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Collaboration: your path to Sustainable Competitive Advantage?

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”Helen Keller

Web apps and the internet have changed the way we work and live. Today we live in a world where the creative quality of work improves as we move along the “Hierarchy of Communication” from Connect to Communicate to Collaborate to Co-create.

Where would you place your organization on the following 4Cs Hierarchy of Communication?

1) Connect: is all about connecting and being able to connect with others. Connecting with those that you know and those you don’t yet know. Today this has never been easier, simply click to connect, without leaving your office and often without leaving your application. A ‘presence’ indicator lets you know who is there on-line and in your virtual neighbourhood right now.

2) Communicate: Once you have connected you want to communicate. Speaking with the other person now includes speaking with many other people through online virtual meetings. Communicating now includes: chatting, speaking, texting, sharing documents and sharing screens to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas.

3) Collaborate: you communicate so that you can collaborate. There are lots of different collaboration tools, applications and platforms available today that enable us to collaborate effectively across multiple boundaries: organisational, geographical and time zones. Examples vary widely: Skype, TeamViewer, Lync, Office365, Google Apps and Webex to name a few. All allowing you to share, review and contribute to a common project and collaborate together with others.

4) Co-create: you collaborate so that you can create. The desired outcome of collaboration is to create new ways to solve old problems and invent new ways to capture future opportunities. We brainstorm using rich media to engage the collective brain of the virtual community. We build ideas based on human interaction. We invent, create, develop new or better ideas and ways to achieve specific goals and objectives. And we build virtual teams that can deliver continuous creativity which will ultimately lead to sustainable competitive advantage.

Sustainable Competitive Advantage: The ultimate goal of co-creating (and therefore collaborating, communicating and connecting) is to maximise the quality and quantity of your business goals. Sustainable competitive advantage is the sum total of your organisation’s current abilities and future capabilities. By enabling your people to connect, communicate, collaborate and co-create they will produce exceptional solutions to today’s problems and create wonderfully innovative ways to develop future opportunities.


People, Processes or Platform? The challenge isn’t the technology it’s you and your people. The challenge is moving your people along the 4Cs Hierarchy of Communication. So they become more collaborative and adopt and use collaborative applications and tools in their everyday work. You need to set an example by demonstrating an ‘inclusive mindset’ and a bias towards working collaboratively. The cultural change required of your company will be far more difficult than the technological changes.

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”General Eric Shineseki, Retired Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

Are you ready for the new reality?

View: Collaborating in the Cloud: Opportunity or Threat? by David Ednie, posted on slideshare.

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ROI or ROI? 'Return on Investment' or 'Return on Innovation'?

What percentage of your revenues in 2012 will come from products and services that are less than 18 months old? Are you constantly defending your business, and your offerings against new and improved competitive offerings? Do you find yourself defending the status quo and unwittingly discriminating against the future? Or are you constantly experimenting and innovating in order to bring new ideas and improved offerings to market?

Why are some companies spectacularly successful innovators while others are highly unsuccessful at innovation? Recently I read a Forbes article “The Seven Habits of Highly Unsuccessful Executives” and I was amazed to discover Habit #7: “They stubbornly rely on what worked for them in the past.” In other words they are prisoners of the past. They have fallen in love with the status quo.

At the other end of the spectrum we find those companies that are highly innovative and thrive on change. Consider IDEO a silicon valley based innovation factory specializing in innovation and design. IDEO’s many clients include companies that have recognized that they lack the ability to innovate in house.

“Failing early to learn quickly.”Tom Kelley, General Manager at IDEO

‘Return on Investment’ thinking seeks certainty and fixed outcomes. Both are highly desirable to be sure but usually at the expense of creativity and innovation.

‘Return on Innovation’ thinking requires a prototyping mindset. Requiring the acceptance of failure as being a measure of progress along the path to success.

A Return on Innovation mindset requires J-curve thinking. ie. the courage to go negative before the possibility of going positive and the courage to make asymmetric bets. Investing in those areas that don’t show a return today at the expense of investing in those areas that are delivering the lion’s share of revenue today.

A culture of knowing or a culture of learning:

Your job is to create a Culture of Innovation: Why is asking for ideas a bad idea? Don’t think outside the box, find a better box. Failure is always an option. Expertise is the enemy of innovation. The difference between a pipeline and a sewer is what flows through it.

Recommendation: Invest massively in innovation, but invest even more massively in your capacity to innovate, as this will ultimately determine your sustainable long-term competitive advantage.

View: Entrepreneurial Leadership by David Ednie, posted on slideshare

Read: The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization by Tom Kelley

Make it happen: lead first, manage second.


Competitive Separation*

Competitive Separation is what makes you or your offer unique, unmatchable. The more unmatchable your offer is, the great the level of competitive separation. Step 1. Determine your current level of Competitive Separation. Step 2. Determine your Aspirational level of Competitive Separation and Step 3. Create a plan to get there.

1. What makes you different?

What makes you different? What are your “Crown Jewels”? Why should your customers care about this difference? How can you leverage this difference to capture new customers and enter new markets? And finally, are you going to develop or acquire your “Crown Jewels”?

“Crown Jewels” are your unique assets that are proprietary to you, hard for competitors to replicate and highly valued by customers. They can be technology patents, size of installed base, disruptive business model, domain expertise, skills and capabilities that are unique to your company. That if developed and positioned properly create sustainable advantages that enable real and measurable competitive separation. We all have them. Sometimes we don’t know what they look like or where they are hiding in our organisation.

2. Who is in your Competitive Set?

Most of us live within the confines of our competitive set. A competitive set consists of you and every other company/capability/offer/product or service that customers perceive as comparable or equivalent. ie. Your customers view you as potential substitutes. Do you have a well-worn list of usual suspects that you compete with? Who is in your Competitive Set today? Should they be? Who will be in your competitive set in 3 years from now? Who would you like to include in your competitive set? Continue Reading →


The Death of Business as Usual: 12 Strategies for Growth in 2012

Welcome to 2012 a year of challenge and change. A year of challenge, why challenge? Because our challenge is to bring about change and this is a major challenge for us all.

“I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways”
– Michael Jackson


“If change were easy, I would have done it long ago.” – Unknown

The challenge of change is breaking through the status quo and that means your enemy in 2012 will be “status quo thinking”. Your job is overcome the Tyranny of Change, not to manage the inevitable. What worked in the past is less and less likely to work in the future. What made you successful in the past will not make you successful in the future. In short: what got you here, won’t get you there. You must turn off the life support system for “business as usual” and embrace the new realities of 2012.

How can you move beyond the status quo and free yourself from the gravitation pull of the past?

12 Strategies for Growth in 2012:

  1. Competitive Separation
  2. ROI = Return on Innovation (not Return on Investment)
  3. Capitalise on Markets in Transition. Move everything to the web.
  4. The Buyer’s Journey: Aligning with your customer’s decision making processes
  5. Discovering your “Inner Advantage”. What sets you apart from the rest?
  6. Accelerating time to adoption: Delivering the desired End-to-End Customer Experience
  7. Tipping the Funnel: Make your customers your unpaid sales force.
  8. Building 3 Horizons of Time (Portfolio thinking)
  9. AND Thinking (The end of OR Thinking)
  10. Differentiate or Die: How to avoid commoditisation
  11. Value Innovation: Understanding Price/Benefit sensitivity
  12. Identifying Next Generation growth

Over the next few months we will explore each of the 12 Growth Strategies listed above in a separate posts. So stay tuned….

Make it happen: Lead first, manage second


Creativity Loves Constraints

How many people do you know would describe themselves as being creative? A lot I find. “I love new ideas, creating new concepts, building new models, etc.” they will tell you. And many of them are highly creative when working with a clean sheet of paper, in “green field” situations or without any limiting constraints. This could be considered as pure creativity. But I think that the really creative people are those that can come up with new ideas, a reconfigured concept or innovative new models in response to constraints in order to solve a problem. This is what I call practical creativity. In other words it is the constraints that trigger the creativity required to overcome them. Cause and effect. Now, ask those same people how good they are at problem solving. I think you might get a very different answer? Creativity seems to evaporate rapidly when confronted with real problems to be solved.

So here is my point: No constraints, no creativity. The good news is that you can activate your creativity on demand by recognising problems, existing constraints or future constraints. Practical creativity is simply an advanced form of problem solving.

The key thing to remember is that creativity loves constraints. It is often times difficult to tap into our full creativity, but it is seldom difficult to find a constraint or three in our daily lives.

May the problems you face become the drivers of your practical creativity.


Leadership and Storytelling: Using Stories to Inspire Others

Everyone loves a good story. That’s why stories are so effective for engaging an audience, and inspiring action. Great leaders are great storytellers. Great leaders know how to capture people’s hearts and minds using stories that we well chosen, well constructed and well told. Great stories are engaging, inspiring and energising because they embody relevant, timely and are highly memorable messages. Great stories inspire, motivate and move people to action.

“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” Plato, Greek Philosopher

What is a great story? A great story captures you, your identity, your journey, your values and beliefs, and where you came from.” according to Dr. John Sadowsky, Distinguished Professor of Leadership at the Grenoble Graduate School of Business in France. Great stories are:

Authentic. You live the story in visible ways.
Engaging. Your energy and passion engages your listeners.
Personal. You reveal yourself through your stories.
. Include the minimum to create the maximum impact.

Stories are so important and powerful because they are viral by definition. That is, people simply love to hear them and share them. This has been true since the beginning of time, and it remains true in today’s high-tech world. Storytelling is the way we express our passion. Stories capture emotions and those emotions are transferred to others through the stories we tell.

“Reasons lead to conclusions; emotions lead to actions.” – Saatchi & Saatchi

Where do you find great stories? They are all around us, every everywhere, just waiting to be recognised and captured. They are crying out “take me, take me, I am a great story!” However, if you are not looking for great stories it is unlikely that you will find any. So, ask yourself the question: “how could I use this as a story? How can I turn this into a great story? What is the meaning, message, analogy, anecdote, irony or humour that I can liberate and how can I inspire people to take action as a result of this story?  If you can’t find your own use other people’s stories.

“I … SHAMELESSLY STEAL … stories of others’ effective actions.” Tom Peters

Your life is a story. You just have to write it yourself.


From Stress to Serendipity: How to create 'flow' and keep it

Stress is present everywhere in our lives today. Stress in the workplace is the most dangerous and debilitating because it is often unquestioned or accepted as being “just part of the job.” But stress directly impacts our effectiveness and productivity and therefore our ability to do our job. Excessive stress or negative stress impacts our ability function normally. When we have high levels of negative stress we lose the ability to remain positive, optimistic and we lose the ability to see solutions to our problems. Our creativity shuts down. The first victims of negative stress are: creativity, innovation and a positive, optimistic outlook. And the second victims of negative stress are effectiveness, performance and productivity.

How can you transform negative stress into positive stress?

Well one simple idea is re-framing how we think and how we encourage those around us to think. Here is a simple and powerful series of questions that will create positive stress for you at work and for your team, colleagues and peers. The quality of answers you get depends on the quality of questions you ask and nothing redirects people’s thinking better than a well-phrased question.

5 Killer questions that create positive stress or ‘flow’ in the workplace.

1. What is already working? This question primes the creativity pump, builds energy and gets people involved. It shifts our focus to ‘possibility thinking’ by tapping into enthusiasm, creativity, energy, drive and collaboration leading to an increase our job satisfaction, performance and productivity. Continue Reading →


Selling to Different Behavioural Styles

Have you ever been really excited about something and ready to buy and then the urge suddenly faded away? Or have you ever presented a highly compelling new offering to a client who got really interested by the different options and choices you presented, only to find that in the end nothing happened – no sale.

Why? Often it is because we think that all people are like we are. We think that everyone sees the world through the same blue goggles that we do. If we get excited by lots of different and compelling options we think that they will to. Here is the problem: a lot of people (as many of 40% of all people) have a preference for procedures rather than for options. Most people have a dominant preference for one or the other and some have a preference for both. What are the implications for influencing others and for sales?

1) Options Preference: People who have an Options preference are motivated by opportunities and possibilities to do something in a different way. They are thrilled by unlimited possibilities and ideas.

When selling to an Options person the goal is to get them to think in terms of possibilities. Give them lots of alternatives. They want to examine all the reasons why they should buy. An Options person is motivated by choice, unlimited choice.

Don’t make the fatal mistake of using this approach on someone with a Procedures Preference. Want to know how you can avoid doing this?

2) Procedures Preference: People with a Procedures preference like to follow set ways. They are interested in how to do things, not in why things are the way they are.

When selling to a Procedures person the goal is to get them started on a procedure because they are compelled to complete it. They want to see a clear step-by-step procedure to follow. They don’t want to be shown several ways of doing something. They want one way, the right way. Show them how to buy.

Identifying Behavioral types:

Options people: Are excited by choice and possibility. Have trouble following set procedures

Procedures people: Prefer to follow tried-and-true set ways. Get stumped when they have no procedure to follow.

Influencing Language:

Options: Opportunities; variety; unlimited possibilities; lots of choice; options; break the rules

Procedures: The right way; how to; tried and true; speak in procedures: first ….then …. lastly

Mobile Phone Retail Sales example:

“The first step is, I’ll show you the latest mobile phones that we have available today that match your usage criteria. Then you can take a good look at them, I will show you how they work and you can try them out. You can then decide which one you like best. After that, I’ll explain how the payment plan works and set up your new phone in our system for you. Then all you need to do is sign your new Service Agreement. Lastly, you can take your brand new mobile phone home with you today, all set up, fully operational and ready to go. You can start using it immediately without any hassle or delay. Are you ready to get started?”

Based on ideas from the book “Words That Change Minds. Mastering the language of influence.” by Shelle Rose Charvet


The Buyer’s Journey

The Sales Cycle is dead. It has out lived its usefulness. Why? Because the sales cycle is all about us and our interests and not about the customer or his/her interests. The sales cycle is something that we do to the customer and not for the customer. We have all seen sales cycles that were driven by internal factors such as making the end of the quarter number or additional discounts designed to stimulate demand to offset a short fall in sales. This is about us and not them.

Consider the various steps of the sales cycle: Prospecting, Qualifying, Needs Identification, Proposing, Negotiating and Close. This language describes where we are in a series of actions that result in ‘closing’ the prospect.

The world has changed, things have moved on. Today, success in sales is all about understanding how people make buying decisions. The Sales Cycles has been replaced by the Buyer Decision Process. The good news is that there are 5 simple steps in the Buyer Decision Process and they always occur in exactly the same sequence. So then success in sales today comes from understanding where your prospects and customers are in the Buyer Decision Process and helping them move to the next decision step. Success in sales today means helping people to buy. ie. Put yourself on the same side of the table as them. This means replacing our traditional selling-centric paradigm with a buying-centric paradigm. Continue Reading →