Are you in the midst of business tsunami? Business tsunamis have definite warning signs. If you listen for the warning sirens, you can avoid their destruction or ride it out to career success.
#1 EARLY WARNING: FIVE-DIMENSIONAL REALITY
Five-dimensional reality. Five essential elements exist in every business: performance, productivity, innovation, transformation, and ecosystem. When all of these are in motion – tugging, dragging, pushing and rushing each other – business grows successfully. When motion ceases or there is an attack on any one of these elements, growth slows, and the business tsunami builds strength.
This five-dimensional reality is a mash up of my experience and the wisdom of Geoffrey Moore’s “Zone to Win” and Clay Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma”. Rate these essential elements in your business, your department, and your team. Every department and team have responsibility for all five dimensions, with a primary focus on one or more.
- Performance should be accelerating, with competitive balance.
- Productivity builds efficiency, effectiveness, and compliance.
- Innovation creates new things, yet untested and unproven. Innovation can be sustaining or disruptive.
- Transformation evolves, alters, and improves process and procedure.
- Ecosystem looks at participation on every level: supplier, partner, producer, buyer, and user, both inside the company and outside.
Below is a representative example of the priority of these five elements within specific business suites within a company. Define and rate them specific to your company or industry.
- R&D / Engineering: Prime focus on Innovation (disruptive) with Transformation and Productivity in close step.
- Operations / Production: Primary element of Productivity with Ecosystem (supply chain) a close second.
- Sales / Marketing: No surprise that Performance is the prime focus. Transformation (keeping pace) and Ecosystem (distribution chain) are critical to performance.
- Accounting / Finance: Prime attention is on Performance with Productivity following in close step.
- Human Resource / Administration: Transformation is primary as employee skill set and satisfaction defines a company. Sustaining innovation seeks new skills in both current employees and new hires.
- Customer Service: Care for the Ecosystem of customers and partners is prime. Performance and Transformation sustains the.
- IT: Prime elements are of Productivity and Performance are nearly equally shared.
When there are departmental stove pipes or unhealthy competition between business suites it is because the departments have built barriers in the internal ecosystem, between themselves.
A turnaround business I joined was lagging in nearly every one of these elements and investors were NOT happy. We were brutally honest with ourselves and our partners. We cut expenses and business performance looked better, but as the CEO wisely said: “you cannot save your way to profitability.” So, we pushed the incubation and ecosystem accelerators: developed new products for customers and invested in the partner ecosystem.
If analysts say that your business is in a tsunami, that’s because one or more of the elements in your five-dimensional reality are underperforming. The health of this five-dimensional reality is the early warning mechanism for recognizing if you and your business can successfully ride out a business tsunami.
#2: MOVEMENT AND PACE WILL DEFINE YOU
A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion. Thank you, Isaac Newton. It’s as true in business as in physics. If you want your product, company, or industry to be the dinosaur of the past, then remain at rest. Kodak proved this theory as they wouldn’t give up the film business to pursue digital photography, which they held the most patents in. Nokia proved this, resting on their superior cell phone technology laurels of the time.
Move, change, upgrade, update – or you too can be an interesting historic footnote. Perform, produce, innovate, transform, and mobilize *or* die. Where is your incubator? Elon Musk is an incubation machine. Are you listening to new ideas or sending them packing? HP snuffed out Steve Wozniak’s silly personal computer idea and the rest is Apple Mac history.
The company I joined had been resting on its breakthrough disruptive technology but it was going nowhere. The turnaround was a success because every department, every employee, and every one of our distribution partners stepped into action. We listened to every idea, every complaint, every criticism, and even a few compliments. But we didn’t rest. If it was good, we wanted to make it better. If it was better, we reset the goal post and wanted to make it even better.
Real business protection and compelling value come from pace.
- Keep the pace and momentum of innovation, improvement, and advancement ahead of your competition and you will succeed.
- Put your innovations in the hands of customers and users. Identify, create, advance, and support use-cases that delight as well as deliver results and solve real customer problems.
Pace of innovation puts you ahead of everyone else. Innovation can be small, microscopic, and sustaining or it can be enormous, ground-breaking, and disruptive. Innovate in every business suite and at every level. Innovate technology, process, people, skills, and customer use-cases.
If it looks like a tsunami to you, that’s because the mammoth wave is moving (your competition or your industry) and you are not. Innovation velocity in the marketplace is the real differentiator and tsunami protection.
#3: BEWARE OF LABELS
Naming something or labeling it helps to identify it, understand, describe, or even tame it in some way. Naming and labeling things has been going on for thousands of years: ships, buildings, cities, almost anything. Historians, archeologists, and geologists look back in time and label eras, ages, periods, or epochs that identify common characteristics. Modern medical clinicians and researchers label symptoms, syndromes, and disease for identification and better treatment.
But there is a downside. Labeling focuses on the common traits and loses the uniqueness. Labeling can pigeon-hole something narrowing the view of it’s more distinctive characteristics. At its worst, labeling can mis-identify something which, as an example in the medical community could result in diagnostic error, improper medical care, delayed treatment, worsening condition, and even death.
In today’s hyper-connected world there has been a tendency to aggrandize things, enhancing them beyond what is justified by the facts. Things are the “EST” – the biggest, the fastest, the hottest, the best. If those superlatives are not good enough, they are boosted to gigantic, supersonic, scorching, and elite status.
Don’t be defined by a label. Are we really experiencing a tsunami?
Our early-stage company had successes and some spoilers. I joined the company as part of a turn-around team. We were making steady progress: got expenses under control (even by working in darkened offices), sales moved into “comma-comma deals” for the first time, customer service developed into customer success, engineering innovation flourished, and more. But then a big player moved into our niche – not just a BIG player, but a huge, gigantic, gargantuan, multi-national company, that I’ll call “Colossus”. Yikes!
We could have run the other way to safe ground. We could have built barriers to protect our niche. But we chose to not be defined by this (scary) turn of events.
We aligned with customers and distribution partners that wanted to stand out in a crowd. We found ABC allies: “Anything But Colossus”. We celebrated everything – unique use-cases, new alliances, and rogue analysts willing to rate us top dog. We were determined to NOT be defined by Colossus stepping into our business space. We stood our ground, got profitable, had a successful IPO, and rose from obscurity to #3 in an industry dominated by giants.
Labels can be deceptive, destructive, or define you in a negative way. Don’t let that happen. Look at the label – learn from it and leverage it. Maybe it is NOT a tsunami but just Big Foot stepping in your favorite mud puddle.
# 4: BE AN OLYMPIAN
In January and February I was glued to the Winter Olympics. As a matter of course I don’t watch much television (more YouTube or Netflix) but every two years the Olympics break that mold. I am a skier so I especially enjoy the Winter Olympics.
Every competitive athlete arrives with a solid set of KNOWNS: their fitness, their training, their experience, wins, coaches, equipment, and team. This provides the confidence to compete.
They arrive in an environment that will throw a lot of bizarre events at them: new competitors, different living conditions, political climate, and weather. These variables are facts that need to be faced.
The event is their call to action. They will ready themselves in every way: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental. Stability and balance are critical to top performance when stepping up to the start position.
BAM. The event begins and they move into the unknown. Anything can and will happen. They embrace the challenge that they have prepared for and their pulse races. Stick to the basics. No, push the limits. Leverage the coaching. No, trust your instincts.
OOPS. I forgot myself for a moment … this is about a business tsunami, not the Olympics.
The business parallel is there. Your company enters a marketplace with a solid set of knowns: product, expertise, and team. Business operates in a highly variable environment that throws lots of challenges your way: competition, politics, supply chain, economic fluctuations, and more. How you, your department, and your company respond to all these unknowns is the difference between success and failure.
With the variable business environment, you will never find all five essential elements of your business at optimal performance at the same time. Some will be underperforming or even failing, others at peak doing their finest. Work together, as a team, to succeed. Avoid departmental or team stove pipes. In the Olympics, even fierce competitors call back up to the start gate to tell their rivals what the conditions are: “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
For me, one invaluable theory of Silicon Valley is “the reciprocal nature of doing business.” Be generous in sharing knowledge and in participating. Don’t expect to receive something in return. Give to get.
EMBRACE bizarre events, don’t wave them off. Tackle business with reckless abandon and the expertise you have worked so hard for. When something unusual occurs, that is unexpected or out of the norm, assume it is there for a reason.
AMPLIFY strange unexpected events: what if more of this occurred … or less, or nothing at all … or what if this happened along with something else.
Embrace and amplify begins the recognition that you are embarking on a Tsunami Hero Journey. Joseph Campbell outlines the hero’s journey as launching on an adventure, facing crisis, overcoming it, and returning victorious. Look at your own prized business successes and the parallel is clear.
APPLY your best theories: best practices, quick fixes, and S.O.P. (standard operating procedures). Shake off the impulse that you’ve done your part. Look beyond. Remember that you are not alone; you are part of a team.
LEARN. Mistakes and failures expand understanding. They have a unique way of teaching. If you don’t make mistakes, you are playing it safe and not trying hard enough. Debrief. Acquire knowledge. Keep moving knowledge, understanding, and knowhow forward.
We developed a new user appliance. Our engineering team was incubating and innovating at break-neck speed. We revealed it to the distribution channel and they were excited! This allowed users to connect with the system in entirely new ways. The orders flowed in, streamed in, rushed in, and we were ecstatic!
Screech. Some of the early appliances didn’t work properly. There were quality control issues in manufacturing. Volume did not meet demand. Customers were impatient and cancelled orders. The distribution channel was frustrated and angry, threatening to leave. Industry media ripped us: the little guy with big insurmountable problems.
It was difficult but the whole company and the supply chain pulled in and worked together. There were late night strategy sessions, long hours, hands-on, and cross-functional efforts. We created a “super team” of suppliers, manufacturing, quality control, and customer support. Joining forces with customers and distributors to prioritize, work-around, and substitute was paramount. We came out battered, exhausted, and bruised. Ultimately, we emerged proud, victorious, and created deeper long-lasting partnerships in our supply chain from end-to-end.
LOCK IN, like a surfer does when they get caught inside a crashing wave. Commit. Lock in. There is energy, action, and momentum all around you. Commit to riding it out and emerging, even if it is messy or unpredictable.
INSPECT the abyss and the crashing wave from multiple perspectives. Thinking outside the box isn’t enough. Examine the box from every direction: inside, outside, around the edges, interactions, upstream, downstream, and inside-out.
ALLEY-OOP. Changing course can make all the difference. Sometimes you have to take a step back to accelerate forward, a “fox-trot”. Or pivot. In halfpipe competition, the alley-oop boosts points for difficulty by rotating 180 degrees or more in the uphill direction, spinning against their direction of travel.
Part of our business pivot was to re-brand. Leave the old ways, labels, and industry positioning behind. We developed a new company name, tagline, and image. Most importantly, it helped us think differently about ourselves. We were not a peripheral device on the edge of a network but integral to network function and business optimization. WOW! Internally this changed everything from incubation efforts to performance and more. For our distribution partners, this transformed them into an invaluable asset for customers.
STABILITY will return to the business. You will be able to catch your breath. In our case, that meant issuing that successful IPO (initial public offering). But the next bizarre event will arise ̶ that is guaranteed. We knew we would venture into the Tsunami’s Hero Journey again, but this time as a public company, #3 in the industry, with a new brand, and a powerful end-to-end supply chain.
Ride the wave. When it comes to a business tsunami, there is knowing and there is doing. Without the knowing, you can’t do – or it’s unlikely that you will do it right. Without the doing, no changes take place – incorrect … changes will take place but you are along for the ride and not in control.
In knowing, examine the five-dimensional reality of your business and be mindful of labels. In doing, keep moving and be an Olympic athlete on your team, in your department, and in your industry. Embrace the Tsunami Hero Journey and ride it out.
# 5: PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
Fully attend to what is happening, what you are doing, and what is going on around you. Be present. Minimize distractions.
Be an Olympian. Be a master of your craft: read, confer with colleagues, watch YouTube, leverage coaches, listen to podcasts, value your experiences, and never stop learning.
When approaching problems, challenges, and possible tsunamis go in with a framework, a theory, or a point of view. There isn’t a script or template, every situation is different, but there are guides. Leverage the mastery of your craft looking for parallels, similarities, and guidance.
You can see some of my theories and frameworks woven into this essay, along with some of the sources: 5-dimensions (Moore, Christensen, and my own experience), the theory of motion (Newton), labels (observation), reciprocity (Silicon Valley), Olympic level training (athletics), and more.
In the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, take comfort in knowing that if there is risk or uncertainty, that is because there are choices.
You’ve got this. Be more than a Tsunami Survivor – be a Tsunami Hero.
Janet A. Gregory is a Silicon Valley veteran combining corporate, start up, and consulting experience in her bag of tricks. https://www.linkedin.com/in/janetg123/ Thanks to TheNounProject.com and Wikipedia and for helping to construct the Tsunami Hero Journey graphic.