Step Three. In addition to staying in touch with the customer we should also be totally immersed in what is happening within our industry. Trade publications, conferences, blogs and ongoing relationships help keep us on top of trends, opportunities and threats.

Step Four. This one is the biggie. We can make a choice as to whether or not to be a disruptor or be the disrupted. A disruptor is an innovator who turns an industry on its head with a radical idea. Those who choose to stick with what they are already doing are vulnerable to becoming a victim of this marketplace disruption. Some industries rock along for years with little or no disruptive innovation. In others (technology, for example), disruption occurs daily. Even if we don’t create a huge and splashy disruption of some sort, the fact that we continue to try and do so will often be enough to keep us on the cutting edge.

One of the most prominent disruptors of our time is Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group. He has a mindset of looking at various industries and seeing an opportunity to innovate. Then he does it. Often it works – sometimes it doesn’t, but few can argue the success he has had with more than 400 companies.

Resting on the laurels of success is a dangerous game. I imagine at one point in time Walkman sales were off the charts and the folks at Sony were feeling pretty good. And then, BOOM, the ride is over. It’s important to keep our foot on the metaphorical gas pedal. Keep marketing no matter what. Build a backlog. Take the utmost advantage of good times. But . . . always remember and practice Steps One through Four. It’s the best vaccination for obsolescence.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

manual typewriter

Curious?

How curious are you? This may seem like a curious question (pun intended) for me to be asking. But follow along. Remember when we were in elementary school how the world looked so huge? We were in awe and wonderment of all there was to learn. When my daughters were young the phrase I heard the most was, “Daddy, why ______” – then fill in the blank. Why does the sun come up in the east instead of the west? Why do dogs bark but chickens cluck? And the list goes on forever. The point is, as children we were curious about nearly everything.

As we get older our curiosity changes and our questions are generally more mature. Naturally we’ve learned a lot over the years and sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in a “learning dearth” rut. In other words, we ask fewer questions and seek fewer answers. If we’re not careful we can become very one-dimensional, wrapped in our comfortable cocoon and drifting along on the river of life. I’m not being critical, but as entrepreneurs, we can be more effective and accomplish more if we maintain our curiosity. Asking why often leads to innovation. Why do certain processes exist within our organization? How could a particular product be improved? What could we do to provide better customer service?

There are a number of things that we can do to maintain the curiosity bug. Reading different publications (not just business books) on a regular basis is stimulating. This might include such topics as human interest, hard news, politics, religion, travel, philosophy, humor and sports. The Internet is today’s version of the World Book Encyclopedia – on steroids! Sometimes I’ll simply surf an obscure site just to see what’s there. A walk through Home Depot serves the same purpose. Frequent conversations with friends and colleagues are invaluable in stoking curiosity. Attend sporting events, the theater, concerts, seminars and other live activities. For me, I’m constantly asking the why, what, how, where and when questions in the context of everything I see and do.

We can become more creative and innovative by being intentional about arousing our curiosity. Blend this with some quiet, meditative time, and we find new ideas pouring into our consciousness. This quiet time is critical for it gives us the opportunity to empty our minds of all the clutter that accumulates through the course of the day. And the vacuum that is created opens the way for solutions to problems to emerge and for new opportunities to be born. But curiosity is the beginning of this winning formula.

If you feel like you’ve become a bit stale in the curiosity department, I recommend that you keep a simple journal for a few weeks. Record the things you do each day to stimulate your curiosity. Write down any new ideas that you have. See how many why, what, how, where and when questions you can ask . . . and answer. Don’t forget the quiet time that is needed each day to allow your curious mind to make sense of all of this.

Curiosity, creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand. We’re never too old to recapture that childlike curiosity that we experienced when we were seven.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

encyclopedias

The Enemy

As entrepreneurs we place a great deal of value on flexibility, creativity and efficiency. We thrive on developing new ideas and managing risk. Our fires are stoked when we find ourselves in situations where we must be quick and nimble. We succeed because we are positive, optimistic and passionate, and because we persevere. So what could possibly rain on our parade?

Bureaucracy is the enemy of entrepreneurship and innovation. It doesn’t matter if it’s government bureaucracy or corporate bureaucracy – both are stifling and unrelenting. We entrepreneurs are in a constant struggle with bureaucracy and our frustration grows by the day. Bureaucracies are inflexible, inefficient and slothful. While entrepreneurship is a dream catcher, bureaucracies are dream-killers. So what is an entrepreneur to do?

Government bureaucracy is a subject unto itself. Entrepreneurs can do two things to combat government bureaucracies. One is to figure out how to maneuver and work-around them. I’ve made the mistake of trying to fight government bureaucracy in the past and it was always a losing battle – primarily because they have no accountability. Rather than fight, we can choose to become innovative involving not only our business initiatives, but also in the way we interact with a government bureaucracy. And of course the other thing we can do is support political candidates who believe in streamlining and/or eliminating bureaucracies.

Corporate bureaucracy is almost as maddening as the government variety. They generally exist as a result of the implementation of systems and processes that are cobbled together over an extended period of time. Many corporate bureaucracies are never intended to be so. They simply evolve. In the absence of a well-defined strategy a vacuum exists. Business people tend to do a lot of “firefighting,” constantly reacting to issues that are presented on a daily basis. The sum total of this reactionary approach to doing business; the vacuum that is present with the absence of a strategy, and the hodge-podge of solutions that are produced, equals a greater and greater entrenched bureaucracy. Conversely, a well-thought corporate vision wrapped in strong strategy and precision tactics, does not allow this vacuum to see the light of day.

To ensure that innovation and entrepreneurship flourish we must focus on creating a roadmap that is clearly defined for everyone on our team. When we see “firefighting” beginning to occur this is our danger signal that bureaucracy will ensue. This is our opportunity to step back and re-examine our vision and our strategy. It’s a time when we can tweak and modify our operations to be totally aligned with our entrepreneurial spirit.

For the sake of our customers, our team members and everyone who comes into contact with our enterprise, it should be our goal to avoid the establishment of bureaucracy at all costs. When we succeed, we’ll enjoy an abundance of happy customers, happy team members and prosperity at all levels.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

firefighting

MAS

Question: I am very goal-oriented and set very specific objectives for myself. I meet my goals fairly consistently but I just don’t think I’m making the kind of progress personally or professionally that I desire. Any suggestions on how to step up my game?

Answer: Conventional wisdom says that we should always set goals. We’re also told to set “stretch” goals – that is, we need to set objectives that may be attainable but with considerably more effort than normal. Setting goals and achieving them – especially stretch goals, can produce a very satisfying feeling. But think about this for a moment. Is it our goal to simply be satisfied? Or do we want to accomplish amazing things?

Setting and meeting goals doesn’t usually allow us to accomplish amazing things. Let me clarify something here before you get the wrong idea. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and in fact, it’s a necessary process in business and in our personal lives. The differentiator is the mindset we hold about our goals. When we focus only on achieving the goal . . . we probably will. But if we use the goal as a minimum standard for achievement we open ourselves to the possibility that we might accomplish something even bigger and better.

I have been practicing this concept for a number of years and the results are not incremental. Let me explain. Earlier in my career I spent a lot of time visualizing the results I was pursuing. And most of the time those results were realized. But after doing this for a while, I came to understand that by only working to achieve my goals I was actually limiting myself. So I began setting goals in a manner I called Minimum Achievable Standards (MAS). This didn’t mean I set minimal goals – a very important distinction. I made sure that the objectives were realistic and sometimes even of the stretch variety. But then my focus became on how I could become more creative and innovative to perform the task at hand. I really didn’t worry about the goal at that point because I knew it would be achieved. The real question became how far beyond the goal could I go. The results have been exponential ever since.

Goals can be inspirational or perspirational. We can work very hard to achieve our goals. Or we can use goal setting as a springboard to soar to amazing new heights and beyond.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

jetman

Soaring

Question: I’d like to become more imaginative and creative. What suggestions do you have?

Answer: I’ve heard theories that imagination and creativity are innate – you either have it or you don’t. I’ve also heard some people state, “I’m just not a creative person.” In my opinion, everyone is born with imagination and creativity. With some people it’s “closer to the surface” than with others, but it’s still present within every one of us. The key is what we do to bring it into reality.

As entrepreneurs, we tend to spend a lot of time in a left brain mode. We’re analyzing, planning, verbalizing, logical and detail-oriented. But imagination and creativity emanate from the right brain. And if we don’t spend much (if any) time in a right brain mode, how then can we develop our ability to imagine and create the good that we seek? There certainly are things we can do that are outside our comfort zone. What might they be?

I used to read business books and magazines all the time. Nothing else was in my library. Growing up I loved to read, but as I began my career it was all about learning everything I could about business methods, theories and case studies. I participated in education sessions and seminars to obtain a professional designation – all related to my industry. I wrote articles for trade publications. Again, they were all focused on the business of my business. After a few years it became clear to me that my one-dimensional approach to reading, learning and writing wasn’t doing anything to make me more creative or innovative. There is no doubt that I was becoming an expert in my field, but so what? Who wants to be a boring expert? And I noticed that solving problems wasn’t as easy or as fun as it was when I first started my journey.

A course correction was in order for me. I began reading a wide variety of publications. I actually began reading fiction books! Rather than allowing my whole life to revolve around business and more particularly, my business, I decided it was time to be much more curious about a whole lot of things. As a kid, I remember rainy Saturday mornings spent with World Book encyclopedias. I would pore through them in fascination. Somehow I had moved away from exercising my right brain. Living a more varied life was a gradual thing. But I found that the more I got out of my comfort zone and did things unrelated to my business, the more creative and imaginative I became. Today I believe that my levels of creativity and imagination are at an all-time high because I touch everything that I can – music, literature, spirituality, philanthropy, social studies, psychology, sports and the list goes on.

In order for our imaginations to soar we must step out of the forest and into the sunlight. Then we can look around and see beyond our limits. When we become curious about and interested in an infinite number of things, our creativity and intuition will become stronger and new ideas will flow effortlessly.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

soaring