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Avoid Plateaus to Keep Your Competitive Edge

When you’ve just been through a period of intense change or innovation, it’s tempting to take a breather. Our instinct is to let things settle into a steady state. We reach a plateau of learning and wish to enjoy the fruits of our labor. This is dangerous.

Companies that settle into a comfortable plateau will stagnate. Click To Tweet

Knowledge calcifies. People begin to believe that the status quo is the only logical way to do business. When presented with ideas for change, they mostly see obstacles.

When you are stable and stationary, you are a sitting duck, easy to copy and vulnerable to commoditization. You quickly lose your edge.

To achieve quantum leaps in capability, your company must be able to move to the next phase of learning and innovation—the next S-curve—the moment you’ve achieved each level of success, rather than allowing yourself to plateau. For this to happen you must create a culture of fast and continuous learning.

Below is an illustration that explains this strategy:


Here are a few of the benefits:

  • You will create more differentiated product and service offerings. Competitors will be less able to copy you. You’ll be protected from commoditization, and you will enjoy higher margins.
  • Because you can adapt fluidly to changes in your business environment, such as changes in customer behavior, technology, and regulations, your offerings will be less likely to become obsolete, outdated, or irrelevant. (BlackBerry, Blockbuster, Kodak, and Nokia all led their industries for years, and have each become irrelevant or shrunk to a small fraction of their former size.)
  • You will find and realize new avenues for growth. When entering a new market or offering a new product, skills and knowledge are often a bottleneck to growth. In a fast-learning organization, however, employees across every function break through these barriers fast. As a result, you will increase your odds of success and will ramp up revenues faster.
  • You will be better able to attract top talent because people who are smart, creative, and courageous want to work for companies that try new things and have a robust outlook for growth.
  • Your work will be more fun and rewarding. You’ll certainly avoid boredom!
  • You will shape your own destiny as a company, and as individuals within that company.

Most great strategies are not arrived at through analysis, market research, and PowerPoint presentations. They are arrived at through trial and error. They evolve as the result of constant experimentation, getting out there and seeing what customers are really willing to pay for, what the real value is to them, and how strong their loyalty really is (read more on how to gain extraordinary customer insight here). No amount of analysis can substitute for constant testing and learning in the real world.

Please contact me at to discuss how we can help you create strong strategies that’ll improve your business growth.

AS CTA Fearless Growth 05

Consensus Building

Consensus Building

With the fast pace of change in the world today, there is great uncertainty surrounding almost every decision we make. And, when there is uncertainty, there are going to be many different opinions about the best path forward.

Reaching a consensus is important because we need all functions and players in our organization to be aligned and moving in the same direction. Organizations can get stuck at a cross road, unable to pick a path forward, when they place too much emphasis on getting everyone on board with a controversial decision. This is a mistake. Continue Reading →

Change the Game

Change The Game

I recently worked with a large, successful company whose growth had slowed. They needed new ideas—and not just any ideas, but big ideas: new growth trajectories that would generate at least a billion dollars in revenue. Entirely new categories.

They were already one of the largest players in their industry, so taking market share was not easy for them. They needed to build new markets—creating and serving customer needs that had never before existed.

The problem was the ideas just weren’t flowing from the team. Continue Reading →

Unshackle Your Team’s Creativity

Forward Business Planning

Have you ever wished for more input, insights, and ideas from the employees on your team?

Especially when our businesses are not performing as well as we’d like, we really need our teammates’ creative ideas. But when we gather a group and ask for ideas—whether for new product features, cost reduction ideas, or ways to improve service—we often see the same, recycled thoughts. Or ones that are only a smidgen better than what’s currently being done.

It’s not the employees’ fault. Humans are wired to keep doing what they’ve been rewarded for in the past. We are wired to protect our allies, and to avoid risk. These tendencies tend to hold us back when it comes to thinking in new ways. We are shackled by what’s worked before and have a hard time imagining a new way of doing things.

Here are a few techniques for helping your team break free to develop new ways of thinking about your business. Continue Reading →

Think Like an Explorer

Businessman Walking Outdoors

When I was sixteen, I went on a 2-week horseback trip in the Bighorn mountains of Wyoming. Each morning, we were given the coordinates of the location where we would camp that night, then turned loose with a map and compass. It was satisfying to arrive at the destination each night, after navigating our way through the mountains on our own.

Heading a new strategic direction—entering a new market, innovating a new product line, or changing the way we go to market—can feel like heading out into the wilderness. If we think like an explorer would, however, we can find our way to new sources of profit and growth.

Here are four points to keep in mind when navigating new strategic territory:

Continue Reading →

5 Ways to Gain Extraordinary Customer Insight

Composite image of businessman looking on a ladder

Have you ever invested great time and expense in developing and launching a new product or service, only to see revenues fall far short of expectations?

We think we’re delivering exactly what the customer has asked for, but it turns out that we didn’t really understand what our customers were willing to buy.

We’ve all been there. McDonald’s introduced chicken wraps and other menu items to satisfy the demands of health-conscious diners, only to find that customers don’t actually want to eat healthy food at McDonalds. The fries are just too tempting.

Especially in fast-changing markets, companies often get so busy running the business, they fail to understand their customers’ experience and needs. They are blind to what actually goes on when customers use their products.

Let me suggest a few ways to break out of this cycle, so that you understand what your customers value and how they think. Continue Reading →

Is Your Corporate Culture Killing Innovation and Speed?

Easy win

In the past few years, Cisco, Coca-Cola, GE, IBM, MasterCard and other large companies have begun to launch “internal startups”—teams of employees who are sheltered from corporate rules and bureaucracy – to stimulate entrepreneurship and creativity, and infuse agility.

I spoke recently with the leader of a business that existed – for a while – as an internal startup within a large corporation.

The thinking was that employees within this quasi-startup would be free to focus on their goals. Team spirit and collaboration would replace hierarchy. Innovation, risk-taking, and learning from failure would flourish. Time formerly spent on meetings and emails with other corporate groups would be spent focusing on the customer.

All those good things came true, as long as the team was left alone. Continue Reading →

Growth and Profitability from Outlier Customers

Red umbrella fly out from crowds of black umbrellas

When you deal with the same types of customers, buying the same products and using them the same way, every day, it’s easy to be lulled into a smug confidence that you know everything you need to know about how customer needs are evolving.

Market research and management reporting systems are notorious for “averaging” all customers together. This blends specific needs into a bland summary of general information. As a result, critical “outlier” information gets lost in the mix, and companies lose out on valuable insights about customer needs.

They focus product and service enhancements on the “average” customer, and as long as she’s pretty happy, they think they’re doing well.

This is dangerous.

When we ignore the unusual customers – the ones at the edges of the bell curve – we miss important market signals.

These “outlier” customers are those who do things a little differently.  They may use our product or service in an unusual way, perhaps even in a way that’s never occurred to us.

Why is this important? Continue Reading →