Thursday, April 22, 2010

Simplicity leads to efficiency

Do one thing and do it well. Tom Peters would argue to chose one thing that you can be the best in the world at. Keep it Simple Stupid, or "KISS." In a conversation this afternoon I found myself, again, pontificating on the virtues of simplicity in business. I found myself say that "simplicity leads to efficiency." And while that statement simply came out organically, after having reflected upon it since then, I still believe in it's merit.

Successful entrepreneurs are visionaries. They see things which don't exist. They envision solutions to problems and therapies to some pain in the market. It is this vision which makes them successful.

This "blue sky" outlook can also be their vice. I've seen entrepreneurs see such a wide variety of options and potential for their business that they explore so many different avenues within their business, and ultimately, their core business suffers.

While neither extreme is healthy, a measured approach to both ensures the greatest potential for success. The best entrepreneurs know to solely dedicate themselves to their core competency, first and foremost. They will explore natural extensions of that competency only when there are sufficient resources to do so and the monetary potential makes it worthwhile. They will recognize when their creative energies have become such an offshoot from their initial vision that it is a separate business unto itself.

Some will argue that diversity in a business is necessary to insulate it from changing market trends and other threats. And while I will concede that many businesses take this route, there are also many solid companies that do one thing and do it extremely well (I can't think of any specific examples offhand, but I would suspect they are privately held and well known brands. Please share if you can think of any).

Getting back to simplicity leading to efficiency, the context of the conversation was actually about a product, not a business. In general, I think that engineers are motivated to add more "stuff" to products because they can and it excites them to do so. However, this does not mean that the product then becomes better, more reliable, incrementally more profitable. Actually, the inverse of those is probably closer to the truth. So, just as I believe that simplicity leads to efficiency for businesses, I believe the same also holds true for products. Budding and seasoned entrepreneurs alike, keep this in mind as you look to add complexity to your business and its offerings. Best wishes...

Monday, April 19, 2010

CEOs like Ship Captains

In a book club I'm part of, we recently read "Master and Commander." As a follow up to the read, we decided to visit a local historic ship to really make the story come to life. In the captain's quarters there was the below passage; an excerpt from "Ocean Life in the Old Ship Sailing Days" by Captn. John D. Widden.

One of my initial reactions to this passage is how appropriately it also describes leaders and CEOs. It is true that while a good captain will rely upon advice and information from his crew, decisions concerning the ship are ultimately his and he owns the glory of success as much as the blame for failure.

"A captain's position on shipboard at sea is a peculiar one. He is something like the mainspring of a watch. If that is all right, the works will do their duty, and all is well, but let the mainspring break, or anything happen to it, and everything goes wrong, or stops. So the captain, as the mainspring, in order to keep perfect discipline, which is so essential , to a well-regulated ship, must first discipline himself. He is thrown on his own resources. All on board, except himself, have companions; the crew have each other to talk with and confide their feelings to;
the cook and steward fraternize; the first and second officers can confer, or even talk amicably together, although in this case, the first officer, if he knows his
business, will preserve the line between the dignity of his position and undue familiarity, that in some instances is apt to be taken advantage of by the second. The captain, if he has no companion, stands alone, isolated, in a certain measure, from all on board."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Challenge assumptions and think differently - I ask for 1 second

I would like to ask for one second of your time. Ultimately, you'll be the one to decide whether you'll give that to me. You'll have to weigh, against the potential reward, is it worth that investment of your life, that you will surely never get back.

Often in business we have meetings to develop solutions to any number of challenges or problems, as a team. Increasing revenues and profitability, decreasing costs, and overcoming obstacles along a given path are some simple examples of these problems. I think in most problem solving meetings its healthy to challenge all assumptions and think outside of the box.

Thinking outside the box is hardly a new concept but one which is rarely fully embraced. By our nature, people don't like change. We like definition of our world and take comfort in assumptions like growth is good, costs are bad and computers have keyboards.

Frequently, during these types of meetings I'll throw out ideas and suggestions that seem to challenge these basic assumptions and am often met with a barrage of rejection. However, what people infrequently realize is that I'm not married to the idea I just introduced. Hardly! But my intention is to simply throw it out there and ask people to consider it for a second. Just a brief second. Maybe it spurs a tangental idea. Maybe it's spot on and culling of existing clients, rather than driving for new ones, will lead to greater profitability. Maybe subscribing to a new service will help improve productivity. Or, maybe the iPad is the wave of the future and we DON'T need a computer to have a keyboard for it to be successful.

I don't want to dwell on these considerations for eye tearing hours but if we don't consider them, we can't TRULY be confident we've explored all our options. If they don't fit, let's drop 'em and move on. Not much lost. Maybe some will fit. Maybe some will fit another problem that we're not trying to solve right now. Modern day internet Pioneers have achieved multi-billion dollar success simply by challenging assumptions about how we behave and interact. I'm not remotely asking the same from you. Just a second of your time when we're in a meeting together.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review your work

It's amazing how many mistakes I make in my first pass at emails and
online comments. To make matters worse, in the middle of a busy day
it's so easy to just hit the "send" button. However, i'm aware that
each piece of ecomm (electronic communication) that I put out is a
representation of me and the quality of work I produce. So, I'm
fortunate that, for the most part, i've disciplined mtselaf to review
my work. It's amazing what a difference it can make. :-)

Sent from my iPhone.

Celebrity Apprentice Observations

Ok, I'm not a fan of most TV shows, especially the mass market crap that gets spewed out Prime Time on the main channels. However, I found myself watching Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice the other night and caught some really interesting business techniques and strategies that the show employs. Nothing earth shattering, but still worth noting:

*The show uses big name star power of high profile celebrities to draw a diverse audience to the show.
*... partners with Universal Orlando to promote the new Harry Potter Ride - Product placement is nothing new but by virtue of the exercise the team had, the show was practically an infomercial for the experience and Harry Potter.
*...had a "This week's Kodak moment" with three scenes where viewers could vote on. - This was the first interactive user element to the show that I noticed. It's also the second most obvious partnership plug in the show.
*Throughout the show there are various teasers to visit the show's web site to see deleted scenes, commentary, etc. - This drives: additional viewer interaction, measurable results, additional traffic on the site for advertising, etc.

In general there was a strong interplay between the show, its content (entertainment and sponsored), web and customer interaction.

The last stroke of strong business practice I noticed was an Aflac commercial. Although I failed to remember the product afterward (good thing I DVRd it) Aflac asked viewers to submit a 10 second video that defines the company. Genius! By doing this you: engage your customers at a high level, customer stories and testimonials are more powerful than the company giving a message, and it taps into the collective creativity of the general public. Love it!!

Finally, in some form or another, all of these observations can be applicable to your business. The "celebrity" you use as a draw may not be Bret Michaels but maybe a local figure from a school or news program. And the examples of engaging your customers are sound and sage for all businesses. Good luck and I'll see you in the marketplace.
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