Wednesday, November 29, 2017

4 Steps To Prepare Your Business For A Required Pivot

change-market-focusedYou will be pivoting your business in your lifetime, whether you are a new startup, or a mature company like Motorola or IBM. You can count on it and plan for it, or you wait for the next survival crisis brought your way by this rapidly changing world. You can even give it a more elegant name, like “market-focused reinvention,” but it won’t be graceful if you don’t take the lead.

“Pivoting” is changing a fundamental part of your business model. It happens on the front end for startups to get traction, and then again later for every company as the economy, competition, and culture changes around them. The pivot can be as simple as changing the pricing model, or as complex as moving from a product business to a services business.

In all cases, it’s more effective and less painful to do it as a planned process, rather than a crash course in survival. The classic book “Resurgence: The Four Stages of Market-Focused Reinvention,” by top Kellogg School of Management faculty members Gregory S. Carpenter, Gary F. Gebhardt, and John F. Sherry, Jr., outlines the required steps I see as follows:

  1. Recognize the need for change. This is often the most difficult step, either due to startup passion, or due to past success and the instilled cultural norms of established companies. Resurgence begins when entrepreneurs and top executives stop trusting only themselves, and build a coalition with customers to see what is and isn’t working.

  2. Reinvent the vision for change. Doing more of the same to stop the bleeding doesn’t work. Real change demands new goals based on new market realities. That means market-focused, rather than marketing-focused. For startups, it means adjusting your new dream to reality; for mature companies it means walking the talk of new realities.

  3. Formalize change through structure and rewards. Symbols of the new market coalition have to permeate every communication, formal process documentation, and the reward system for everyone. Formalizing change involves distributing authority to make important decisions to the team members most able to add direct customer value.

  4. Team, market, and cultural maintenance. Entrepreneurs and team members are quick to forget why change was needed in the first place. The antidote is to establish ongoing processes for staying connected with the market, like social media, customer visits, and focus groups. Only then can successful startups and resurgent firms avoid the next crisis.

There are no shortcuts to becoming market-focused, and for staying there to avoid crisis pivots in the future. The change takes time, effort, and commitment. But the benefits are worth it. The gains are personal as well as financial. They can make your startup an inspiring place to work, and help your team see their role in achieving something substantial and good, as well as fun.

Even if you are certain that your startup or enterprise is already market-focused, what are the warning signs to watch for that signal a need for change? Here are a few of the key ones:

  • Financial results plateau or show a growth slowdown.
  • Struggling to meet industry growth projections.
  • Competitors are surpassing your own results.
  • Your market segment has lost its luster.
  • The excitement of leading is gone.

When Eric Ries first made the term “pivot” a part of the business vernacular in his best-seller for entrepreneurs, “The Lean Startup,” he wasn’t focused on the challenges of larger companies to re-invent themselves on a regular basis to maintain their synchronization with the market. But in my view, pivot is a more natural and less intimidating term than business re-invention.

For all businesses, the art of the pivot is all about changing course as required in pursuit of the original business goal. If you weave this capability into your business processes from the very beginning, the change can indeed be a graceful and fulfilling part of the business journey, rather than a near-death experience. Don’t wait for the descending darkness before you start.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, November 27, 2017

7 Rules For Innovations That Produce Dominant Players

Boy_wearing_Oculus_Rift_HMDInnovation doesn’t always make you a winner in business. In my role as an angel investor in startups, almost every pitch I see highlights some real innovation in technology, business model, or market opportunity. Yet only a few of these get funded, and even fewer become dominant players in their chosen space. The rest fail quickly, or struggle for years to get real traction.

But don’t get me wrong. Innovation is necessary to get you into the game, but even a disruptive technology won’t assure you business success. These days, it’s all about harnessing your innovation to get an advantage in a business. Or as Steven S. Hoffman asserts in his new book, you have to “Make Elephants Fly,” and that requires getting outside of conventional thinking.

Hoffman should know, as an icon in the Silicon Valley, having educated and trained hundreds of startup founders as the CEO of “Founders Space,” designated by Inc.com as one of the top ten incubators and accelerators in the world. I like his list of Seven Unfair Advantages, at least one of which is required to make you a dominant player in your space, which he calls radical innovation:

  1. Offer a solution that is exponentially better than any other. If it’s not an order of magnitude better or cheaper, customers usually conclude that the risk and cost of change are simply not worth the potential payback over what they have today. You may attract early adopters, who love everything new, but the mainstream market will be elusive.

  2. Create an entirely new market space or new category. If your product or service is so unique and compelling that it’s able to define a whole new category, then you are the winner by default. This isn’t easy to do, but it happens. Just look at Nest, who is leading the IoT wave, and Oculus Rift, the company that put virtual reality on the map.

  3. Be the first to disrupt an existing market space. Being first is always important. It’s amazing how many proposals I see that are “me too” with only slight or abstract differentiation from other social media sites, ride sharing, or collaboration tools. Examples of being first include Netflix for movies and TV and Redfin for real estate.

  4. Ride the network effect to more users than anyone. The network effect is where the value of your business increases exponentially as your user count goes up. Look at competition for the numbers to beat, but in the consumer space, it usually takes millions to be the dominant player. Users can be advertisers, consumers, sellers, or passengers.

  5. Establish exclusivity as a high barrier to entry. Prove exclusivity with whatever methods and relationships you can use, including patents, distribution channels, government support, or name-brand customer contracts. A startup with innovation and high entry barriers is the most attractive candidate for investors and acquisition partners.

  6. Lock in customers with loyalty and high cost of change. Billion-dollar businesses are seldom about a single transaction with any customer. They’re about building long-term relationships, where the longer the customers use the product, the harder it is for them to leave. Great companies tend to build great ecosystems to provide added value.

  7. Find a pent-up need and build a strong brand early. Brand building is costly and difficult, but making your brand a household name has the power to differentiate your product from everyone else’s. If there is a real need, people pay more for a brand-name, and perceive a higher level of trust and value, as well as an emotional attachment.

The message here is that just because you have an innovative new technology doesn’t mean it will rise above the competition and make money. You have to analyze each innovation early and continuously with a critical eye. Hoffman’s seven rules, paraphrased here, will tell you if you are likely to be become a dominant player. If not, it may pay to pivot now before your money and energy are gone.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/14/2017 ***

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

6 Key Tenets Of A Winning Marketing Story In Business

Richard_Branson_storytellingIn my role as a mentor to entrepreneurs and an angel investor, I find that too many are stuck in this myth that a good pitch, and good marketing content, should consist of more product features, and more hype on customer benefits. Naturally, these are important, but real winning content has to start with a story that excites people’s imagination, and pulls them in emotionally.

Whether you are addressing potential investors, your company’s board, business partners, or your customers, if you plan on becoming a person of influence, you need a collection of stories to weave into your message. In fact, the same is true in your private live, or as you move up in your professional business career, or even if you are interviewing for your first job.

I found some excellent specifics on the magic of storytelling in a new book, “The Compass Solution: A Guide to Winning Your Career,” by Tim Cole. He shares his insights from three decades in business, growing billion-dollar portfolios, and managing thousands of people. I will paraphrase his key tenets here, based on my focus on entrepreneurs and new businesses:

  1. People want you to excite their passions. You grab any audience, even logical left-brain executives, in the first 60 seconds, or you lose them forever. The hook is everything, and a story fragment to clutch their hearts is the key to holding their minds. Exciting their passion to better the world or themselves is far better than saving a dollar.

  2. We all want to be entertained. With the current data overload, we remember someone who does more than inform us. We yearn for things that engage our senses, and give us hope. That’s why gamification is so effective, why celebrities are effective marketers, and why you need that amazing story that goes viral. We need more than facts to convince.

  3. No story resonates without a struggle. Struggle engages us – it compels us to want to listen and participate. That’s why I recommend every solution pitch must start with a painful problem, not just “nice-to-have.” That’s why most successful new businesses highlight a higher cause, i.e., world hunger, environmental sustainability, or equality.

  4. Avoid the use of wordy visuals in telling your story. Today is the age of images to make a point, including videos and sound. These engage your senses and cross all cultures and languages. PowerPoint pitches crammed with words will bury your message and yourself. Make sure the words you do use convey feelings, as well as facts.

  5. Every story needs a hero who comes to the rescue. That hero may be an idea, it may be an individual, it may be an initiative, but without the struggle and the knight on the white horse that comes to the rescue, there is no story, and the audience will not listen. In business, the “bad guy” can easily be an existing painful problem, or a key competitor.

  6. Logic may set the stage but it is emotion that wins the day. Even the most analytical of us responds to a story that engages the senses and appeals to our souls and sense of well-being. Think of the popularity and power of social media – the average daily usage worldwide is now up to 135 minutes per day. People don’t spend that much time on facts.

Your ability to weave stories and your heart into how you communicate with others in business, as well as your personal life, is far more important than most people realize. Examples of business leaders who are great storytellers include Richard Branson of Virgin Group, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. Emulate them rather than envy them.

These leaders always make extensive use of metaphors and similes, as well as their collection of human experiences, to more vividly communicate important messages. They engage the often misunderstood creative right brain of their audience to amplify the point and make it stick. Their ability is not a birthright – it can be learned through practice and attention to your own emotions.

Just remember that business is about people, more than products and solutions. Investors invest in the jockey, more than the horse. Customers buy from people they trust, respect, and admire. Don’t forget to make people part of your business story.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 11/25/2017 ***

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Saturday, November 25, 2017

10 Strategies To Kick Up How You Will Be Remembered

Bill Gates, Co-Chair the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shows a vaccine during the press conference. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré                           Every entrepreneur and business leader waits too long before really working on the legacy that he wants to leave to society and his family. They realize too late that they don’t really want to be remembered for how many hours they spent on airplanes, how many emails they produced, or even how much money they made for the business.

If you disappeared today, what would your legacy show? What have you done for others? If you are not thinking in these terms, you may be making a mistake as a leader. Bill Gates will probably be more remembered in fifty years for the his Foundation to save lives in developing countries, than Steve Jobs for his “insanely great” consumer technology advances.

In a classic book on this subject “Leading with Your Legacy In Mind,” Andrew Thorn, PhD, business coach, and psychologist, talks about his work on leadership strategies with business leaders at all levels. I espouse the “legacy continuum” that he outlines for every leader to reframe over time how their efforts should be spent, for purposes of kicking their legacy up a notch or two:

  1. From passion to purpose. “Just follow your passion” only takes us so far. Passion can ultimately blind us, while purpose reminds us of how we can connect our strengths with the people and environments that will most appreciate and benefit from our skills and abilities. It focuses us on what we can give instead of what we can get.

  2. From change to growth. Leaders often forget that change is hard for anyone. The only time we really like change if when we are acting as the change agents and inviting others to change. Growth, on the other hand, is most simply defined as change by natural development. Growth is natural for everyone, as a symbol of individual maturity.

  3. From goals to aspirations. Goals are generally connected to the near-term boundaries or limits that we wish to overcome and the actions that we must take to overcome them. Aspirations are more intensely connected to our deeper yearnings. When we factor in our aspirations to guide us, we begin to connect to what really gives us value in life.

  4. From balance to focus. Work/life balance is not a natural business goal. In fact, finding more balance may be impossible, due to the many daily emergencies and problems, but we can all find the time to fine-tune our focus. Focus gives us a sharpness of vision, and improves our understanding, to create a legacy that will endure the chaos of our busy life.

  5. From accepting to understanding. Acceptance embodies the idea that we must get to a place where we approve of something that we disagree with. Understanding is a higher attribute, because it allows us to hold on to what we value most, while at the same time showing a sympathetic and even an positive attitude toward another point of view.

  6. From discussion to dialogue. A discussion is a conversation that involves holding onto and defending our differences, seeking a winner. A dialogue provides an opportunity to explore the uncertainties that exist and the questions that are yet to be answered, with the potential of improving our relationships and benefiting from the collective wisdom.

  7. From listening to hearing. Listening skills are important, to focus first on noticing what is being said and what is not being said. To hear, we must actively and anxiously be willing to take action on what is being requested of us. Our legacy is strengthened when we demonstrate an ability to take action to make things better for all parties.

  8. From success to significance. Success is a count of favorable outcomes, which may or may not be significant. Significance will always be around longer than you will be around. It has a life of its own, inspiring someone else to make an impact, and nothing can stop it once it starts rolling. Finally, significance satisfies our deepest aspirations.

  9. From ambition to meaning. Ambition is our early career drive to prove our worth to others, to achieve recognition, often without regard for the sacrifices we are making. When we make the shift from ambition to meaning, we let our authentic self be our guide. Meaning is the personal fulfillment we enjoy as we grow through our own experiences.

  10. From growing older to growing whole. Growing older concerns most of us because it fills our mind with visions of what we are going to lose. Growing whole, on the other hand, is working aligned with purpose, less stress and anguish, and more time living than working. Growing whole involves celebrating by giving back and enjoying a real legacy.

It’s never too early to start working on the image you want to be remembered by, rather than the opportunistic default driven by short-term objectives and challenges. Legacy planning is nothing more than an exercise in using your time wisely. The average career is 117,000 hours of work. How many have you spent so far moving your own legacy up a few notches?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 24, 2017

7 Ways To Survive The Retail Customer Shift To Online

Ecommerce_salesIn my role as advisor to small businesses, I often hear first-hand the challenges and failures of retail store owners who fear the advantages of online and feel the exodus to eCommerce, led by Amazon and Ebay. Ironically, the most common desire I hear from entrepreneurs selling wholly online, is the need for their entry into retail, as the next step in their growth strategy.

What neither group seems to fully comprehend is that retail needs to fundamentally change to succeed, far beyond the addition of an online component, to meet the experience expectations of today’s generation, an oversupplied global marketplace, and technology for instant pricing and distribution. Many pundits are already talking about a “retail apocalypse” that has already started.

In an effort to learn a bit more about this phenomenon, and how to capitalize on it rather than fight it, I just completed a new book, “Retail’s Seismic Shift,” by Michael Dart, with Robin Lewis. Dart and Lewis should know, since both have over twenty-five years of experience consulting with dozens of retail and consumer product companies, old and new.

Here is my summary of the strategies they recommend for retailers and eCommerce companies alike to meet the challenges ahead and thrive:

  1. Demonstrate a willingness to break “business as usual.” Test new things and keep testing in your market for things that work. There is no magic, and things change so fast that you can’t count on things that worked for you in the past. Companies that are constantly looking forward, rather than backward, are going to be victorious.

  2. Encourage and reward out-of-the-company thinking. Make sure everyone is curious and open, and not getting stuck with ideas from inside your company. People must be measured in performance reviews against industry best practices, rather than previous results in your business. They may be improving every period, but losing the race.

  3. Measure your agility by putting metrics on change. Old views of change rates are no longer competitive. Don’t allow a subjective view to cloud your reality. Count the number of new projects, time and resources required to implement, and measure the return in revenue, customer satisfaction, or cost savings. In other words, stop focusing on meaningless metrics, and instead focus on store execution instead.

  4. Abandon the concept of “cookie-cutter” stores. These days, you need different retail layouts and sizes for urban communities versus small neighborhood communities. Some may have no product at all for carry-out, with demonstrations and iPads for ordering and delivery the next day. Others highlight upscale styles, or complement nearby stores.

  5. Create a non-online memorable customer experience. Only retail can provide real people relationships, and they better be memorable on the positive side. Find your niche, and it’s probably not competing on price and volume alone. These days, customers expect a focus on a higher cause, such as sustainability or social improvement.

  6. Look for growth in emerging global market geographies. Rather than saturating your coverage of a single geography, use technology and the low cost of global manufacturing to cherry-pick new opportunities. There will always be markets where the culture, income levels, or the products don’t lend themselves to online.

  7. Build a community with face-to-face between customers. Smart retail stores sponsor live events, peer-help sessions, and customer demonstrations to create great experiences and opportunities for people to feel community with others that they could never find online. Perhaps they need to add a coffee bar, or other entertainment options.

The time to start for new ventures is at the beginning, when you can set the right team culture, and before biases are set. For existing businesses, it’s harder. You have to break things, change people, and build some new habits yourself to be the right role model. The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but if you can’t get over the fence quickly, you won’t live to enjoy it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/10/2017 ***

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

5 Keys To Satisfaction From Solving Market Challenges

rear-mirror-problem-solutionPerhaps sparked by the now forgotten recession, I’m seeing a new era of the entrepreneur, with startups springing up all around. Based on my own mentoring and investing experience, the best entrepreneurs are pragmatic problem solvers. They have an uncanny ability to find elegant, easy, and fast solutions to pain points in the marketplace, as well as their own challenges.

The real question is whether problem solving is a skill you have to be born with, or is there any hope for the rest of us to become successful entrepreneurs. After some review of available resources, I’m convinced that problem solving is a learnable trait, rather than just a birthright.

For example, I remember a classic book by Penina Rybak, “The NICE Reboot,” that does a great job of outlining problem solving steps, honed from working with special needs youngsters. While her book is aimed primarily at aspiring female entrepreneurs, my adaptation of the five steps of her problem-solving hierarchy should work equally well for entrepreneurs of any gender:

  1. Acknowledge that a problem exists, and react appropriately. Problems will occur in every startup, simply because you are stepping into uncharted territory. Good entrepreneurs anticipate these, and celebrate each resolution as a positive step toward success, rather than responding with anger and frustration and counting failures.

  2. Verbalize the problem to fully understand it and why it’s occurring. Every business problem has a context that is critical, and it’s easy to be too close to see the forest for the trees. If you can explain the problem to a mentor, or even write it down, you will more likely get to the root cause quickly, and avoid emotional and blame-infused responses.

  3. Explore solutions, outcomes, and options calmly. You can’t think clearly while riding high on emotions, so calm down first. Then outline the possible outcomes and alternatives. Good problem solving requires making informed decisions, relying on logic. This is where I say “two heads are better than one.” Work with a partner you can trust.

  4. Use negotiation to come to an agreement or compromise. Whether you are charting new territory for pricing models or technology, there is rarely a perfect solution. Every approach is a compromise between cost, time, and return, so forget your perfectionist tendencies. Listen to your customers to arrive at acceptable and marketable solutions.

  5. Resolve conflict, accept outcomes, and rebuild communications. In startups, conflict is constructive in steering through the maze of innovation that is part of every successful business. Don’t let it make your startup dysfunctional in resolving future challenges. Real entrepreneurs always look ahead and learn from problems resolved.

The best way for a first time entrepreneur to learn problem solving is to find a partner who has “been there and done that.” A good alternative is to enlist the help of a business mentor you can trust. The best mentor is sensitive, knowledgeable across a broad spectrum, but is probably not your best friend. A mentor has to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. When the message is the same from both, you don’t need the mentor anymore.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most difficult traits to overcome for effective problem solving is perfectionism. A few years ago, Amanda Neville wrote an incisive article for Forbes online entitled “Perfectionism is the Enemy of Everything.” In it, she lists three types of perfectionism that are equally toxic to entrepreneurs and mentors:

  • Self-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals impose high standards on themselves.
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism, where individuals feel that others expect them to be perfect.
  • Other-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals place high standards on others.

Perfectionism quashes the desire to ask for help, see others’ viewpoints and empathize, and promote teamwork. For more help on this one, I recommend Esther Crain’s old article “Five Ways to Blast Perfectionism and Get Your Work Done.”

With all these incentives, maybe it’s time for you to reboot your career and join the new era of the entrepreneur. Problem solving may be a required skill, but it’s definitely one that can be learned, and perfectionism can be un-learned, independent of your IQ or book smarts (there may even be an inverse relationship here).

The best part of the entrepreneur problem-solving lifestyle is that it can bring satisfaction and happiness to your work. According to a classic study by the Wharton School of Business of 11,000 MBA graduates, those running their own businesses ranked themselves happier than all other professions, regardless of how much money they made. As I have said many times, life is too short to go to work unhappy every day.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, November 20, 2017

10 Keys To Making Mentoring A Win-Win Relationship

What_is_mentoringEvery entrepreneur can learn from a mentor, no matter how confident or successful they have been to date. Most people don’t know that billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, for example, gives real credit to the inspiring mentorship of Steve Jobs for Mark’s Facebook success. Yet most entrepreneurs simply don’t know how to work with a mentor. It is not as simple as one person giving the other all the right answers.

Some of the best mentoring relationships don’t involve monetary compensation, but none are free. The first cost is networking to find a mentor who is willing and able to give adequate focus to the relationship. In any case, it is good form to offer compensation, such as a small monthly stipend, plus expenses, and perhaps a 1% ownership in your startup, to show your commitment.

From my experience, here are ten basic principles and actions for both the mentor and mentee to remember in getting the most out of any mentoring relationship:

  1. Good mentoring requires building a relationship first. A positive business or personal relationship between two people normally requires a high degree of shared values, common interests, and mutual respect. Remember that good relationships take some time to develop, so don’t assume that your first discussion will seal the deal.

  2. Agree on specific objectives and time frames. Mentoring that consists of random discussions is not very satisfying for either side. I recommend one or more early discussions of mutual objectives, with a written summary of goals and expectations from the mentee to the mentor, with timeframes and milestones.

  3. Make efficient use of time for both parties. This means being respectful and diligent about scheduling and keeping appointments, and returning emails and phone calls. Don’t attempt to multitask, or allow constant interruptions, during meetings. Book follow-up sessions, with an agenda, rather than fill time with random discussions.

  4. Identify strengths and weaknesses early. Both the mentor and mentee should put their cards on the table, to avoid surprises later. Then both should look for opportunities to leverage strengths, and shore up weaknesses. This avoids wasted time and speculation, and provides the motivation to bring in other experts or mentors as required.

  5. Mentor feedback must be thoughtful, specific, timely, and constructive. An important aspect of a mentoring relationship is how the mentor provides feedback to the mentee. Formulate negative feedback in a constructive fashion. Using open-ended questions that start with “how” or “what” help the mentee to arrive at their own solution.

  6. Mentees should avoid any defensive reaction to feedback. The right response to most mentor feedback is a thoughtful question for clarification. Immediately responding with “reasons and rationale” to every feedback will be read as insincerity, and will likely end the mentoring relationship quickly.

  7. Practice two-way communication and candid feedback. Mentoring is not a series of monologues and lectures, from either side. But candid feedback means not pulling punches when they are deserved. Both sides need to practice active listening and thoughtful questions. Constructive conflict is good.

  8. Agree to deal with unforeseen challenges openly. The most common challenges involve time and accessibility demands on either side, or the level of help expected. Both sides need to honor business boundaries, and not stray into personal relationship issues. Agree up front on how to end the relationship if other unforeseen circumstances arise.

  9. Celebrate successes, and deal openly with failures. This will help the learning process and build the mentee’s confidence. With patience and time, the partners should develop a good rapport and become more comfortable with openly and freely conversing with each other.

  10. Evaluate mentoring requirements on a regular basis. The mentee, as primary beneficiary, should be proactive in making sure the review process occurs on a regular basis, perhaps quarterly. This allows for frank discussion of unanticipated changes, and the potential for discontinuing the process and declaring success.

The end of a mentoring relationship should be seen as an opportunity to review what did and didn’t work, and more importantly, to reflect on the results, so that every lesson that can be learned from the relationship is recognized.

Both the mentor and mentee should celebrate the successes, review the learning from failures, and conclude the relationship with positive feelings. To bring it full circle, mentees should now consider passing on their new knowledge and skills by entering a new mentoring relationship – as a mentor. That’s the ultimate satisfaction.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

10 Great Ways To Crush Creativity In Your Business

Danger!_Crush_PointsSuccess in any business these days requires a constant flow of new and innovative solutions, to keep up with changes in the market, competition, and to attract new customers. Yet in my role as a small business advisor, I still see a singular focus on achieving repeatable processes and “cookie-cutter” manufacturing. I don’t believe these two objectives have to be mutually exclusive.

The best entrepreneurs, and the best executives in mature businesses, have learned how to foster both high efficiency and high creativity, in a balance that keeps their business ahead of the pack on both sides of the equation. These business leaders are constantly are on the prowl for mistakes to avoid and opportunities to improve their impact.

I saw some good insights on the most common mistakes that crush creativity, in a new edition of a classic book, “Lateral Thinking Skills,” by Paul Sloane. Sloane is well recognized for his work on innovation and lateral thinking (new ways of looking at a problem rather than proceeding by logical steps). Here is my summary of the ten top creativity mistakes we both still see too often:

  1. Criticize any new idea or employee suggestion. A natural human reaction to any new idea is to point out potential weaknesses. New ideas tend to not be fully thought through, so it is easy to reject them as ‘bad.’ This only discourages the person from making any future suggestions. You must praise creative thinking, and evaluate results later.

  2. Avoid brainstorming sessions to find solutions. Brainstorming is still seen by many as old-fashioned and passé. Recent evidence is that brainstorming, done right, is still one of the best ways of generating fresh ideas from people at all levels. Keep brainstorming sessions short, non-judgmental, high energy, and chaired by an enthusiastic facilitator.

  3. Escalate all problems upward to senior management. In fact, people lower in the organization are often closer to the customer, and have more insight into what works and what doesn’t. Avoid the macho concept that only top management can solve problems, or address strategic challenges. Decisions made lower down always get more buy-in.

  4. Pervasive focus on efficiency rather than innovation. There is nothing wrong with a focus on making the current business model work better. Yet ‘better’ sometimes requires ‘different’ (innovation), rather than just more efficient (faster or cheaper). An exclusive focus on efficiency is a dangerous and limiting to long-term growth.

  5. Promote the belief that hard work will solve all problems. Often we need to find a different way of solving a problem than just to work harder at the old way of doing things. Every working day needs time for some fun, some lateral thinking, some wild ideas, and some testing of new initiatives. Make sure people take time to look for new opportunities.

  6. Plan in great detail and avoid things not in the budget. Markets and needs change so quickly these days that the view we had last week can be out of date today. Business plans should be loose frameworks to be used as guidelines rather than detailed route maps. Budgets must be reviewed monthly for adjustments to accommodate innovations.

  7. Create a culture of finding blame for every failure. Many innovation projects will fail, but are still worthwhile, because only by trying them can you determine whether a promising idea is a dud or a winner. If people fear they will be blamed for failures, they will quickly avoid attempting something new. Encourage an entrepreneurial culture.

  8. Provide bonuses for volumes, not milestones. Typical incentives give percentages of quarterly revenues and contribution as rewards for success. You need different rewards for a team running an innovation project, such as reaching agreed milestones. An even better alternative could be stock options, linked to the long-term success of the company.

  9. Always promote from within rather than seek fresh blood. Promoting from within is generally a good thing, but should not be used exclusively. For real creativity and innovation, an outsider not bound by your company cultural assumptions and beliefs, and bringing a new set of experiences to the table, will see and fight for new opportunities.

  10. Assign innovation projects to production organizations. Existing production teams are generally too busy meeting monthly deadlines and targets to give new innovations the attention they need. It is better to put new products or services into a new or special department, sometimes known as an innovation incubator, to get the focus they require.

Creativity and innovation are fragile business elements, and they can be easily starved, smothered, and trampled by the larger daily operational demands and old ways of doing things. Business leaders, and every member of their team, need to proactively use lateral thinking skills to develop and nurture creativity and innovation. Your long-term business survival depends on it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 11/18/2017 ***

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

10 Principles For New Ventures To Weather The Storm

weather-the-stormA perfect storm is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances aggravates an environment drastically. In the entrepreneur world, I feel we are in such a situation now for new startups, with the confluence of business transformations, the explosion of new digital technologies, and the political turmoil around the world.

It’s easier and cheaper to start a company than ever before, yet it’s tougher than ever to survive. It takes a “well-oiled” multi-disciplined and motivated team to win, and yet I see and hear all too often about teams that are well-funded and smart, but don’t work well together, or are downright dysfunctional.

The challenge they face is not unlike that described in the classic sailing book “Into the Storm,” by Dennis N. T. Perkins, where a team of amateurs applied some key lessons in teamwork while surviving and winning a treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race. Here are ten principles from the book that I’ve easily extrapolated to the business startup environment:

  1. Team unity: Make the team, not an individual, the rock star. Flat management is the business term to describe an environment where all members of the team feel they are part of the whole, that each has a key role to play, and each can express their views without jeopardy. There are no individual superstars or bosses with special perks.

  2. Prepare, prepare, prepare: Remove all excuses for failure. Winning teams set out to ensure that every element of the system is known to all and is functioning to the best of their combined ability. Make sure no one has an excuse for failure. That means preparing for things that could go wrong, as well as driving things efficiently that go right.

  3. Balanced optimism: Find and focus on the winning scenario. In business, startups will inevitably encounter setbacks, and need to pivot. The first step is to define “winning.” Is it more customers, more revenue, more profit, or killing competitors? Of course, all of these are important, but everyone needs to prioritize the same way during a crisis.

  4. Relentless learning: Build a gung-ho culture of learning and innovation. The very best teams learn the most quickly from experience. That means they take action, reflect on outcomes, and gain insights that help them continuously improve. Innovation and new ideas are the norm, rather than maintain status quo, or charge straight ahead.

  5. Calculated risk: Be willing to sail into the storm. Great business teams accept that every startup is “a big risk,” and there is no quick path to safety. Winning requires situational awareness, which means always understanding the critical success factors, and working to stay aware of current business realities around you.

  6. Stay connected: Cut through the noise of the wind and the waves. The information blizzard in business is just as noisy as on the stormy ocean. Don’t let it be further clouded by political concerns and turf battles. Everyone needs to personalize communication, warn others of big waves, and even break protocol to help others when required.

  7. Step into the breach: Find ways to share the helm. In adversity, any given team member can be faced with a burden too heavy for one person to carry. A good team draws on each other’s strengths, and shares the load. At the top, this is called distributive leadership, which lessens the burden on the formal leader.

  8. Eliminate friction: Step up to the conflict, and deal with the things that slow you down. Fix the problem, not the blame. Confront differences in ability without blame, and add training, coaching, or education, and eliminate excess weight, before the storm. Humor can help alleviate anxiety and mitigate conflict, providing time to solve the crisis.

  9. Practiced resilience: Master the art of rapid recovery. Startups need people who thrive under pressure, meaning they are resilient and have a high stress hardiness. They enjoy change and look at problems as a challenge, rather than a burden. They measure success in terms of recovery time, and strive to make it shorter.

  10. Tenacious creativity: Never give up – there is always another move. Determination and creativity under pressure make a team unstoppable – on the ocean or in business. The “proud moments” of successful teams are the times when they come together in the face of adversity and win.

Some startup founders try to dodge the team-building challenge by single-handedly doing all the work, or establishing a monarchy where only one voice counts. Neither of these strategies can succeed, since even a small business will soon scale too big for one person to manage everything.

If you are a new entrepreneur, you need to realize that you can’t win by sailing around the edges of the perfect storm ahead. You have to hit it with an innovative plan, and you need a confident and disciplined team to get you through it. Are you ready to rock and roll?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 17, 2017

6 Steps Required From A New Venture Dream To Reality

new-venture-dream-to-realityIt seems like everyone wants to be an entrepreneur and get rich these days. As a business mentor, I sometimes feel besieged by people begging for my view and support of their latest idea. In reality, I like most ideas, but I have to tell them that the real challenge is taking the inspiration from a dream to a business reality. All the evidence says that over 99% fail to make that leap.

So a better question than asking about the quality of an idea, is asking about the quality of your plan to implement the idea. There are lots of resources available for that question, including the Internet and mentors like me. It’s really a multi-step process, with the first step getting you from an idea to a viable product, and the remaining steps creating a sustainable business.

As an example of a good resource, I enjoyed a classic book, “Idea To Invention,” by Patricia Nolan-Brown, that does a great job on the key steps. Here is my interpretation of her realistic process for deciding and then actually taking your inspiration from an invention idea to a sustainable business:

  1. It all starts in your head (think it). Start with what you know, but think outside the box. As you think and explore and imagine the possibilities for new products, remember that it should have a broad opportunity, appeal to people who have money to buy, and needs to have pizzazz to get people’s attention in this age of information overload.

  2. Now get real (cook it). Before you get too excited, it’s time to do some homework. Find out if something very similar is already selling, and who your competition would be if you proceed. Ask some potential customers to see if there is real interest, and start thinking about price versus cost. Look hard at the technology for feasibility and risk.

  3. Keep thieves away (protect it). Limit your disclosures to people you trust, and learn the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDA). File at least a provisional patent and one or more trademarks. Be wary of crafty shysters who will flood your mailbox with official-looking mail offering to help for a fee, or demanding fees you forgot to pay.

  4. Make ‘em want it bad (pitch it). “Pitching” is the insider term for presenting your product idea to people who could conceivably buy it or fund your efforts. Start by developing an “elevator pitch” that you can deliver in 30 seconds to hook a potential investor. Attend trade shows and network to find the right players and pitch your product.

  5. Factory in the garage (make it). This is the point where you work on the specifics of being able to deliver your product or service. Relevant questions include the type of business entity (LLC or C-Corp), licensing or manufacturing, sales and marketing, and staffing. It’s also time to build prototypes to make the product come alive.

  6. Continuous improvement (replace it). Once you have a real product, and it’s actually selling itself online, or on store shelves, you may think you can just sit back, relax, and collect your riches. But remember that complacency kills, and you always need to be thinking of the next product iteration, new territories, and new competitors.

Thus you see that framing your idea is the first of at least six steps in making it a business, and probably less than one percent of the entire effort required. Now you see why no one should judge business success potential by the idea alone. I’ve heard the pitch for many million-dollar ideas, but I haven’t seen anyone pay that for one yet.

In fact, the common element in all these steps is “you.” Investors learned this a long time ago, so most will tell you that they invest in people, not ideas. They safely assume that an entrepreneur with the right attributes will start with a great idea, and spend their time honing and presenting a great plan to deliver, leading to a successful business.

You don’t need the intelligence of a genius to cash in on your dream, and you don’t have to be born with special genes to be an entrepreneur. But you do have to be passionate, positive, determined, and a problem solver to get it done. Talkers and dreaming without follow-through will fail. Are you ready to cash in on your inspiration, or are you comfortable in the other 99 percent?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

8 Ways That Creating A New Business Helps Your Career

career-road-signIf you are one of the many professionals still trapped between jobs by circumstances outside your control, or are about to dump the loser job you have now, you should be actively defining and starting your own business, in parallel with looking for that ideal job. Let me explain why this is a win-win deal, no matter what the outcome.

You have probably secretly always wanted to run your own show, but with an existing job, never took the time to consider a startup. Then there was always the risk of failure, which of course doesn’t apply once your real job is gone. Also, for most of us, not having done it before, we have no idea where or how to start.

Here are my top recommendations on how and why initiating a startup while looking, or about to be looking for a job, is the right thing to do:

  1. No gap in your resume. Instead of an embarrassing gap in your resume for your period out of work, you have an entry for your startup business, showing initiative, leadership, and breadth of experience.

  2. Fun learning experience. It’s more fun tackling the challenges of a startup in between job search activities, than sitting around feeling sorry for yourself and waiting for status callbacks on interviews (which seem to have gone out of style).

  3. Explore finding a business partner. Unless you are a true loner, you need someone like-minded but complementary in skills to help you with the startup plans. It’s always good to have someone to test your ideas, keep your spirits up, and hone your business skills. Now you have a reason for talking to people who may become lifelong friends.

  4. Learn how to incorporate a business. First, pick a name for your company and do the paperwork on starting a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). Almost anyone can handle this without professional help, and the cost is less than $100 in many states. It shows everyone you are serious, and limits your liability on any mistakes.

  5. Practice developing a business plan. Pick a startup business that you can do for minimal cost, like a services business with the skills you have. With simple software available today, find a domain name and implement your own website. Use social networking and blogging to get your message out. You don’t even need an investor.

  6. Get business cards made. Nothing says you are serious about a business like handing out professional business cards at local events and Chamber of Commerce meetings. Do them on your home computer for a few dollars. Offer to help a couple of customers free, just to get your act together and your presence known.

  7. Have startup efforts to highlight in job interviews. Work your startup efforts into every job interview and application. It will definitely show off your energy and vision, and will make you a more competitive candidate for any role.

  8. Give yourself a choice – job or your own business. Obviously, at some point you will need to decide whether your startup business is better than the job opportunities. That’s good because it’s always nice to have an alternative, rather than feeling that you just have to take the first dead-end job offered.

There are other startup related points I could make here, like joining an existing startup as a “volunteer” for a time, just to learn more about what is required. Also, in most geographies, there are organizations springing up, and university workshops, to mentor people out of work and contemplating a startup. Get some help from them if you need it.

Just remember that problems are really often opportunities in disguise. Don’t miss out on what may be the best opportunity you will have in your lifetime for a new career. Start up now.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, November 13, 2017

What Great Bosses And Great Employees Have In Common

happy-bosses-dayEveryone in business loves to complain about their boss, and a classic Gallup study found that 50 percent of current employees have left at least one job in their career to get away from a bad manager. When asked for clarification, the most common reason seems to be a managers lack of clarity in setting expectations, which is obviously one of the most basic of employee needs.

On the other hand, almost every one of us in business can remember that one special manager in their career who exemplifies the norm, who commanded our trust, and treated us with respect, even in the toughest of business crises. In commemoration of U.S. National Boss’s Day every October, let’s all tip our hat to that unique and rare business person we wish all would emulate.

In an effort to be a better business advisor, and recognizing that the answer is not usually as simple as a single dimension, I have asked my own sample of employees at all levels for a list of key traits or attributes they see in great managers, resulting in the following list of ten top positive traits of a good boss:

  1. Clearly communicates performance expectations. Even your best performers don’t like to be surprised after the fact by unknown expectations. One of the easiest ways to avoid surprises is to set deliverable milestone targets for each employee for every period. Then review the performance versus the roadmap and deliverables on a weekly basis.

  2. Shows leadership as well as management skills. As Drucker said, "management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." Every employee appreciates guidance on both – to do the right thing at the right point in time, towards attainment of the organization’s goals, as well as employee satisfaction and perceived productivity.

  3. Demonstrates extensive and current domain knowledge. Good bosses demonstrate relevant expertise and confidence about that knowledge, as well as the common sense to make quick productive decisions. This requires continuous learning, an ability to think outside the box, and the flexibility to change as the market and technology changes.

  4. Possesses foresight and skills to plan and delegate. Great managers make it a point to understand the specific strengths of team members, and then scheduling tasks and delegating to the right people to get tasks done within deadlines. The best managers are guides and coaches, with a concrete plan based on goals, not just crisis commanders.

  5. Provides positive and timely employee recognition. Most employees are more motivated by recognition than by money. You must immediately recognize team members, formally and informally, when they complete something successfully or show initiative. Over the long-term, make sure they get more positive than negative recognition.

  6. Is an active listener, and provides immediate feedback. Listening to what is said, as well as what is not said, is of the utmost importance. It is demoralizing to an employee to be speaking to a supervisor who is interrupted for a phone call. Good managers plan for feedback sessions, and pick a venue that is conducive to discussion and adequate time.

  7. Stays cool and calm in tough business situations. A great manager is an effective communicator and a composed individual, with a proven tolerance for ambiguity. He or she never loses their cool, keeps their ego in check, and is able to correct team members without emotional body language or statements. They don’t always have to be right.

  8. Shows empathy for individual problems and challenges. This refers to the ability to "walk in another person's shoes", and to have insight into the thoughts, and the emotional reactions of individuals faced with change or the need to change. Empathy is suspending judgment of another's actions or reactions, while treating them with sensitivity.

  9. Provides a role model for honesty, integrity, and humility. Simply put, today’s managers live in glass houses. Everything that a manager does is seen by employees. If a manager says one thing and does another, employees broadcast it. Managers must be straightforward in all words and actions, including admitting weaknesses and mistakes.

  10. Always displays a positive sense of humor. People of all demographics respond to humor, and respect managers who can find humor even in tough business and personal situations. The majority of people are able to be amused at something funny, and see an irony. One of the most frequently cited attractions to a manager is their sense of humor.

Since most of these traits must seem intuitively obvious, it’s hard for me to understand why so many managers and employees miss on expectations. Perhaps it’s time for employees and team members to adopt and display these traits as well, especially the one about empathy for the challenges that your manager is facing. Only then can it be a win-win relationship for both parties.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/01/2017 ***

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

10 Sharing Principles To Improve Your Business Image

Whole_Foods_Market_logoToo many customers have long felt distanced from many successful brands, seeing them as closed and mysterious environments, focused only on profits and killing competitors. They may not have noticed the wave of “open businesses,” spawned by the Internet and social media. These are responding to the demands of this new world for collaboration, trust, and transparency.

In a thought-provoking book by David Cushman with Jamie Burke, “The 10 Principles of Open Business,” the authors contend that many recent success stories in business, including Apple and Whole Foods, were built on at least one open business principle. In fact, according to McKinsey, open businesses are 50 percent more likely to outperform their rivals today and grow sustainable profits.

I especially like Cushman’s outline of the ten principles which distinguish the organization and operation of an open business from the more traditional closed model. Here is my interpretation of the key focus points and requirements to be categorized as open:

  1. Shared beliefs (purpose). Your stakeholders all need to understand and agree to the “why” of your organization. As the business owner, you need to have a higher level purpose (beyond making money), and be willing and able to continually clarify and communicate this to your team and your customers.

  2. Shared risks (open capital). Share the costs and risks, and therefore the ownership and the passion with your constituents. In the idea stage, get customers involved with an engaging contest. If you are at the funding stage, try the new crowd-funding platforms or micro-capital investments. Offer equity in future projects to people outside your business.

  3. Shared clients and objectives (networked organization). Support and enable mutually beneficial activities inside and outside the organization. Bring focus on your core competencies and expertise by educating and helping others, who can then return the favor by helping you or buying from you.

  4. Shared knowledge packaging (shareability). Establish vehicles, like a formal customer satisfaction program, to recognize and reward staff and customers for sharing what they can do to help you. Use and contribute to shared resources, like Wikipedia and Creative Commons, rather than relying totally on proprietary and internal tools.

  5. Shared and collaborative activity (connectedness). Enable people within the organization to find what (or who) they need when they need it. Set an example by being visibly connected to the people and information you need through social media. Encourage collaboration by providing the platform, and setting best practices.

  6. Shared ideas and rewards (open innovation). Bring customers and stakeholders into the innovation process to share the risk and reward of development. Consider setting up a new idea forum on your website, with rewards and motivational offers, to facilitate involvement from customers and business partners.

  7. Shared intelligence and opportunities (open data). Make data available to those inside or outside of your organization who can make best use of it. Contribute and give talks to local business organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce, to establish your expertise, and contribute information as well as gather it.

  8. Shared decision process (transparency). Make decisions openly and be honest about the criteria on which they are based. Ramp up transparency by making people the boss of what they do. Respond openly and in a timely fashion to requests for information about the business.

  9. Shared leadership (member and customer led). Make sure your organization is structured around the formal co-operation of employees, customers, and partners, for their mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit. Do things with your customers and staff, rather than to them. Strive to treat them as genuine partners.

  10. Shared goodwill (trust). Foster a mutually assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of the partnership between your company and customers. Earn trust through your consistent actions over time. Review your current investment in “creating goodwill.” Compare this to how highly you value trust. Adjust accordingly.

In the last few years, I have seen a tremendous upswing in “open business” movements, especially by entrepreneurs and startups. Examples include Conscious Capitalism®, made popular by John Mackey of Whole Foods, The B Team, with serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, and the Benefit Corporation (B Corp) form of business now available in 33 states.

We seem to have a rare convergence between demands from the marketplace, driven by the real-time collaborative Internet culture, and a desire by entrepreneurs to define success as something more than making money. I think it’s really happening, and it’s time to take a reality check on your own business, and your own shopping habits, to capitalize on this trend.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

6 Strategies To Optimize Self-Leadership For Business

Employees-Leadership-MentorIn my experience as an advisor and mentor to entrepreneurs in business, one of the biggest failures I see is a lack of self-leadership. You can’t lead a business to success, if you can’t lead yourself. I define self-leadership as the capacity to set direction and make decisions, to positively drive your own performance. Leadership in business starts with making good personal choices.

Think about the questions that you are asking your advisors. I expect questions about how a business works, or what are best practices, but I really can’t help you with removing doubts on your abilities, or providing a sure-fire idea and formula for success in business. In my view, business leaders are not “idea people,” but people who drive a given idea to business results.

For example, I often hear from aspiring entrepreneurs that “I had that idea first, and he stole it, and is now making money on my idea.” I’m not an expert on leadership, so I am always on the lookout for specific development guidance, such as the new book, “Leadership Results,” by the well-known leadership coach and business psychologist, Sebastian Salicru.

Salicru details several self-leadership development strategies, which I will summarize here, that I recommend for practice by every aspiring entrepreneur. These strategies provide more valuable initial advice towards business success than I can offer as a technical business advisor:

  1. Build and maintain high self-worth and self-confidence. A healthy and high self-esteem is an essential prerequisite to leading yourself to success, as well as your business. Low self-worth, on the other hand, leads to continual doubts and questions, inability to make commitments or deliver results. Focus on you before your business.

  2. Recognize your weaknesses, but lead with your strengths. The first challenge is to find your strengths. Everyone has some degree of strengths blindness, and will likely benefit from one of many tools, such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder. If necessary, use a strengths coach, and always start a business which highlights your signature strengths.

  3. Practice your strengths often for inspiration and confidence. Using your signature strengths early in your business will cause a flow of inspiration, energy, and creativity, building momentum in your confidence and leadership. This momentum is what you need for enjoyment and satisfaction, as well as for others to see you as a business leader.

  4. Build your character and reputation with personal values. Both self-leadership and business leadership require a solid platform for decisions, based on moral and personal values. Your character, as a business leader, will determine your perceived reputation by peers in business, team members, and customers. Values are your most valuable assets.

  5. Demonstrate leadership by acting ethically and with integrity. People judge you by what you do in your business, more than by what you say. Ethical behavior refers to actions consistent with personal principles and commonly held values in your business community. These will define your right and wrong in business leadership and success.

  6. Build positive psychological capital to sustain your business. In any business, you need hope, confidence, resilience, and optimism to weather the daily challenges of customers, market changes, and competitors. Without a store of this psychological capital, your performance and leadership will wane, and your satisfaction will dwindle.

I have found that no amount of personal or investor money will create or substitute for self-leadership and business leadership. We have all seen examples of new ventures that fail, despite large infusions of venture capital, and high-potential new technologies. Good entrepreneurs can make a success from almost any business idea, through a following of partners and customers.

Today is the age of the entrepreneur, with the cost of entry at an all-time low, and the global market at an all-time high. Yet every business still requires leadership, since competition and the pace of change dictate innovative actions on a regular basis to get results. Now is the time to capitalize on your strengths and maximize your leadership abilities.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 11/10/2017 ***

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Friday, November 10, 2017

6 Ways Of Thinking To Put Your Innovation Into Orbit

Columbia.sts-1.01Real innovation in the business world is still rare. As I’ve said before, everyone talks about innovation, but the majority of new business plans I see still reflect linear thinking – one more social network with more features, another smartphone app for marketing, or one more platform for faster e-commerce. Historic changes and great successes don’t come from linear thinking.

What does it take for more dynamic transformations? I like the recommendations in the classic book “Orbit Shifting Innovation,” by Rajiv Narang and Devika Devaiah. They summarize twenty years of breakthrough research initiatives and innovation strategy they have led with many of the most dynamic global organizations large and small, including Unilever, Walt Disney, and Intel.

They define ‘orbit-shifting’ innovation as something that happens when an area that is ripe for transformation meets an innovator with the will and the desire to create history, not follow it. The breakthrough innovation creates a new orbit. Beginning with the Macintosh, Apple succeeded in doing this time and time again, transforming the lives of millions, with Steve Jobs at the helm.

Every entrepreneur and every company I know has orbit-shifting intentions. But there is a big difference between orbit-shifting intentions and orbit shifting results. According to Narang and Devaiah, the people who accomplish real innovation results seem to exhibit a higher set of attitudes and motivation:

  1. Personal growth relates to the size of the challenge, not the size of the kingdom. What motivates real innovators is the more exciting challenge, not the number of people reporting to them. The ‘size of the difference’ they will make is more inspiring than the ‘size of the business.’ They relish getting out of their comfort zone, and into the unknown.

  2. The new direction is the challenge, not the destination. The challenge is the transformation vehicle for true innovators, and not a performance goal. They focus on legacy creation, not legacy protection. They ignore failures and are constantly looking at the progress made. They treat innovations reviews like performance reviews.

  3. Be an attacker of forces holding people back, not a defender. Real innovators start by questioning the world order rather than conforming to it. They begin by confronting the forces holding everyone back, rather than living with it. The forces include mindset gravity, organization gravity, industry gravity, country gravity, and cultural gravity.

  4. New insights come from a quest for questions, not a quest for answers. This discovery mindset searching for new questions drives real innovators away from more of the same. They fundamentally become value seekers; they look for value in every experience, in every conversation. They don’t seek prescriptions, they seek possibilities.

  5. Stakeholders must be connected into the new reality, not convinced. True innovators tip stakeholders into adopting and even co-owning the orbit-shifting idea. They go about tipping the heart first, assuming the mind will follow. They seek smart people, who openly express their doubts, and then collaborate to overcome them.

  6. Work from the challenge backward, rather than capability forward. Overcoming execution obstacles is combating dilution, not compromising, for these innovators. Their mindset is not ‘if-then’ but ‘how and how else?’ They convert problems to opportunities, and often the original idea grows far bigger than the starting promise.

Overall, what is different about these innovators is their mental model of romanticism in vision and realism in execution. They expect challenges, and when problems do arise, they are not surprised or let down or disappointed. They face them head on, handle them and move on. Most of the rest of us are the reverse; realistic about the vision and romantic about execution.

Entrepreneurs and startups are in the best position to find and run with orbit-shifting rather than linear innovations. They don’t have to start by overcoming the choking gravities of an existing organization and product set. That’s why most large business and government entities are resigned to buying innovation, rather than birthing it. Is your best startup idea and mindset really orbit-shifting, or just linear thinking that stakeholders won’t buy?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

7 Keys To Market Growth - Think Global, But Act Local

world-opportunity-growthNew entrepreneurs who want to survive, and optimize the growth of their startups, need to think globally, and act locally, from day one. This approach, popularly known as “glocalization,” means you have to design and deliver global solutions that have total relevance to every local market in which you operate.

Recognizing this is as much about culture as about language, ensures an understanding of regional motivators, cultural taboos and local customs – so that your solutions are ideally designed and marketed to deliver value that has genuine local relevance.

What all this doesn’t mean is that you should roll out your product in every country at the same time. But it does mean that you think about the global implications at every step of the process:

  1. Pick your company and product names carefully. Don’t pick a name for your company or product that has a negative or totally different meaning in another language. Remember when the Chevy Nova required a rename, once Chevrolet realized that Nova meant "no go" in the Spanish market (not a great name for a car).

  2. Anticipate greater growth outside of North America. Not every international market matters, but some are larger than life. McKinsey estimates, for example, that the upper middle class in China will grow from 14 percent now to 56 percent by 2022. Just the middle class in India is equal in size to the entire population of the United States. And aging populations in Europe and Japan will join the retiring baby boomers in the U.S. with demands for new products and services. Be ready.

  3. Reinforce your brand in international markets. An international brand will command higher prices and additional customer demand. This is called brand goodwill, a hard-won value resulting from the trust that a strong name engenders among buyers and partners. As you begin to saturate the demand in domestic markets, let your brand take you international at low cost.

  4. Balance your business between geographies. When buyers in one region start to slow down, look for buyers in other geographies to take up the slack. Companies with diversified portfolios can focus their energy on other global markets that are doing well.

  5. Speak the customer’s language. People tell me that a multi-lingual website can double your local online business in many parts of the U.S. These days, customers begin their buying cycle online, where they can get answers to their frequently asked questions, product information, and transactions — all in a language they really understand.

  6. Find global sources now. This may not be politically correct these days, but smart startups are looking globally to source their products from the very beginning. Software can be developed “offshore” for a low cost, manufacturing volumes are quickly available from China, and European designs have increased opportunities in every country.

  7. Selectively protect your intellectual property worldwide. At present, no world patents or international patent process really exists, so you need to apply in every relevant country. Trying to get patent protection worldwide at the beginning is prohibitively expensive, so pick your geographies and timing carefully and strategically.

These days the world is a single market. It is both homogeneous and heterogeneous. The communication revolution and the advent of the Internet has brought about a new age of globalization. Easier access to international markets is creating limitless sales opportunities on a worldwide basis.

The result is that every startup company now needs to consider every aspect of management, sales and service on a global basis. However, to gain a true competitive edge, you still need to implement effective solutions first at the local level. Don’t try to do it all at once.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, November 6, 2017

8 Creativity Traits That Will Improve Your Leadership

Creativity-Drawing-Creative-Be-CreativeStarting a new venture is all about being creative, not just in the initial solution, but in tackling the daily challenges of every new and innovative business. In my role as business advisor, I find too many people still looking for the right answers in the back of the book. Most of what you learned in school is already obsolete. The winning answers and strategy has to come from your creativity.

In this new world of constant cultural and technological change, the only source you can trust is your own ability to learn faster and be more creative than your competition. In that context, we all have to deal with a huge information overload, which can stifle creativity, just by the sheer weight of trying to consume all the data bombarding us daily from the Internet, social media, and press.

In fact, according to a recent book, “Too Fast to Think: How to Reclaim Your Creativity in a Hyper-connected Work Culture,” by Chris Lewis, the pressure of this information overload is changing human behavior, and not always in good ways. He should know, based on his years of experience as a media trainer for senior politicians, business people and celebrities.

He sees the information overload as a major source of stress, a feeling of being constantly interrupted and out of control, and reduced focus on creativity. Lewis offers eight steps to reclaiming your creativity that I believe every entrepreneur should adopt:

  1. Quiet – creativity speaks quietly and needs concentration. It’s important to schedule some time for thinking each day, away from the noise and clutter, so we can refreshingly experience sounds, smells, touch, and the full senses. The enemies of this are multi-tasking and juggling. If you are concentrating on too many things, creativity will not come.

  2. Engage – creativity needs focus and commitment. Take the time to listen fully to the voices that really count, including your team leaders and customers. Also take the time to listen and believe in yourself. Take on and conquer your own fears and challenges, before you face the business challenges which require extra creativity.

  3. Dream – creativity needs imagination and free thinking. Research has long suggested links between dreams and creativity. It suggests that the dreams themselves--with their idiosyncratic imagery, colorful extrapolations on the same theme and nonjudgmental stance--model the free thinking that precedes actual creation.

  4. Relax – creativity requires patience and will not be forced. Sometimes your “Type A” personality works against you. You may never learn to love the queue or the line, but you can be calm in doing so. Ideas do not arrive by timetable. If you live by the clock, you may not allow creativity to intervene. Practice slowing down your pace once in a while.

  5. Release – let go and accept that you can’t do everything. Don’t push off the basics of life in favor of work – schedule and maintain time for sleep, exercise, and healthy eating. Find time for some any of the creative arts to jump-start your creativity – dance, art, non-work relationships, or other hobbies. This new-found creativity will spill over to your work.

  6. Repeat – experiments and repetition are the key. Scientists have long known that the best results come from controlled experiments, meaning that just one (or a few) factors are changed at a time, with repetition, while all others are kept constant. With information overload, too much input can lead to random tests with no creativity or analysis.

  7. Play – creativity comes from what you enjoy and love. You can’t play or enjoy things when you are constantly rushing. Take the time to explore new ideas and have deep conversations with creative people about things you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the financial side of your business, find a partner to be creative there, so you can be creative in yours.

  8. Teach – people learn more about creativity helping others. The best mentors in business often find themselves learning as much as their mentees. You will find yourself creatively inspired by someone else’s style and ideas, and you can make them your own by improving them, changing them, or personalizing them in some way, and sharing.

Above all, remember that creativity in business is not a solo act. Good leadership is bringing out the best in creativity from all members of the team, through collaboration, customer engagement, incenting change, and publicly recognizing every contribution. To fight the negative impacts of the current information overload, what have you done today to foster your own creativity?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/23/2017 ***

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

3 Key Success Factors Drive Business Strategies Today

Business_Strategy_Cover (1)Your business can’t be all things to all people, and excel at anything. Every entrepreneur and every business needs a strategy to keep them focused. In fact, in this new world of pervasive interactivity, it’s time to rethink even how to develop a strategy. Strategy used to come from the inside looking out, but now it must come from a dialogue and engagement with constituents.

These challenges and the processes for a modern strategic approach are highlighted in the classic book by Gerben Van Den Berg and Paul Pietersma, “The 8 Steps To Strategic Success,” which focuses on unleashing the power of engagement with customers, suppliers, employees, partners, shareholders, competitors and government institutions, to set your strategic direction.

Van Den Berg and Pietersma point out that strategic planning no longer works as a static event that occurs once a year. Market change happens too frequently these days, and organizations need to quickly change course just to survive. The real challenge is to recognize when and why a new strategy is needed, and optimize the process against three critical success factors:

  1. A good understanding of the context of strategy definition. Without shared understanding of cause, necessity and ambition, a business trying to formulate its strategy will drift. And without knowing where you stand, there is no way to set a course.

  2. An adequate use of content in terms of quality, completeness, and depth. Thorough analysis with appropriate models and instruments is needed to really understand what is not possible for the organization and the environment in which it is active. Thorough analysis is the basis for finding the right strategy options.

  3. An effective and inspiring process. Who are involved at what time, what are the roles, how is participation organized? In other words: applying the correct methods of engagement. These help to increase the intrinsic level of understanding, stimulate creativity, and develop ideas. Three things are essential in engagement:

    • High quality level of participants’ contribution.
    • Willingness in analysis, vision, and numbers to think about the future.
    • Initiating and pacing the implementation process.

Every business strategy should still be based first on a long-term business vision and goal – referred to by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their textbook “Built to Last” as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). The BHAG always poses three questions in parallel:

  • What are you deeply passionate about? According to Collins and Porras, companies can only be really outstanding in areas where they are fully committed. The answer to this question should be formulated as ‘a customer’s problem the company is going to resolve like no other.’
  • What can you be the best in the world at? This questions going beyond one or two features or best-selling products. It is about identifying a core competence which others cannot match. It might be a patented technology, but it could also be the creativity of employees or logistic competencies of the company.
  • What drives the economic engine? This could be the utilization rate of a plant, the price premium of the brand, or the service offered or products sold. It is essential to keep this financial pillar in view.

From the answers to these questions, the strategic process needs to work its way through the futures you need to anticipate, business capabilities, and strategic options. From there, it’s time to make a decision, execute on the new strategy, and measure results. Based on results, it’s usually time for another iteration, and successful startups and enterprises never stop.

These days, you won’t last long as an entrepreneur with one “next big thing.” Success is more about your ability to “see around the corner” and sense the potential for market changes before they happen, and change your company rapidly to make them happen. How engaged is your strategic process with your constituents, and how fast can you adapt to their changes?

Marty Zwilling

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