Do you need a Groundhog Day?

Today’s guest post from Paul Hannam does a nice job of using the movie Groundhog Day to illustrate a point about personal change.

Changing from your worst day to your best day (his example), changing your business, even changing you.

It’s a good read.

Check it out it here.

Innovation breeds profit? Who knew?

New corsair
Creative Commons License photo credit: psiaki

Profit is an evil word in many circles these days, but I used it anyway.

Are you the innovation leader in your market?

It seems to work for Apple.

Think back to your last real innovation. Yes, that one.

Remember that product or service that made customers and prospects flock to your office, store, website, trade show booth or reseller displays?

Once you got to that point, business sure did seem easy, didn’t it?

Think a little farther back. How’d you get there?

Follow the thought process that made you decide to reach out a bit more than normal.

Isn’t it worth being your market’s or even your industry’s thought leader again?

Sure makes those trips to the bank a lot more fun.

Profitable creativity or touchy-feely crap?

Jobs.

Politicians talk about them.

Some own businesses that have created jobs.

The trouble is, it’s not just any-old-job that needs creating.

According to author Richard Florida, 45% of US jobs today are service-sector jobs. In other words, often low-paying jobs as retail sales clerks, customer service staff, food prep workers, personal health aides, and so on.

If you think back a few years, these are the same jobs that Americans supposedly “didn’t want to do”.

Rhetoric aside, the problem with these jobs is that the prevailing wage requires 2 or 3 of them to support a single household, sometimes more.

This isn’t a blog about humanities and social science, so we won’t pursue the impacts of that problem.

And those service jobs?

Florida comments on his blog about a portion of the working population that he calls the “Creative Class”. He refers to expanding creativity well beyond this so-called “class” in this comment about nationwide jobs strategy:

At bottom, a jobs strategy needs to start from a fundamental principle: That each and every human being is creative and that we can only grow, develop, and prosper by harnessing the full creativity of each of us. For the first time in history, future economic development requires further human development. This means develop a strategy to nurture creativity across the board â?? on the farm, in the factory, and in offices, shops, non-profits, and a full gamut of service class work, as well as within the creative class. Our future depends on it.

It might be easy to discard this as a bunch of touchy-feely crap that’s of no use to anyone.

Before you do that, look around in your own community.

Who’s rocking?

Which employers are rocking, despite the average condition of businesses in today’s economy? Why do you think their situation is so different from everyone else’s?

Have you ASKED?

It’s easy to say “well, they aren’t in the construction, building materials or real estate business”, but that’s the lazy answer.

First off, they might very well be in those industries. If they are, they’re doing something differently than those who are not doing well.

They observed. They reacted. They planned. They strategized. And after all that, maybe they got a little lucky.

Are they also innovative? Creative? What processes are used to create new products, nurture new ideas and change their market, much less their business?

How’d they get that way? I suspect part of it comes from observing others and from experience on prior projects.  There might be a key employee who drives the entire company’s creative process, or transformed how they look forward and how fast they take action.

Finally, they might exhibit…

Habits

Australian Innovation, an innovation-focused group of representatives from the private sector as well as Australian Federal and State agencies, identified 7 key habits of innovative/creative organizations:

  1. A deep understanding of the customer and market needs: Engage with customers; Understand industry trends and competitive environment; Big picture perspectives
  2. A â??Cultureâ? of innovation: Vision; leadership; Executive support; Openness to new ideas; supportive/encouraging of innovation; commercial imperative to innovate; Flexibility.
  3. An Open Innovation model: Open collaboration model and having global partnerships
  4. An appropriate funding model for innovation activities: Willingness to invest in R&D activities; Balanced investment in future versus current needs.
  5. Ability to execute: Commitment of resources dedicated to innovation; Continuous development/improvement processes; Benchmarking; Clear goals/deadlines/strategy; Best practice evolves over time (dynamic); Flexible and quick to move.
  6. Human intellect/creativity: Development of skills; Knowledge base; Talented Educated individuals; Willingness to learn/change.
  7. Management of Intellectual Property: Ability to manage/protect IP that is generated through the innovation process in a practical manner.

If you let yourself get past the touchy-feely, can you develop these habits?

What works for the rockers?

Make a list of the rockin’ businesses in your community. Ask to meet their CEOs. Ask all of them to get together as a group and speak to your Chamber of Commerce or even an adhoc group of business owners.

Ask them what they do differently. Ask open-ended questions. Yes/No questions don’t often contribute to breakthroughs.

You might also look nationally to see who the creative employers are – no matter what kind of workers they employ.

The obvious in-our-face answers are Apple and Facebook, but not all creative employers are in the tech sector. In fact, they’d better not be limited to that sector.

Want to start simple? Ask yourself at least one question per day that confronts and challenges the status quo in your market.

Playing Netflix Chess

I read publications, punditry and blogs focused on a number of different industries.

I hope you do as well. Reading only the trade publications from your industry is dangerous, dangerous, dangerous.

For example, there’s an awesome blog post by Ken Doctor based on comments made by Netflix founder Reed Hastings“. Go read it (< 1000 words) and slide back here. The link will open in a new window.

I don’t have a digital business

Some of these things might be perceived as applicable only to a “digital business”. As you read “Savor the economics of digital distribution” or “presentation revolution is still to come”, you might wonder how these could impact your blacksmithing business.

I think if you look hard enough – every business probably has a digital (ie: tech-related or internet-enabled) component.  If yours doesn’t, maybe it should…

I see you out there bouncing up and down in your chair. You disagree.

If you’re a guy whose office is a F-250 full of tools, think a little about estimates, appointment scheduling, material ordering / delivery, drawings, invoices, training and safety.

Enough of that…Let’s discuss Reed’s lessons.

Spend your time on tomorrow, not today

This is all about being strategic. Delegate today, as much as possible. If you get bogged down in the “crisis of the urgent”, you’ll have a very difficult time focusing on the long-term strategic needs. You can’t (shouldn’t, at least) manage your business “paycheck to paycheck”, even if your cash flow currently feels that way.

Savor the economics of digital distribution

In All the President’s Men, it was “follow the money“. In your business, it’s “follow the paper”. As you read about the $600 million Netflix currently spends on postage and the labor involved in DVD quality control, consider the costs and labor you incur by shoveling paper around.

Even if you are legally obligated to keep that paper, you can make changes that allow you to handle it ONCE and thereafter refer to digital copies until the paper copies are (possibly) needed. Leroy Schulz suggested I get a ScanSnap several years ago. I finally did. UNREAL. If you deal with a lot of paper, just get one. That’s just one example of a small, but substantial change you can make to unchain yourself from the paper.

Don’t sweat the timeline

The time to be visionary about what your clients need is NOW. It is NOT when they (finally?) realize they need that great idea you had years ago.

That said, you should expect to have to educate your customers and your industry about why that visionary thing is so important. It will take time. Take advantage of the visionary advance while you can and sell it as soon as you can show value for it.

No one asked for an iPhone, yet Apple has sold millions, transforming their financials and leveraging what they’ve learned throughout their product line. Visionary. Again.

Everyone reading this is capable of being that visionary in some aspect of your industry. You just gotta put yourself in the customer’s place.

Play chess, not monopoly

Strategy, strategy, strategy. Sure, you can fill a lobbyist’s wallet and invent a monopoly, but eventually that advantage will somehow end. It’s tough (though not impossible) to legislate innovation out of business. I’m pretty confident that entrepreneurial innovation is smarter than the collective intelligence of Helena or DC. It’s certainly easy to move faster than any legislature.

If you put the customer and their wants/needs at the center of your strategic thought, you *will* succeed. Good chess players think 2-3-4 moves ahead. Great chess players are thinking a dozen or more ahead. Think about your business that way.

The best way to create what appears to be a monopoly (in the eyes of inferior competitors) is to deliver amazing every single day and improve with every interaction, every hour, every shipment, etc. Chess is no different. The best can play and innovate in their head, during the game.

The presentation revolution is still to come

For many of you, this is about mobile, mobile, mobile. Yes, kinda like “Location, location, location.”  But it isn’t just about that, so don’t think solely in that way.

How many ways can what you do be delivered? If your business seems immune, think about the overhead of doing business with you. Are you causing more of it? Do you invoice on paper or PDF? Do you mail a check (requiring a trip to the bank) or do you pay some other way? Do you invoice (or pay) manually every month when it could be automated? (ditto for payment) What about ordering? Stock inquiries? Appointment scheduling?

Do easier, faster, smarter. Without cutting quality.

Culture counts

Working in a place with people you want to work with and people who value excellence. It’s easy to slough off as “touchy-feely”, but if you’ve worked in an environment that values quality and improvement, you’ll never again feel comfortable in anything else (well, unless you’re a slacker).

And finally, Walmart.

Ken’s comment about Hastings’ response to why Walmart didn’t kill Netflix – and why it shouldn’t kill your business – speaks volumes: “Itâ??s not the stuff, itâ??s what you do with the stuff to please customers. Netflix isnâ??t about simply getting you a movie. Itâ??s the recommendation engine and lists, the customer-pleasing, no-late-fees (remember when this was a huge issue?), its easy-to-use interface and its social/sharing emphasis, among other features that let it distinguish itself in consumersâ?? minds.

If that quote doesn’t spawn thought processes to revolutionize your industry, then you just aren’t thinking hard enough.

China, India, Microsoft and Apple: What they do isn’t FAIR!

Yesterday, we talked about fierce competition from other places and other businesses, as well as doing your homework.

At the end of the day, all things pointed to a single bottom line: What has happened to our business(es) and thus to our communities is JUST NOT FAIR.

If Pittsburgh’s businesses have better internet or manufacturing facilities than your town: That’s not fair.

If businesses in Mumbai only have to pay their workers $10 an hour while you have to pay $42 an hour: That’s not fair.

You get the idea. In fact, I’m sure you could reel off other examples that are meaningful to your business, but ultimately, we’ve gotta find someone to BLAME. So let’s get to it.

Assigning blame

Let’s call the union bosses and blame them for not protecting our jobs. Let’s call the politicians and blame them for raising taxes. Let’s blame engineers, programmers and their employers for creating the technology and automation that’s stealing work from us.

And let’s most definitely blame those danged “foreigners” because they don’t want another generation of their kids living in a disgusting slum and drinking from a stream that 4000 of their neighbors pee into.

They have a lot of nerve, don’t they? We deserve that work.

Let’s blame Microsoft for changing their software too quickly (or too slowly). Let’s blame Apple for putting out a “phone” that made everyone rethink what mobile could really do for us.

Wait, I’ve got it… we’ll say these companies are “ANTI-COMPETITIVE”.

We can get our politicians to put them out of business, or at least make things fair. Maybe we can get the Feds to hobble them somehow.

But let’s not spend any time or money investing in ourselves and improving our business, our people, and our products and services. Let’s not totally rethink the market we serve and how we serve it.

That’s what those other people do.

We’ll continue the discussion tomorrow. I think you see where we’re headed.

In the meantime, I’m curious: What does “anti-competitive” mean to you?

PS: The girl in the photo has a lot of nerve helping her brother and sister with their homework using a small chalkboard while sitting on a piece of slate on the dirt floor or her parents’ shack, don’t you think? It just isn’t fair that her parents aren’t paying school taxes or private school tuition. In fact, she probably isn’t even following the approved government-mandated curriculum. If that’s not anti-competitive…

5 sources of innovation

Reflected Nest
Creative Commons License photo credit: cmaccubbin

Amid the turkey sandwiches and (making it right now) turkey pot pie, I’m also serving up a guest post about innovation.

You may not be aware that Google “gives” their employees “20% time“.

20% time is effectively 1 day a week to work on the pet projects, things of interest or just curiosities. Results have varied, but some of them have turned into Google’s products.

They promote and encourage, if not demand, that their staff “work” on feeding their ability to innovate.  In addition to being a great way to keep employees, it’s obviously a way to encourage the best and most innovative to join Google.

Innovation, not price, is what sets you apart for the long term. Here are “5 secrets” to innovation.

PS: You may not be thinking so hard about attracting talent right now…but you should be.

@GaryVee: Don’t be average, Average Joe

Normally, I hold guest posts till the weekend, but folks, that wouldn’t be fair to you. This video is a gift that keeps on giving and you need to see it now. Enjoy.

Whether you run a specialty retailer in Billings, a publishing company in Winnipeg, an e-commerce store in Colorado Springs, a niche business services operation in San Francisco, or something else entirely, you simply have to absorb this.

(video has been removed from the net – sorry. If I find it, I will repost the link here)

There are numerous instructive moments there for everyone and they should be drop dead obvious. It might take more than one listen, but do it.

Average Joe

If you read the comments, you’ll see someone ask “What’s in this for the average Joe?”

Beyond @gapingvoid’s “Don’t be average” comment, if you can’t easily take away a dozen lessons from this video, you really need to decompress and watch it again and again until they sink in.

Gary’s one suggestion to anyone who would challenge him in the wine market: “Be better”, suggesting that if he saw Gary Vaynerchuk in his market, he’d go after him big time.

Did management learn anything after 246 years?

Poor management can crush something as big and strong as Wal-Mart.

Today’s guest post comes from NY Times contributor Judith Flanders, who writes about the failure of the current owners of Waterford Wedgwood to continue the legacy of Wedgwood’s founder, Josiah Wedgwood.

While brief, it contains several nuggets I’d categorize as “instructional”.

Packaging and perception are important in any economy, in any time.

Do your clients need a faster horse?

Back in the last century, Henry Ford is famous for saying “You can have any color Ford you want as long as it’s black.”

Today, Ford Motor Company has a different thought process, but that isn’t all that Henry said.

He also said this:

If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me “A faster horse”.

Doing research into customer needs is a necessary thing, just don’t confuse the customer’s stated needs with the problem they’re actually trying to solve.

When a client says they need a faster horse, don’t they really mean “I need to go faster”?

What about your clients?

How much time do you spend studying what your clients *really* need?

  • Isn’t anticipating those needs what market leaders really do?
  • Isn’t it your job to see them before anyone else?

Isn’t it your job to present those new solutions to problems clients didn’t realize they had – until you pointed them out?

One of my favorite local CEOs here in Montana says they deliver their products “just before just-in-time”… isn’t that the job of a market leader?

It takes some thought, in fact, maybe even some study of the problems your clients really have. Not just a questionnaire about the problems of today often caused – paraphrasing what Einstein said – by the thinking of yesterday.

Did any of us realize we needed a Walkman until Sony pointed it out? Or an iPod, until Apple started selling them?

So think about it: Do your clients *really* need a faster horse?

Or is that just a symptom that cloaks the real problem facing them?