For years I have implored my audiences to “create a culture that embraces change.” I even put together a custom program for the Apple Specialists Group on “Nimblocity” (that is being nimble with velocity) and tell clients that if they want to be successful in the future they have to be… Nimbolicious! But frankly, that is not true anymore.
To be successful in the future, the rate of internal innovation must exceed the rate of external innovation, in other words, you can’t simply embrace change – you have to be the one who creates and drives the change.
I challenge you to go back and read that last sentence and think deeply about how that will impact you and your business. That means that in order to win in the marketplace you must out-think, out-innovate and out-execute everyone you compete against – both as an organization and as an individual. This is a HUGE idea and an even bigger challenge. To me, there are a minimum of six key things you must do in order to be a game changer.
1. Business Acumen
To even get on the playing field you must have a strong foundation of general business knowledge. This means constantly studying the fundamentals of business excellence such as strategy, finance, marketing, sales, talent development, technology / innovation, customer service… and keeping a close eye on local, regional, national and global business and economic trends. It’s also critical to look at best practices of top companies (inside and outside of your industry) to see what ideas you might be able to apply to your organization.
2. Industry Expertise
You must be an expert, and I do not use that word lightly, on your industry, your competitors and especially your products and services. There is absolutely no excuse for not being exceedingly knowledgeable about your industry and all of the factors impacting your business within it. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but I am constantly surprised how many people I meet that are clueless about even major trends in the field they work in.
3. Strategic Thinking
Once you have built a solid base of general business acumen and become an expert on your industry, then you must dedicate the time necessary to combine those two areas of knowledge and think about everything you are learning and what it might mean to you and your business. That is right, you need to dedicate 5-10% of your time to just sit and think, noodle, brainstorm and introduce random ideas to each other to see if they get along. The reason that so few people are great strategic thinkers, is that so few people invest the time and effort necessary to do serious strategic thinking.
4. Pattern Recognition
The purpose of all of this thinking is to find the patterns. Strategic insight occurs when you see something before others see it; when you notice a trend, an anomaly, a spike in the data that indicates a change in your industry. Netflix saw the trend in online movie delivery, Blockbuster did not. Apple saw the trend in smart phones, Blackberry did not. Nikon saw the shift to digital photography, Kodak did not. Those who succeed in business today do not just adapt to changes in the marketplace, they anticipate and then create changes in the marketplace.
5. Business Model Reinvention
For an insight to be of value to organization it must represent a major disruptive change to your industry that will give your business a clear (and hopefully sustainable) market advantage. However, this sort of change typically means that you will have to make some dramatic adjustments and innovations to the way you currently operate. What is required here is courage; the courage to take big, bold risks, the courage to abandon old ways and the courage to create a totally new path for your industry.
6. Disciplined Execution
Even the best strategies in the world are completely useless if they are not implemented effectively. Great ideas do not change an industry; taking great ideas to market better and faster than any of your competition does. This means that your management team must be superb at taking your strategic insight, turning it into a sharply-focused and well-communicated strategy and then ensuring that is implemented flawlessly. An easy thing to say, a devilishly hard thing to accomplish.
I have spent the last 25 years of my life running businesses and studying, writing and teaching about business excellence around the world and in no time in my career has the need to do the six things I listed above been more urgent. We are entering a new era in the business world, what many people are calling the Second Machine Age, marked by mind-boggling advances in technology, computer learning, robotics, medicine and many other fields that will fundamentally change business on a global scale. As I see it, you really only have two choices: drive the change or be run over.
John has also been recognized as one of the Top 100 Business Thought Leaders in America, one of the Top 100 Small Business Influencers in America, one of the Top 50 Small Business Experts in America and one of the top 500 Leadership Development Experts in the World. The American Management Association named John one of America’s Top 50 Leaders to Watch along with Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google and Jeff Bezos of Amazon.
You can learn more about his work at JohnSpence.com