For all of you whose business has survived for a few years, have you noticed how your thinking has changed? Instead of sizing up new opportunities and actively courting every new customer, you start worrying about cutting costs, repeatable processes, and overtaking known competitors.
As a consultant, I hate to see you lose that startup focus on innovation, change, and customers.
I remember too many eleven thriving and growing companies, such as Blockbuster and BlackBerry, who somehow changed their way of thinking, and were overtaken by more nimble and astute peers or newcomers, like Netflix and Apple.
As the pace of change is growing, it can happen very quickly. I recommend a dedication to the following key priorities for every business, new or old:
1. Always prioritize new trends and needs over competitors.
The challenge is that the future is much harder to quantify than existing competitor markets. Don’t forget that passion you once had for what might be, versus what happened yesterday. Don’t let all the data you now have on the past keep you from listening for changes in the market.
Steve Jobs was famous for asserting that his job was to figure out what customers are going to want before they do. He was able to take his leadership in personal computers in a whole new direction with smartphones, enabling an unprecedented growth opportunity.
2. Stop chasing your peers, and take a look ‘around the corner.’
Unfortunately, your current path becomes a bias you and your peers cannot see, so it takes effort to look away and see the change that is happening around you. Sometimes you have to be willing to jeopardize current revenue streams to penetrate new markets or technologies.
Another approach is to look for parallels to breakthroughs in other industries. For example, I believe that artificial intelligence, which has produced breakthroughs in gaming, has seen little traction in the healthcare sector. How about in your industry?
3. Eliminate penalties for risk-taking and learning experiences.
As companies grow, they tend to become more structured, to the point of discouraging risk by team members, and using metrics to identify mistakes and allocate bonuses. Change experiments should be encouraged, and learning experiences celebrated rather than penalized.
Jeff Bezos credits much of Amazon’s long-term ability to grow and thrive to his funding of new product experiments, even when he did not agree. Bezos believed that if he doubled the number of change experiments, he would double his ability to survive market change.
4. Use external sources for growth and change versus internal.
Internal metrics are great for fixing problems, but industry experts, influencers, and customers are better indicators of future change and trends. The best growth alternatives may still come from “entrepreneur thinking” about alternate solutions and divergent paths. Don’t forget these.
5. Limit resources to be applied to optimizing processes.
The drive to create efficient and repeatable processes can absorb all your resources, and actually make it harder to accommodate change. Check your strategic plan regularly to make sure the major portion is focused on future growth and change, rather than fixing current inefficiencies.
6. Reward persistence and grit in team-member problem solving.
In established businesses, employee loyalty and performance often gets measured primarily by consistent hours worked and minimal emotion. Remember that as a startup problem solving was the priority, often requiring emotional persistence and peer disagreements.
7. Enable a positive and highly engaged leadership culture.
Has your business decision-making become highly top-down, with reduced employee involvement and accountability? Make sure you actively encourage and enable team members to make decisions in their own realm, with your positive support, rewards, and coaching.
All of these priorities are the hallmark of what I call the “entrepreneurial mindset,” as they are the key to a startup’s passion, agility, flexibility, and innovation. With unprecedented change being the norm in today’s market, entrepreneurial thinking is the only way to assure longevity.
I urge you to assess your own mindset, and let change be the only constant in your business as well.