Monday Musings – Think and Rebel

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So, are you going to just copy what your competitors do? Are you content to be just like everyone else? Do you avoid questioning what you are doing? Is failure considered the kiss of death?

If you answered yes to these questions, it’s time for a BIG change. The business world is quickly evolving. New competitors are changing the game in all industries. Organizations that leverage creative thinking and problem solving are gaining market share. It’s time to change how you and your organization operates. It’s time for innovation. It’s time to abandon the status quo.

Think different

To move beyond conventional wisdom requires several key activities; new experiences, questions, insights, and processes. You cannot win if you stay at your desk or hope to change the world staring at spreadsheets. You must get out of the office and see the world. Talk to your employees and customers. Talk to competitive customers. Understand how and why people buy and use products. Get your hands dirty. Visit customers at home, at the office, or watch them shop.

Question everything. Dig and probe to understand. Be a reporter and detective. Find out what competitors are not doing and find a better way. Find an opportunity, the gap in the market that everyone is ignoring. Look where no one is looking.

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Gather qualitative and quantitative data. Talk to people and measure them. Connect the dots. Focus on facts, not opinions. Experiment and perform tests to find what works and drives value. Avoid pseudoscience and alternative facts. See things first hand.

Have a process but be flexible. Empower your team with key skills of critical and creative thinking, and problem solving. Embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and change. Reinterpret the question to solve the problem. Find a new path. Change the plan. Deliberately and systematically force yourself to move outside the normal course.

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Take risks. Run toward chaos. Avoid the herd mentality and think. Yes, think. Be an outsider. Break the rules and ignore others. Think what no one else has thought.

Use creative thinking skills to change the game. Out-think and out-perform your competitors. Turn a disadvantage into an advantage. Connect unrelated items and create new solutions. Stop conforming.

You only have one life, do something great. Be unique and leave your mark. Become a thought leader. Rearrange things to solve new problems. Don’t end your life with regrets. Have fun and enjoy the journey. You can always be better. Learn, practice, and implement. You need to kiss a lot of frogs to make a prince. Be patient. Be different.

 Never give up

Building an Innovative Ecosystem

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How many organizations do exactly what the competition does? How many continually push-the-envelope in terms of experimentation and trying to “change the game”? How many do the same thing, year-after-year?

How many products are truly new and solve long-term problems? How many new cars make you stop and stare? How many restaurants disrupt the local food scene and draw endless lines? How many motorcycles in the last 100 years have changed the game?

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How many ads do you ignore? How many ads tell you why you should buy? How many ads don’t communicate anything? How many ads smack you in the face, get you excited, make you sit-up and pay attention?

How many strategic marketers (yeah, I know, stop laughing) have read Sun Tzu, Liddell Hart, Drucker, and Ries and Trout? How many product developers have read the classics from James Webb Young or Dr. Edward de Bono? How many art directors and copywriters have read books from successful admen such as Lord & Thomas, David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves, Joe Sugarman, or Dave Trott?

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How many employees go on yearly adventures? How many visit new cities and countries? How many eat new and strange foods? How many proactively mingle with people outside their “tribe” or attend conferences outside their industry? How many challenge themselves or push beyond their comfort zones or explore many different things? How many live a life of endless discovery?

Creativity develops from a wide range of experiences and new and shifting perspectives. Creativity develops from constant learning. Creative ideas develop from using time-tested and effective tools and techniques to connect multiple “dots”. Creative ideas do not just happen through serendipity. Creativity is not the sole domain of a select few. Everyone must and can be creative. Creative thinking drives innovation.

The importance of creativity and idea generation is as important as ever. With new, aggressive competitors entering markets from all over the globe, leaders must push for new, innovative, and differentiated products, services, and processes to drive growth. Unfortunately, most teams lack foundational skills to innovate and work within an environment that does not promote innovation. Employees cannot innovative without the right tools and corporate structure.

Continous learning

Leaders need to build innovative ecosystems that foster, encourage, and promote creativity to drive innovation. Training employees in creative and critical thinking skills, building a culture that accepts failure and encourages experimentation, and developing centers of knowledge for shared learning is critical for long-term growth, high employee engagement, and building long-term brand loyalty. A foundation for ongoing growth starts at the top.

It starts at the top. Sure, some proactive employees will do this on their own. However, to succeed in today’s challenging business environment, leaders need to drive a culture of creativity and innovation and build an innovative organization. It happens no other way.

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Leaders must put in place the systems and structure for employee development. Continuous training, ongoing practice and skill usage, feedback and interaction with experts (e.g., scholars, authors), rewards system, and knowledge systems are just the basics. It’s the blocking and tackling, not trends or gimmicks.

Open workspaces, ping-pong tables, and beanbag chairs are not what drives creativity. Training, skill development, and a culture that accepts failure and promotes continuous learning results in creativity, innovation, and success. Employees would rather learn and create, than have a cool office.

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Start small. Promote every win. Build a group of apostles that drive change. Be patient and never stop communicating. Walk the talk. Make learning a part of the organization and celebrate wins and losses. Make it fun. Create an organization that continually questions the status quo and does it better, differently. Build an innovative ecosystem.

The Blitzkrieg, Meth, John Waters, and Strategic Marketing

 

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What kind of title is this? What self-respecting doctor of business would discuss Nazis, drugs, and a noted “people’s pervert” in terms of strategy? Uh, this one. If you are not being creative and constantly working to connecting unrelated dots, you will stagnate and lose competitive advantages. Growth will suffer and new competitors will gain share.

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I am a big proponent of adopting the fundamentals of maneuver warfare for business. One of the key examples of successful maneuver is the blitzkrieg conducted by the Germans in WWI and WWII. In an excellent article by Abby Haglage in The Daily Beast, the author noted how the blitzkrieg was powered by meth. The Germans developed the drug and Hitler loved it, for himself and his troops to go faster and longer than the enemies. Combined with a superior strategy of maneuver warfare basics, the Germans maintained a furious pace that the Allies could not match. Multiple battles were won due to the high tempo of the Germans.

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Now let’s talk about John Waters. Sorry, if you are disgusted by his earlier works, but his creative genius in film and writing is can help inspire creativity and disruption. In a commencement speech in 2015 to graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design, Waters noted how important it is to constantly have new experiences, especially the strange and odd. Getting out of your comfort zone while being disciplined are dichotomies which drive change (think of the contradictory nature of strategic agility; strategic relating to firm decisions and long-term commitments whereas agility requires nimble and flexible mindsets and actions). Waters’ speech has been developed into a great book he just came out with, Make Trouble. The way Waters has lived his life (very successfully) is an excellent example for business leaders to reject the status quo and embrace change and ambiguity.

Make Trouble

So let’s connect the dots; blitzkrieg, meth, and John Waters. We take fast tempo operations which surprise the enemy, causing shock and confusion (blitzkrieg). Replace the meth with ongoing communication, culture, and knowledge management (not to mention a lot of caffeine) and add a whole lot of Waters – a deep yearning for continuous learning and new experiences, and challenging the status quo; adopting lateral thinking (the key to lateral thinking is taking several unconnected items and combining them to create innovative new things).

Lateral Thinking

It’s time to move beyond traditional, academic-based strategies (think of Porter or Prahalad). Why conduct business like most of your competitors – nothing new or different, nothing unique. Advantages occur when unconventional, non-academic theories (e.g., maneuver strategy, Lanchester strategy, strategic agility, Tom Peters) which can drive differentiation and create competitive advantages are adopted. If you never venture outside your wheelhouse, you will not develop new insights and perspectives to drive creative ideas (remember, you only know what you know – so read a lot, go to new places, talk with customers, get out of the office). The status quo results in incremental changes to existing products resulting in low growth, unengaged employees, and unenthused customers.

Unconventional business strategies can ignite growth. Developing a culture that promotes and rewards creativity and innovation is critical in today’s turbulent global business environment. Moving faster than your competitors and developing creative strategies and products will force competitors to continuously react. As you continually surprise and disrupt the market, your organization will drive forward while competitors remain flat-footed. Stop relying on outdated and routine strategies. Reignite your organization with unconventional methodologies. Embrace discomfort and ambiguity. Connect disparate pieces of information. Rethink how you think.

 

References

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/10/uncovered-records-show-nazis-were-high-on-meth

Exxon and Decentralized Command

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In a recent Bloomberg article, How Exxon Is Learning to Let Go by Joe Carroll, the author notes how Exxon is moving away from a command and control structure with one of their acquisitions. Exxon purchased XTO Energy Inc. (XTO) for almost $35 billion in 2010. XTO is a leader in shale drilling and oil production in the U.S. Carroll notes this management as benign neglect, allowing XTO to conduct business without the bureaucratic structure of the parent company.

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Exxon leadership is staying out of the way and allowing XTO to conduct business as they see fit. The shale drilling business requires high levels of flexibility and speed. Being free from the centralized structure of Exxon headquarters allows the 5,000 person firm to quickly move resources as needed dependent on market demands. The cost of shale drilling versus typical oil wells is considerably less ($6 million vs. $50 billion), allowing a longer rope than usual from the overlords at corporate. Small operations that must hire equipment, roughneck crews, etc., cannot wait for long approval processes from corporate. Decisions must be made “on the ground” quickly avoiding the top-down structures that result in slow decision-making and lost opportunities.

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This flexibility and decentralized command are key elements of maneuver strategy. A cornerstone of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) warfighting strategy, maneuver strategy is composed of the following key elements; tempo, focus, surprise, flexibility, combined efforts, and decentralized command. Maneuver strategy allows organizations to use rapid movement, high levels of communication, and flexibility to gain advantages over competitors rather than a head-to-head battle (i.e., attrition strategy). Business leaders can leverage maneuver strategy similarly to Exxon’s example with XTO.

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Maneuver strategy is an excellent methodology for business and military. Business leaders can empower lower levels teams to ensure goals are attained while allowing frontline teams to make decisions based on real-time information. In addition, resource efficiency can be improved avoiding costly and extended head-to-head conflicts. The ability to quickly outmaneuver and surprise opponents and consistently wow customers keeps competitors guessing and continually reacting.

Comp adv

In times of increasing competition, it is critical for organizations to become highly flexible and avoid the status quo. Leaders need to ensure teams are empowered to carry-out and achieve objectives based on market conditions. Adapting maneuver strategy begins with trust and training, ensuring a decentralized command structure is based on continuous communication resulting in market success. It is key to keep competitors reacting and customers excited. Avoid doing the same thing year after year, experimenting and testing is critical to stay relevant and build market leadership.

The End of Marketing As We Know It

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As I spend a lot of time on planes, I have plenty of quiet time to read. I just knocked the dust off (again) a classic from Sergio Zyman, past Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Coca-Cola. Zyman is the guy who will be forever known as the New Coke architect (good or bad, usually bad). His book The End of Marketing As We Know It is an excellent read for any marketing or general business enthusiast.

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If you are tired of marketing executives relying on sleight-of-hand and overall bullshit to justify their actions, this is the book for you. Zyman sends a clear message that marketing is about strategy and measuring activities. It is not about endless expenses with no linkage to sales. It is all about selling, and if the marketing activities are not working, change them. Marketing is about learning from mistakes (e.g., New Coke), and quickly changing course to continue toward your goals.

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Marketing is all about measuring what you do. If you do not measure and track your marketing activities to sales, then you are an amateur. Marketing is not about pretty pictures and shrimp cocktails. It is about developing clear strategies based on a detailed understanding of the market. Marketing decisions are determined by a deep understanding of the customer and her product usage, not guesses.

Zyman is against decisions based on intuition or on a whim (everyone should be). Decisions should be made based on a comprehensive analysis of the environment along with the experience of team members. Developing campaigns that are based on guesses or created for aesthetics is not marketing. The purpose of marketing is to sell. Test, measure, analyze, adjust, and replicate. Ongoing experimentation is critical to find what moves the needle. And the only way to understand what moves the needle is to measure everything. The goal is to sell more, make more money, and repeat. If something doesn’t work, stop doing it.

Zyman stresses the importance of going out and talking to customers. Not just through ineffective focus groups, but visiting actual customers using your products – where they live, work, and consume (his early P&G training is evident). In this day-and-age of everyone’s love of big data, too many people feel all you need is lots of data to develop strategy and understand customers. Data will tell a story, but one that is superficial and incomplete.

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You need to understand culture and people for a clear understanding; data alone will not do it. Combining data with consumer insights will help create a holistic story and deep understanding of the customer. The more you know your customer first-hand, the easier it will be to develop a long-term relationship with them and reduce marketing expenses (the less you have to attract new buyers, the better and cheaper).

Strategy

Another key concept Zyman focused on was relationships with agencies. Zyman was nicknamed Aya-Cola for his aggressiveness with his agencies (this was the ‘80s and ‘90s where the U.S and Iran were not very friendly). He pushed his agencies to develop great content to improve sales, nothing more. Zyman continually stresses the importance of in-house strategy development, something agencies should not be tasked with.

Marketing is all about developing a clear and effective strategy. Strategy must be developed in-house, not from an agency. As an increasing number of agencies are now “full service”, the roles internally and externally become cloudy. Many leaders outsource strategy to agencies. An advertising agency needs to focus on advertising. A public relations (PR) agency needs to focus on PR. The strategy is from the client. This is a critical message that all marketers need to tape to their monitors.

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Strategy is the roadmap for everyone to follow. Strategy must be an internal marketing activity (along with various cross-functional team members) that clearly communicates to the entire organization (and agenices) where everyone needs to be focused. In addition, strategy is critical to connect all activities (e.g., advertising, public relations, sponsorships, licensing) to support one another, and move toward the objective of selling more products.

Zyman says, “fish where the fish are”, and the only way to know where the fish are, is to know your customers and products better than anyone, and develop a clear strategy to achieve your goals. The End of Marketing As We Know It is an excellent read, especially for those just getting started in their marketing careers. In addition, experienced marketers can gain a lot from Zyman’s experience and guidance. Pickup this classic and remind yourself what marketing is, strategy and science, not fancy ads or ineffective promotions.

Drucker – Innovation and Entrepreneurship

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New ideas are a blend from the past. It is extremely rare to uncover a truly new ideas. We hear this over and over again, but how often do we believe it? Electric cars were developed over 100 years ago. Smartphones are the amalgamation of previous technology. With tidal waves of information surrounding us every day, it is tough to realize most products are not really new.

I just went back and re-read Peter Drucker’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship and it reminded me that most new ideas are not really new. It’s been many years since I read this great book and it is amazing how visionary Drucker was. Peter Drucker was truly the father of modern business. His writings from decades ago still provide powerful insights to guide modern business leaders.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Drucker predicted the growth of robotics and the decline of blue-collar work. All this written in 1985, when only a few firms used robots and no one saw the rise of the “knowledge worker” (except Drucker, since he coined the phrase). In addition, Drucker pointed out how the myth of high-tech was imaginary. High-tech firms are media darlings but typically fail and are not able to drive innovation success to the market. The successes were (are) few and far between – this was over 30 years ago and we still chase the myth.

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In addition, Drucker wrote how the misconception that large firms cannot innovate is wrong. Most innovation (i.e., entrepreneurial mindset) occurs within large organizations. Drucker pointed out that for innovation success, leaders of these large firms must separate the ongoing business from the new venture. Assigning unrealistic goals which prohibit initial growth is a sure sign for failure. It is critical to allow the new growing business to be free of organizational processes and constraints (think of skunkworks).

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The key learning from Drucker is to focus on the basics; blocking and tackling, and foundational business elements; not fads or quick fixes. There is no magic formula to entrepreneurial success and innovation, it happens through hard work. Analyzing markets and understanding where opportunities exist is the key. Drucker emphasized the importance of going out and talking to potential customers and understanding needs, in addition, to testing and experimenting to improve the probabilities of success (sorry all you Lean Startup folks, this is not new – advertising firms were doing A/B testing almost 100 years ago). Most telling is the importance of systematic innovation – the deliberate, systematic method to develop purposeful innovation. Innovation does not happen serendipitously, it happens from hard work.

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Unfortunately the majority of business programs within most universities still ignore Drucker. I strongly recommend reading all his works. Drucker was so far ahead of his time; it is rare to find someone like him, who also provided a large amount of great works. Industry leaders like Jack Welch regularly went to Drucker for guidance.

Read the new stuff from today’s leading business scholars and authorities, but don’t forget most foundational theories and guidance was developed previously. Drucker’s works are the most time worthy and relevant for any business person. It is critical to be flexible and take advantage of new opportunities, reinvent the organization, and avoid being complacent as new competitors target your market share. Read Drucker if you are starting a new business or need to reignite the current organization.

Improve Your Innovation

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In a recent Harvard Business Review blog Is R&D Getting Harder, or Are Companies Just Getting Worse At It?, Anne Marie Knott focused on the decreasing success of corporate innovation projects. Innovation drives growth. Leaders must ensure a constant stream of new, creative ideas to develop innovative solutions to stay ahead of competitors. Though companies have increased investments in research and development (R&D), returns have declined 65% over the past 30 years.

Some leaders and academics feel that R&D is currently much more difficult than in the past – most good ideas are already developed and the increase in additional scientists have diminished returns (more scientists, less innovations). Accurate or not, Knott (and myself) feel that another argument that explains the decline of innovation (if it exists) is that companies are just not very good at innovation. Knott studied publicly traded company financials and found that industry innovation had declined; however, corporate innovation was strong, as new industries were created.

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Knott noted that though innovation might have gotten harder for some, it had not gotten harder for everyone. This insight potentially showed how some companies were better at innovation than others were. Knott also showed how industries might disappear, but companies do not have to. For example, some companies moved beyond typewriters and moved into the growing computer industry. The typewriter industry is gone, and so are many companies that did not embrace change. The computer industry is currently larger than the typewriter industry ever was, and more companies are benefiting from ongoing innovations. New ideas continue to be developed, new companies form (e.g., Uber, WeWork, Thinx), and new industries (e.g., share economy, AI) are created. A company does not have to die unless it allows itself to. Companies that are strong in innovation and strategic transformation adapt, grow, and thrive.

Wework

Polaroid is basically gone. It was the market leader in instant photography but refused to accept market and technology trends. Founder and CEO Edwin Land hired people who did not challenge his ideas. Group think and avoiding dissent permeated the organization. As the market moved towards videotape-based systems, Land hung onto film and poured increasingly larger resources into niche products. He could not reinvent himself and Polaroid paid the price. Hanging onto the status quo resulted in a once powerhouse of innovation to decline and basically disappear.

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Smith Corona was the leader in typewriters. The company was also one of the first to develop innovative word processors. Unfortunately, the firm had great word processors but never leveraged the advantage – leaders did not see word processors replacing typewriters (nor the computer trend). Executives did not embrace the growing computer market and did not invest beyond typewriters. Now Smith Corona only offers labels – a shadow of their past.

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Any industry and company can disappear. Innovation is hard, but not impossible. And no, not all the good ideas have been used. Developing creative ideas can be done much easier than people think. Like any skill, it can be developed with practice and the right tools. Individuals and companies must reinvent themselves. It is critical to understand trends and see where the world is moving, and not be left behind.

My personal experience is most teams use poor methods to develop new products and services. Ideation is typically done ad hoc and haphazardly. Most teams do not learn, adapt, and improve business practices. A team member might practice golf three days per week, but will not study how to perform their job better. Learning typically ends after the diploma is earned. Leaders and employees only know what they know.

Innovation-tools

Without a constant, proactive mindset (individually and corporately) new trends will pass you by (competitors, too). Teams need to move away from haphazard habits to create ideas and develop innovative solutions. Adopting deliberate and systematic tools and techniques can increase innovation return.

It is time to embrace change and ambiguity. Teams must be encouraged to continuously learn, improve, and share new techniques throughout the organization. They need to create habits of testing, experimenting, and embracing failure.

Innovation is not about serendipity, it is about using systematic techniques to formalize ideation to drive a higher quantity of ideas resulting in a few, high quality “golden nuggets”.

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Differentiate yourself, your team, and your company. Practice using different innovation tools and techniques and keep the ones that work. Encourage ongoing learning and experimentation. Stop relying on what worked in the past. If you are not working harder than the competition and creatively leveraging new technologies and meeting unmet needs, growth will decline and you will be passed by. Don’t be like Polaroid, Smith Corona, Kodak, Blackberry and so many other incumbents of the past. Learn, change, and grow. Strategic transformation is hard work, but worth the effort.

 

Reference

Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/03/is-rd-getting-harder-or-are-companies-just-getting-worse-at-it

The Power of Habit

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The development of habits drive positive and negative behavior. The Power of Habit written by Charles Duhigg provides multiple examples of how habits can drive benefits – individually or organizationally. Focusing on a three step cycle, Duhigg illustrates how cues-routine-rewards drive positive and negative habits.

The cue triggers the brain what do to. The routine is the behavior that follows the cue – physical, emotional, or mental. The reward is the positive outcome received and what drives the cycle to repeat.

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A negative habit is an alcoholic drinking every day. The cue could be boredom, the time of day, or when they are lonely. The routine is drinking alcohol. The reward for the alcoholic is the feeling of euphoria, happiness, companionship, etc. The way to overcome negative habits (or changing any habit) is changing the routine. When we understand the cue, we change the routine for a positive reward.

Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) has been a driver to change habits of alcoholics. For the alcoholic, the routine of drinking is replaced with the regularity of the group meetings. The reward would be a positive feeling and companionship from other AA members, similar to the reward from drinking. The daily AA meetings replace the daily drinking, in addition, the belief in a higher power drives positive rewards (e.g., the positive feeling of not drinking, improved relationships).

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Duhigg provides examples of hospitals changing staff behavior and habits to avoid performing wrong surgeries (and improving team morale). Or how the CEO of Alcoa changed the organization from focusing strictly on finances to focusing on employee safety. This focus created new habits throughout the organization that led to market-leading growth. Other examples of changing habits were the turnaround of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the market success of Proctor& Gamble’s Febreze household cleaner.

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The advice from Duhigg provides multiple examples of how to improve through the practice of changing habits. The learnings within the book can help you lose weight, get in shape, or improve your organization. Understanding cues that lead to negative routines is beneficial for sustained transformation. Developing new habits and practicing until they become automated (i.e., habitual) can create unexpected, positive outcomes.

To succeed one needs to adopt positive, beneficial habits. Understanding what drives habits and how to change them allow us to transform our personal and professional lives. Focusing on habits avoids the necessity of willpower, goals or other self-improvement methods that typically do not sustain. Experimenting with different rewards will allow the habit to become stronger and develop into beneficial routines. As Duhigg showed with the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, creating a plan, practicing continously, and developing automatic routines results in high performance. Pickup Duhigg’s book and enjoy the entertaining and educational read.

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Small Data

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As a long-time market researcher, both quantitative and qualitative, I am always on the hunt for good research books. Hoping to find new ways to perform my job, I love learning from other professionals. Global brand consultant Martin Lindstrom wrote an interesting book to help market researchers and brand managers better understand customers through qualitative research. Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends is a collection of Lindstrom’s travels and his techniques for what he refers to as a “sped-up version of ethnography” (he calls it Subtext Research).

Lindstrom helps brands create differentiation and competitive advantages through in-person observations of consumers, watching them, living with them, and interviewing them (ethnography for you and me). He travels the world discovering customer needs for brands and figuring out how to connect the brand and the consumer. A key part of his work is noticing what others don’t. For example, the importance of colors between wives and mother-in-laws in India. Or, understanding how to sell more Brazilian beer through consumer aspirations, Lindstrom shares many good techniques anyone can apply to their business.

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Working as a global detective, Lindstrom gathers clues, makes connections, and helps brands understand how to interact with consumers in new ways. He might seem to exaggerate many details and his use of statistics is a bit questionable, but overall the book is a fun and inspiring read. If you are a qualitative researcher, you will feel right at home following him around the world. If you are a Tableau, SPSS, or Cognos geek, then this book will give you a new perspective and inspire you to get out of the office and talk to customers.

On the constant lookout for clues, symbols, or behaviors to help connect-the-dots and find “golden nuggets” to develop new insights for brands, Lindstrom’s work is a powerful addition to many organizations. His fieldwork compliments the tacit and data-driven knowledge within firms, to help them understand customers in a new light. Adopting an outsider’s perspective allows for direct interaction with customers, that locals would typically miss.

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In this world of big data and the obsession with consumer insights, Lindstrom reminds the reader the importance of roaming the world and talking to customers. Quantitative data will only get you so far, but the subtle ways that consumers are influenced are only uncovered through direct observation. Combining big data and small data can create a holistic picture of the market for improved consumer insights. Though Lindstrom might seem to over-exaggerate the successes of his findings, it is still a good read.

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Pick it up, get on a plane, read the book, then start talking to some customers. You might be amazed by what you find.

 

War, Business, and MMA

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Adopting a proactive mindset to transform an organization into an innovative market leader is critical in today’s business environment. The global business environment is becoming increasing turbulent. Socio-political changes, technological trends, and aggressive competitors are impacting every facet of modern business. Business leaders need to adopt a creative and proactive mindset, and incorporate new practices based on accepting ambiguity, maintaining flexibility, and keeping competitors off-balance.

Three effective methodologies leaders should study and apply to business are strategic agility, maneuver warfare, and indirect attacks. Strategic agility is based on Doz and Kosonen’s study of Nokia, and focuses on a collaborative leadership team, deep understanding of the competitive environment, and the ability to quickly move resources to areas of opportunity. The author’s noted how Nokia exited all its core businesses (e.g., lumber, electricity, rubber) to quickly enter and dominate the telecommunications market, leading to decades of market leadership.

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Maneuver warfare is based on the writings of Colonel John Boyd and is currently adopted by the United States Marine Corps (USMC). The aim of maneuver is to surprise the competitor with continuous disruption and the use of combined forces to incapacitate decision-making capabilities. Examples are Napoleon’s tactics of speed and high tempo, the blitzkrieg used by the Germans in World War I and II, and the Israeli campaigns of 1956 and 1967.

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The third strategy is the indirect approach based on Sun Tzu and B.H. Liddell Hart’s writings. Indirect methods focus on disrupting the competitor’s equilibrium. Indirect attacks are based on surprise, stealth, and movement. The German’s development of Blitzkrieg was based on the indirect methods. Indirect attacks focus on seeking a strategic situation to dislocate the opponent’s strategy – usually through multiple actions.

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Understanding the concepts of these three theories and adopting them to the business environment is a critical step towards developing differentiation and competitive advantages. Using non-traditional methodologies to confuse competitors and surprise customers can lead to valuable market success. Business leaders need to learn from multiple sources to maintain market leadership and outmaneuver competitors.

A recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz outlined how these same strategies can result in championship winning mixed-martial arts (MMA) (starts at 14 minutes into the discussion). Cruz discussed his unconventional fighting style. He noted his style is based on avoiding the centerline of other fighters – focusing on constant maneuvering, high rate of tempo, and leveraging all the tools of MMA (combined arms). Cruz moves non-stop, keeps his competitors off-balance through attacking different “planes” (off the center line). Most fighting styles (e.g., Muay Thai, wrestling, judo) attack the centerline of opponents. Cruz changed the “plane” he fights on, resulting in competitors not being able to defend, and allowing Cruz to continually attack as the opponent is constantly kept off-balance.

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In addition to attacking indirectly, Cruz constantly adjusts based on quickly reading the opponent. Understanding what the opponent is going to do (and is doing) allows him to quickly attack and counter-attack, faster than the opponent can perform. The same benefit is gained in war and business. If you have a deep understanding of the environment (battlefield or market) and are quickly identifying patterns to anticipate what is coming, you will be able to outmaneuver your opponent – hitting them before they have a chance to hit you.

Cruz’s style is based on avoiding direct attacks and keeping the competitor off-balance. The same principles of strategic agility, maneuver, and indirect have been adopted by military and business leaders. The goal is to surprise the competitor (enemy) so he does not know what is coming next, or where it is coming from. It is not attacking directly or obviously. The use of surprise and stealth, with high rates of tempo allow you to maintain an advantage while keeping the competitor off-balance.

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 17:  Dominick Cruz reacts after the conclusion of his UFC bantamweight championship bout against TJ Dillashaw during the UFC Fight Night event inside TD Garden on January 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

If you keep doing the same thing, your competitors will know what is coming and be able to anticipate and counter-attack. If you move beyond the status quo and keep competitors guessing, you will develop a higher probability of success. In addition, utilizing all your tools (ensuring all departments work together towards a common goal – collective commitment or combined arms) to overwhelm the competitor and keep them off-balance will exhaust them and destroy their morale.

ali

Learning from multiple sources with different perspectives (e.g., military, sports) allows the ability to connect unrelated “dots” to develop creative and innovative ways to succeed. If it has worked for some of the greatest militaries in the world, and the greatest fighters (e.g., Ali, Tyson, Cruz), why not try it? The goal is to outthink your opponent to win with the least amount of effort. If what you do is based on habits, then the enemy will know what is coming, resulting in market share loss, and profits and customers disappearing. It’s time to rethink how you think and operate.

 

References

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Fast Strategy: How strategic agility will help you stay ahead of the game by Yves Doz and Mikko Kosonen

Strategy by B.H. Liddell Hart

Warfighting: MCDP 1 by U.S. Marine Corps Staff

http://podcasts.joerogan.net/podcasts/dominick-cruz