Disruption is everywhere. It’s not confined to Amazon and Netflix. Every industry and every business is experiencing it. If you haven’t felt it yet, you will. Sometimes you don’t recognize the disruption until it’s already happened to you.
This lack of awareness is what I call “Narrow Visioning”.
“Narrow Visioning” takes two forms. The first is more obvious. It happens when new technology and processes fundamentally alter your industry to the point where your business becomes obsolete – when the retail store has to close because Amazon was faster and cheaper or when streaming video puts your local video rental shop out of business.
The other form of “Narrow Visioning” happens when an entrepreneur doesn’t recognize new opportunities that open up. The usual way this happens is when an entrepreneur becomes successful and too comfortable. There are no serious threats. Things are working. So, why make a change?
Why make a change?? The answer is that the world is constantly in a state of change. Don’t abandon what works, but please be alert. Change is happening around you. You should constantly be looking for new opportunities: new markets, new products, new services, new ways of attacking your market, whole new businesses. If you’re successful and only want to keep doing what you’re doing because it’s safe, you have blinders on. You’re not seeing the world as it is. Opportunities are slipping by for someone else to seize. Your vision is narrow and so are your prospects.
The solution to “Narrow Visioning” is simple common sense – take a fresh look. That can be hard to do from the inside, especially if you’ve been doing the same thing over and over for years. It can require a new set of eyes from a new mind taught from different experiences. In the churn of change there is no shortage of ideas out there – some that work and some that don’t. And they can all teach you something. Many ideas that you discover can be applied in a practical common sense way to your circumstance. Don’t overlook them.
Common habit is the enemy of common sense, just as Narrow Visioning is the enemy of success.
“Time is a jet plane. It moves too fast.” – Bob Dylan
When we think of execution we naturally focus on results. Results are the objective. Yet, it takes more than planning for the end-point. Careful consideration of time is an equally important to success.
When a pirate “executes” a prisoner, it happens quickly. Meanwhile, our modern criminal justice system includes fact finding, thoughtful evaluation of evidence, and a lawful judgement. Each step must be followed in sequence and timed to produce the fair result that society demands. All that happens before an accused criminal can be “executed”.
Those examples seem radically different from executing a business plan, but they have more in common than you might think. Nothing can spoil execution more than steps happening too soon or too late. Every important element might be accounted, but without planning with the element of time, chaos is hard to avoid.
Another time issue arises when the environment is moving too fast. After the plan is properly mapped out, if it takes too much time, the plan could be ruined by unanticipated changes outside its original scope.
The solution is to design plans that are plotted on a timeline to coordinate each event. Next, examine the plan as a whole to find ways to shrink the overall length. If the plan still takes too long, examine potential changes in the environment that might upset the plan. When risks are uncovered, edit the plan to account for them.
Flexibility should be included in all plans, especially when time is a wild card.
Everyone has plans. Some are formal. Some are informal. Putting your plans in writing usually helps you clarify your objectives and how to achieve them. Too often business plans are created only to satisfy the demands of partners, investors, or lenders. Once they have served their purpose you can find them sitting on a shelf – followed half-heartedly. They stare down like a snapshot of how you felt months ago, frozen in time. They are no longer relevant to your current situation. The prose is dead.
Executing your plan is more important than creating a plan. In order to be a useful guide your plan neesd to be dynamic. It should be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changing circumstances.
As you prepare your plan, you always need to make sure you have the resources needed to execute. Equally important, you and your organization need to have the will to see your plan become reality. Will is the determination to complete your plans. It is the mental toughness to persevere.
This is where a written plan can really make a difference. You should share your business plan with everyone on your team. Parts of your plan may be confidential. If that’s the case, consider creating an abridged version or a simple one-page summary. That will help keep everyone on the same page, literally. Everyone needs to pull together to make your organization a success and your plan can point out the direction to pull.
Not every plan you make needs to be a formal document. But, if the success of your organization depends on a team to get things done, you need some way to communicate your plan and inspire the will to make it happen.
Everyone has their own leadership style. There is no magic formula that fits everyone. The key is that your leadership style needs to reflect your personality, your values, and your priorities. That said there are certain things every leader should do to avoid being isolated from the realities of the organization and, especially, to avoid alienation from the team being lead.
1. Put together a gang of 2-4 outsiders who you trust to give you honest feedback. It’s often the ones not immersed in the day to day struggle who have the perspective to identify the gaps in your strategies.
2. Choose a trusted insider. This will give you the other perspective. You need someone who will not be a “yes” person. It needs to be someone who has a finger on the pulse of the organization and is unafraid to deliver bad news to you.
3. Reflect. Leave time each day to think about everything that’s going on. Get in touch with your gut feelings and instincts, even if you are unsure. It’s a good idea to write them down, record them, or keep a journal. The next morning review them and hold on to the thoughts that seem to be most valid.
Practicing these three simple techniques will help you keep your priorities straight and sharpen your leadership skills, regardless of your personal style.
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My motto is “You can delegate tasks, but you can’t delegate responsibility.” It’s a variation on the famous Truman saying “The buck stops here”.
The truth is, if you are lucky, you probably have people willing, if not eager, to take on responsibilities. When that happens, as an owner/CEO/entrepreneur (boss), you need to embrace that opportunity.
Yet, so many times I’ve seen that opportunity bungled. The most grievous example is when someone proposes a great project. A clear vision is presented, discussed, and accepted. Then the boss sets about taking charge, as bosses love to do, and blindly delegating tasks to multiple people with no concept of project management. When that happens the boss has tacitly accepted the responsibility for the project’s success. If the project succeeds, the boss can claim credit as a great manager of people. If it fails, the boss has lots of places to point fingers, including at the person who came up with the idea (even if the failure is due to the way the boss managed the project).
Instead why not hand the project over to the person who came up with the great idea; say, “run with it”; and offer support? This is the person with the vision and has the best concept as to how the pieces should fall together. Yes, ultimately the responsibility falls on the boss, but why not give the person with the idea a chance to take a piece of that responsibility and demonstrate an ability to succeed?
Things don’t always happen this way, but if you start with a willingness to give credit for success to your people and a willingness to accept the blame for failures (Buck stops here), you’ll go a long way toward building a loyal and passionate team.
There is a false debate raging in the world of usability, among its scientific practitioners.
Some like Jakob Neilsen argue that mobile users and desktop users have different objectives. They contend that the only way to address these disparate needs is to create separate sites with different content structures. This multi-web approach places extra demands on designers and content producers. While it might seem like a boom to web developers, it is impractical to expect small businesses to manage multiple sites. Without small business participation the growth of online commerce will stall. Consumers will be disheartened by a patchwork that includes inadequate mobile specific sites; mobile apps with limited functionality; traditional desktop sites that do not translate to mobile; and poorly designed responsive sites.
Not only will we have two (or more) webs that narrowly focus on screen size, we will also have two classes for online commerce.
Smart phones and tablets are disruptive technologies. They upset the settled conventions of desktop usability. While some users remain wedded to large screens and others are mobile-only, many more are apt to access the web with multiple devices. It will take time for things to settle out. Meanwhile HTML5 and CSS3 have arrived in the nick of time and responsive design seems to be gaining steam.
The truth is that we are witnessing an evolution. Mobile technology is still changing. Sooner or later the web and users will adapt to the new realities. Judging by the pace at which changes is happening, I predict it will be sooner rather than later. I also predict that a single web solution will prevail.
If we accept these predictions as inevitable, it becomes easier to envision how things will be in this new era. Desktop users will accept a simplified landing page that might require an extra click to reach content. Meanwhile mobile users will adapt to new types of navigation so they access the same content available to PC users. As users adapt, usability experts will concoct new standards and designers will create presentations that incorporate them. It is already starting to happen.
Both sides in this debate should simply back off. Stop thinking about compromises and start thinking evolution.
The marketing concept I often have the most difficulty communicating to clients is the difference between push marketing and pull marketing.
In the pre-internet and pre-amazon era we were all conditioned to believe that in the marketplace the business with the best argument wins. The business with the lowest price or the loudest message will dominate. To an extent that still works. For example, the nagging repetition of furniture shills on TV drill their brand message into our brains so deeply that when we are actually in the market for furniture we march like zombie robots to their store without thinking. That may work for your local furniture store. People still don’t buy a couch without sitting on it first and you can’t do that online….yet.
For most businesses that doesn’t work anymore. Consumers have too many choices and too much information.
Consumers are more demanding. They have more control than ever before. So what do they want? Price is still important. More than that they also respond to relationships. The business that provides a relationship has an advantage.
Good customer service is a start. That is expected and is usually not a distinguishing advantage. Consumers today are asking “What else can you do for me?”
Give me something of value for free. Show me that you are serious about wanting my business. It doesn’t have to be of monetary value. It can be entertaining or it can be something of educational value that will help me in my work.
Listen to me. Ask me what I want. Engage. Be personal.
Consumers want to know that there are real people behind your business. If you can connect person-to-person with your customers, you are ahead of the game. One maxim that has not changed is that people do business with people they like. So, be likeable. Likeable doesn’t mean accumulating followers on Facebook. It means that customers like you and your business for good reasons. That is what builds loyalty.
The difficulty with understanding pull marketing is that it is hard to escape the power and lure of push marketing. It is the prism through which we instinctively see all marketing. So, when I say pull marketing the initial thought is to somehow grab consumers and pull them into becoming buyers. It sounds like kidnapping. Thinking of it this way is like the push me pull you of Dr. Doolittle fame. (Technically it is called pushmi-pullyu.). Both sides are still part of the same animal. There is no difference. However the true meaning of pull marketing has nothing to do with kidnapping customers. It is all about customers pulling you closer. They do the pulling, not you. In successful pull marketing customers seek you out. They love you on their own because of all the great things you do. For example consumers love LL Bean. Sure the sales help, but you can usually buy elsewhere for less. Consumers pull LL Bean close for many reasons. They love all the free advice they offer. They love LL Bean because the people really really really want you to use their products properly and enjoy them. They love the legendary return policy. LL Bean is a very sincere and honest business. People rave. It is all built into their brand. LL Bean is an old business but it is well suited for the new environment and it knows how pull marketing works.
In the new environment understanding and properly using the techniques of pull marketing is the best way to distinguish your business from the competition.
If you dismiss social media as the pointless nattering of teens and adults with too much time on their hands, maybe you dismissed Google search 8 or 10 years ago, too. “How can a free search engine help my business?” you might have asked. Since that question is settled, we need to consider how social fits into the picture for business.
By now every business should be on Facebook. Your customers expect it regardless of how socially active you are. Facebook is ideal for restaurants and not as helpful for funeral parlors. Nonetheless being there is important, just as having a website is important. Slowly businesses are discovering the power of engagement and how to apply “Pull” marketing in the new environment. (I’ll have more on that in future posts.) But now it is even more important to have a strong social presence for other reasons.
How your business ranks in Google, Bing, and Yahoo is important for obvious reasons. Logically you use keywords and use the traditional techniques to optimize your site. Those techniques will get you only part way to where you need to be. Google now factors in your social credibility. If your business is on Google+ and you have more followers than a competitor, your business will rank higher in keyword search results, all other things being equal. But it doesn’t end there. If you have a YouTube channel, that will boost your ranking, too. Don’t forget that Google owns YouTube. Google will even add a clickable thumbnail to your videos in search results. Studies show that searchers will bypass text results in favor of ones containing videos. The number of views and viewer rankings also factor in to where you show up. Google even gives more weight if viewers watch the video all the way to the end rather than cut out early. Google casts a wide net beyond its own properties to accumulate even more information about your social presence. Google doesn’t have access to everything inside the Facebook empire but it certainly knows if your business has a page there.
If that is not enough of a motivation to pay attention to social, consider what Facebook is doing with its billions of dollars spent on R&D. Currently for most users when you use the Facebook search you will find results within Facebook followed by a generic keyword search in Bing. This year Facebook will be rolling out what it calls Graph Search. With a huge captive audience it is making a move to compete against Google and other conventional search engines. You can try Graph Search here. Essentially they are leveraging that huge database of likes to better help people find precisely what they really want. Let’s say you are searching for a restaurant. You can fine tune the search by cuisine and city, just as you can using Google. But, with Facebook you can also factor in “liked by my friends” and even “visited by my friends” all from a single search screen. There is obviously much more depth available with Facebook’s vast data. If Graph Search catches on, why would anyone use Google?
It’s a new environment and proper online execution requires a willingness to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of social and search.