Tag Archives | learning agility

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 ideas. Or ideas that are just a smidgen better than what we’re doing now.

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 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 three points to keep in mind when navigating new strategic territory:

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 →

Six Obstacles That Stop Agility In Its Tracks

Professional sprinter jumping over a hurdle

Are you struggling to make your company more agile?

In my work with organizations in virtually every industry, I find that business agility – the ability to spot and capitalize on new business opportunities as they emerge – is a capability that many companies aspire to, but few achieve.

What makes agility so elusive?

I’ve observed six primary obstacles to achieving agility. Continue Reading →

Look Outside Your Industry for Breakthrough Ideas

Be Different

I recently met with the leaders of a highly successful company. Sales growth, which had been strong for years, was headed into negative territory. They were desperate to find the next “big idea” that would put their company on track for future growth.

As they discussed potential innovations, the same tired, incremental ideas that had been tossed around for years kept resurfacing.

What they needed was something to shake up their thinking.

Continue Reading →

3 Mistakes in Managing Risk and Uncertainty

фотосессия во Вьетнаме

Not long ago, I stood on a pier near Cape Canaveral, Florida and watched a SpaceX rocket launch.

People were wearing SpaceX t-shirts and talking excitedly. SpaceX has brought the thrill back into space exploration.

Founder Elon Musk figured that by developing a way to reuse rockets, just like airplanes, he could reduce the cost of travel to space by a factor of a hundred.

He’s well on his way to achieving that. The company created the first commercial spacecraft in history to shuttle cargo to and from the International Space Station, and has already cut the cost of launching into space to less than a tenth of its prior level.

His ultimate goal, however, is to colonize Mars, making human life inter-planetary.

How’s that for a bold vision statement?

Continue Reading →

The More You Know, The Less You Need: How to Prepare Your Business for Anything the Future Might Bring

The boy scout motto is “be prepared,” yet scouts pride themselves on carrying the bare minimum for a safe backpacking trip, and having multiple uses for each object they carry.

In every business, a tension exists between being prepared for what you expect may happen, and being ready to take advantage of things you do not expect.

Amazon aims to run its servers at only 40% of capacity, because it never, ever wants to have an outage. It prepares, then, by having extra capacity.

Similarly, many companies carry extra inventory, to assure that they are never out of stock, or keep extra staff on the payroll, in case their skills are needed.

However, stockpiling has a downside: it can slow our ability to adapt when circumstances change. Preparedness for the “most likely” future can make it harder for us to see the unexpected future when it arrives. The company who stays lean has less to lose by changing course, so it is light and nimble.

I love the expression “the more you know, the less you need” because it conveys how important skills are if you want to be prepared for anything. In today’s fast-changing world, mindset, skills and learning agility are more important than physical preparedness. 

So, take the time to anticipate what might change in your business environment.  Ask:

– How might your customers needs, values and behaviors be different in the future?

– How will technology change what you, and what competitors, can offer?

–  What new business models, and new competitors, could enter the picture?

–  What new regulations might be coming?

And then ask:

  • What actions should we take no matter what the future brings?
  • What actions should we take now to mitigate the downside of each potential scenario?
  • What actions should take now to enable us to take advantage of each scenario’s potential upside?
  • What metrics and events should we monitor to glean clues about how the future might unfold?
  • And most important: What should we be learning now, so that we have the knowledge and capability to compete effectively in any future world?

In 1990, a man stopped breathing on a USAir flight. Two doctors sitting a few seats behind him on the plane performed an emergency tracheotomy using a Swiss army knife and a writing pen. They had the knowledge to save a life, and they made do with the tools they had. 

I’m interested in your comments – what might the future hold for your company, and what capabilities, knowledge and mindsets are you acquiring now to be prepared? 

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