It is always intriguing to get into a debate with one of my director peers about the way forward for an enterprise. Opinions vary, and the “chat” can become animated, as one did a few weeks ago. As a result, I jotted down a few points to email as a follow up, just for sport, (perhaps commercial suicide) but on re-reading, they seem to make sense. Following is a language edited version.
Bill, managing and promoting growth has a couple of dimensions:
The first is managing the customers, market dynamics, and value proposition that keeps the bills paid, the second in being able to look around the corner and see what is coming next. Not just in terms of the old “same/similar product/new customer/new market” matrix, but the genuinely new stuff, the revised business models, products that break the consumer usage mould, packaging of technology that genuinely changes the dynamics, i.e., the future.
This second part is really hard, but there are a few things that every success seems to have in common, that we need to consider:
- We need to understand what it is that we deliver, our purpose, why are we here?. Steve jobs did this better than anyone when he defined Apples purpose when he returned in terms of design, not the hardware or software, but the way in which consumers interacted with the product, and the design of the way it worked, and without being too wanky, its soul.
- See better than our competitors what it is we need to know to be successful in the future, indeed, we need to anticipate who may become competitors as the technology underpinning our business evolves. Those who saw the impact of the net first in terms of behavior and the disruption of markets that occurred did best. Again, Jobs saw the future, and put bits of existing technology together in different ways and came to the market with revolutionary and disruptive products. By contrast, Jeff Bezos saw the future, and built Amazon to levereage that vision. In our business 3-D printing seems to have the potential to be a significant disrupter, it may miss us, but will not go away, so shouldn’t we be learning about the technology?
- Learn to unlearn, as they way we do things today will not be sufficient to survive in the future. This I see as a significant failure of the existing management, and our own demands of them. Rarely, outside the public sector have I seen a management so risk averse, but really, whose fault is that?
- Pilot, experiment, and take a lot of small steps, some of which individually may seem “flakey” but together provide the opportunity to learn. See comment above.
- Reward the behavior you want, not just with money, as whilst money is important, far more important to our employees is recognition, and further opportunities to stretch their minds and build experience. They may move on with that knowledge and experience, but that is the world we live in, but while they remain, they contribute at a high level, and when they leave, they do so thanking us, not turning to Twitter to dump on us.
- Learn to live with the discomfort of not really knowing what is next, the disruption of the status quo that is fundamental to finding tomorrows successes. The twin notions of managing a project portfolio, and being prepared to pivot any project as circumstances demand rather than being wedded to some artificial business plan and operating budget should be embraced.
Unless we can agree that this list has some relevance to the way we direct the business, one of us has to go, and I would prefer it be me, as I do not want to be branded as one of the directors who failed to see the “crappola” coming, and when it hit, did not have the sense to turn off the fan. Besides, you are the chairman, and my peers like to be told what to do, so my departure can be seen as a “smoothing” of the board debates.
In short, it is my contention that we must manage the present, and invent the future, and to do this we need to develop a far higher degree of management ambidexterity, and sensitivity to our rapidly evolving marketplace.
I look forward to our next conversation.