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Archive for October, 2010

Leave your comfort zone!

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

The Biblical Abraham was one of the world’s most successful individuals. (It doesn’t actually matter whether or not Abraham really existed – from a Biblical critical perspective. He is revered by at least half the world’s population who belong to one of the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As such his influence has been immense). In the Bible, the story of Abraham starts in Genesis – chapter 12. God commands him to leave his country, his extended family and his father’s house and to move to a land that God would show him. In return, God promises that Abram (Abraham) would become a great nation, and that he will be blessed.

Of course the Biblical commentators have a field day looking at the wording and what was being said. However I think that in fact, the idea is quite simple. Abraham was being told to take a risk and to do something new. In return, he was promised success in his venture. This is a lesson that businesses and individuals can learn from – and perhaps governments too.

  • Where is the safest place for an individual? Generally the parental home.
  • Where can one expect help from when things go wrong? From close family and friends.
  • Where are you most likely to know your way around and know the “system” – and least likely to get lost physically, or metaphorically in bureaucracy? In your home town and country.

Abraham is commanded to leave each of these – in reverse order, with the easiest first, and the place you feel most safe last. In terms of business the same lessons apply.

Igor Ansoff is famous for the Ansoff matrix.

Existing
Product
New/Modified
Product
Existing
Market
Penetration Product
Development
New/Modified
Market
Market
Development
Diversification

When you have lots of opportunities in your home market and your product is doing well the objective should be to increase sales with this product to this market. However when things start to change – perhaps most people in your current market already have your product – then you need to move outside your immediate comfort zone and look to a new product or a modification of your existing products. You need to be willing to take a risk. Failing to change is likely to lead to eventual corporate failure, as the market becomes totally saturated, and profit levels reduce as the only way to compete becomes price. Product enhancement gives you the choice to differentiate your product and maintain profitability. Leave you father’s house and try something new.

This also applies in many other circumstances. The recent phenomenon known as “boomerang kids” is not just a problem for parents having to cope financially with adult children returning to the nest, but also the children themselves. Although living at home can be comfortable and secure, it becomes difficult to move out when all your needs are being met and to become truly independent. It means that such children are less likely to be successful – until or unless they do leave home.

The next stage is when even product variations don’t work – as your current market sector is saturated. You need to look for new markets. In Biblical terms – Leave you family and friends and try something new. In business this means looking for new markets. These can be different industry sectors or geographies. Again, being scared of taking the risk will lead to failure – as your current customer base ceases to purchase your products in sufficient quantity for you to make profits.

Globally, many people are now in this stage of the cycle. Their opportunities in their home countries are poor – for various reasons, and emigration to another market promises a better chance in life. Historically this has often been the case – with emigrants being highly successful and also enriching the cultures and life in their new countries. In contrast, their compatriots who stayed at home often continue a cycle of poverty or lack of success. I believe that many governments see emigration as a threat – and I think that they are correct, as often emigrants are the very people who should be encouraged to stay as they are the innovators and the risk-takers within society. If emigration is a problem in a society it means that the society itself has problems, and perhaps the government should look to itself as to why people want to move. Conversely the antipathy to immigrants in the destination countries is also misplaced – as many immigrants contribute massively to their new homelands, especially when welcomed and encouraged to integrate into the new society.

The final stage is the most difficult and also may appear the riskiest. However if the markets (old and new) for your current product lines are stagnant then the only hope is to move into completely new areas – with new / enhanced product lines targeting new customers and markets. You need to diversify away from your home products, your home markets and move to a new area -i.e Leave the location you are now in and try something new. In fact this promises the best chance of all for success – as it allows you to capitalise on both current product lines and markets and also the new ones. Companies that manage to diversify into new markets are likely to grow at a much faster rate than their “stay-at-home” competitors. Of course how to manage a successful diversification programme is a different question – requiring research, planning and strong, thoughtful and innovative management. The willingness to try and to leave comfort zones should help prepare management for this stage – so that when the time comes, they are willing to take risks necessary to protect their organisations.

Only by being willing to change, and move away from your comfort zones can success be guaranteed. Do it right, and like Abraham, you can succeed and make a name for yourself.

© Arthur Weiss / AWARE, 2005-2010

The Art of the Possible

October 17, 2010 2 comments

I try and make sure that my blog posts stand on their own – and if read in a year’s time will still be relevant. Although I sometimes focus on news issues, I always try and look beyond to lessons that can be learned.

The news this week throughout the world has focused on the rescue of the Chilean miners. News stories have focused on how the 33 miners kept up their spirits, their faith in God, their humility and so on. The rescuers were praised for their commitment to free the miners – and that they never gave up.

There are numerous lessons to be drawn from this news story – for management of businesses and humanity in general. However I’m not the first to spot the connections. Jeff Kaplan’s ThinkIt blog post Corporate Lessons from the Chilean Miner Rescue is worth reading. Jeff highlights how the rescue showed commitment to save the miners, determination to rescue them, and for the miners to stay alive, cooperation to achieve the objectives, and several more aspects that made the rescue possible.

There was one area that Jeff didn’t cover, and that is that believing in yourself can turn something that seems impossible into something possible. Benjamin Zander, the  conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra co-wrote a great motivational book – “The Art of Possibility“. I think that this is the true miracle of the Chilean miners and the best lesson to be learned. Rather than give up the miners as lost, efforts were made to locate them. When they were found, even more efforts were made to get them all out alive. What seemed impossible was proved not to be – difficult, but achievable.

However bad things are, giving up is not the solution. Rather, try, try and try again. Failure should never be an option. Instead focus on succeeding – and if things don’t go right first time, try again, learning the lessons from the first time so that mistakes aren’t repeated.

A celebration of diversity

October 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Motivational Poster - rowingPeople crave unity – and dream of a world without conflict. Business emphasises the idea that all staff should be singing from the same songsheet. Motivational posters emphasise such teamwork through relevant pictures – typically showing sporting images such as rowers – all pulling together in unison.

Having rowed, while at school, I can appreciate this image – a boat where the rowers fail to row as one will quickly flounder. However I question whether such unity is good for business or the world.

The bible story of the tower of Babel gives a different perspective on this that is worth considering (and thanks to Rabbi Andrew Shaw for the idea). The story is related in Chapter 11 of Genesis.

Verse 1: Now the whole earth had one language and one speech.

On first reading this fails to make sense. If they were one language, then surely they were “one speech”. However this is not what the text is saying – it is suggesting that not only did they all speak the same language, but they all thought the same and said the same. There was no disagreement. A few verses later, this sense of common purpose is manifested as an action plan:

Verse 4: And they said, Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.

The people are behaving as one – they all agree and show a desire to congregate together, rather than spreading across the earth and showing independence of thought and action.

This view seems utopian. No racism; no hatred; no conflict; total harmony and love of fellow man, to the extent that they don’t want to separate.

Yet what happens next, in this context, is incredible.

Verses 6-8: And the LORD said,  Behold, the people are one and they have all one language, and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be withheld from them which they have imagined to do. Come, let Us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off building the city.

Rather than supporting human endeavour, God seems to be punishing it – and actually destroying this unity, so that mankind is forced to spread out across the world. The question is why? What is so wrong with thinking the same, acting the same and believing the same? The text even suggests that mankind would have been able to do whatever it wanted to do, had God not acted.

I believe that in fact there is a lesson for business here. Imagine two businesses: the first expects conformity, has top-down management that gives instructions and punishes a failure to obey. Such a business will quickly oust anybody who fails to follow company mores – leading to a strong culture, and way of working. In contrast, the second business encourages diversity and embraces change. There may also be a strong culture for this second business but it will be based on flexibility and recognition that each staff member is an individual and it will respect their differing opinions.

The first business would succeed when their isn’t much competition and where the business environment is stable and unchanging. In fact such a business could become a powerhouse in such circumstances, as its single purpose and single mind would allow it to do whatever it wanted.

Unfortunately in the 21st century, this doesn’t happen. All business faces competition and change is a fact of life. A business that was unwilling to respect differing opinions would fall into an almost idolatrous believe in routine, and be unable to change course easily. It would be impossible to suggest that an agreed business plan had weaknesses – as challenging the established order would be anathema. In contrast, the second business type would flourish as it would take ideas from wherever or whoever they came from, and use them as relevant. Flexibility would be key, and such a business would be able to move out to new markets and geographies.

That is the lesson of the story of the Tower of Babel: diversity is key as expecting the world to remain constant is not the real world. Change is inevitable and fearing change is poor management. Instead businesses that respect different ideas and opinions are the ones that can adapt and grow – rather than those for which routine becomes their business idol.

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