How To Disrupt And Innovate Right Now

Today I want to channel my inner Seth Godin.

(Short posts that generate reflection and inspire action.)  

I want to challenge you to disrupt and or to innovate right now. Wherever you are, in whatever role you serve in your business and in whatever project you are working on as you’re reading this.  

Disruption is not a strategy. It’s is about simplification. Look at your business. Are there any parts of your customers experience that you can simplify or streamline? Is the value you offer simple by design so that your customers know exactly the pain you solve? Can anyone (I mean anyone) understand your pitch? Where can you attack a problem non-conventionally or even contrarily so that your business stands out against your competitors a little more?

Innovation is about efficiency. What can you do that will save your business time, money, emotional energy or even just keep your audience engaged. Innovation happens when you can generate ideas quickly, then test and experiment ideas and finally decide what’s important to your business. Where can you add value without adding costs?

Disruption and innovation don’t have to always happen on a large scale. It’s also not only for technology companies our of Silicon Valley. I challenge you to look at your systems and try to find small changes you can make today that will push you business forward, in whatever way you measure your progress.


How To Get The Most Out Of Your Next SWOT Analysis

I am throwing the gauntlet down on SWOTs. I'm tired of people telling me their organization/team/business did one and it wasn't useful. I'm so amped up about this topic that I'm not even including a call to action in this blog. Well besides me trying to show you how to do a SWOT better and how to make it be actually useful for your business decisions and strategy. 

No shame in my game. This image came straight from the Wikipedia entry on SWOT. The content that follows most certainly did not. 

No shame in my game. This image came straight from the Wikipedia entry on SWOT. The content that follows most certainly did not. 

There are lots of tools to help you through your strategic thinking and planning process. So many it’s hard to choose sometimes - really hard. This post is dedicated to using one of those tools well, the SWOT Analysis.

I know.

I can feel it.

I’m already losing you and this is only sentence six.

Hear me out though. You need to ask yourself, have you ever really SWOT? (For my internet friends, "Do you even SWOT bro?") If you do it well a SWOT has the power to bring people together, save your company time and help you get the most bang out of whatever your budget looks like - including a low/no budget operation.

A strategic tool is only as good as the information and the intention that goes into it. A lot of business owners stick their noses up at the idea of going through the process of a SWOT. They think that a SWOT is too rudimentary or not powerful enough to handle the complexities of their business. I blame MBA's (who I have much love for and have been a professor to) and business gurus too for ruining this tool. 

I vehemently disagree that the SWOT analysis is too simplistic. I think it's perfectly simplistic and more often than not, business owners make things too complicated for their own good. 

That's not you of course. 

I think the SWOT is a great tool for organizing ideas, identifying your business model (you’d be surprised to see how many business think they are in one kind of business but in reality are in a totally different industry) flushing out themes and core competencies, and even helping to identify your competitive advantage.

The goal of the SWOT is to get information out in the open so that you can make decisions. The SWOT will not make decisions for you. This is so important you have to read it again. The SWOT will not make decisions for you. It’s not a decision making tool (that link takes you to a really great and free decision making tool) and I’m not thrilled about some people using it as an “icebreaker” for strategy talks. Let’s give Albert Humphrey and his SWOT the respect they deserve!

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The S and W should be internal questions - the things that are happening in your business. The O and T should be external questions - what’s happening around your business. You’ll see a SWOT in lots of shapes and formats but that’s just working space. Your SWOT can be a list or a matrix. What matters is the intention and content.

Let’s start with Strengths.

When you are thinking about your strengths it’s important to think about why your customers buy from you. If you can get to your customer’s why you’ll be able to communicate with them more effectively and consistently deliver awesome value. Here are some other questions you should be thinking about in terms of your strengths.

What’s your unique value or unique selling proposition.

Are you doing anything that your competitors can’t reproduce - like your level of customer service.

Are you a low-cost producer?

How do you differentiate?

Are you creating barriers to entry to insulate yourself from future competition in any unique way?

Do your customers say that you do anything really well?

Next are your Weaknesses.

Don’t approach this like you would if you were answering an interview question for a potential dream job. No fluff here! You need think about how you’re delivering value to your customers or clients. There are always parts of the business that can get more efficient or capabilities/capacities you can improve. In terms of creating a meaningful strategy the more honest and raw you can be about your business, processes and systems the better the decisions you will produce. Here are some questions you should answer honestly in terms of your business's Weaknesses:

Are there improvements that can be made to better compete with your strongest competitor?

Are there products/markets/services you should be avoiding?

Are you measuring success in any kind of definitive way? If you do, are there factors in your businesses that aren’t measuring up?

Are there parts of your business that lead to lost sales/revenue?

Is there waste and where is it coming from?

Are there core capabilities you should have that are keeping you from being more successful?

On to Opportunities.

Opportunities are new chances for your business to either continue to differentiate or to reinforce your competitive advantage. The goal being an increase in revenue or market share if an Opportunity is pursued. A great place to start looking for Opportunities is to glance back up at your Strengths and Weaknesses and start comparing what’s going on in your business to the businesses you compete with. Here are some questions to get you thinking about your Opportunities:

Are there new or interesting trends in your market?

Are your customers tastes or expectations changing?

Are there new technologies in your market?

Are your customers getting the most value out of the current set of solutions offered?

Are there new pains that customers are suffering from?

Sorry to use a word while it’s being defined but: Are there any opportunities to better serve your market that can be done only by you?

Last are the Threats.

Threats are external factors that could influence your business that you can’t control. They are negative factors that could impact your business alone and even your potential industry. Threats are factors that could have a negative impact on your business in terms of both decreasing revenue and operations interruption. Here are some questions to get you thinking about your potential Threats:

What external factors put your business at risk?

What obstacles does your business face?

How stable and predictable is your supply chain?

Are you protected from changes in technology?

Is your market changing? How?

How have your competitors reacted to decisions your business has made?

What does your current and potential competitive landscape look like?

After you’ve answered these questions and maybe even a few that weren’t listed you are probably asking yourself, now what? Well first thing is to go back through your SWOT and to try to frame everything you listed in terms of your competitors. Next is to try to make each component as specific and as clear as possible. Remember you are trying to use this information to create strategy and make decisions. Being clear and specific is important! Then make sure that everything here is as close to factual as possible and that it’s a reality now not a want or wish. Use dollar amounts, inventories, sales, time, and any other way you are quantifying your business activity. Lastly is to make sure that everything in your SWOT is as action oriented as possible - action words are your friends here.

After you’ve brainstormed your SWOT and have gone back through and polished it up you can start to use what this information. This is the information you should be using when you are starting to create short-term and long-term strategic plans/actions to grow your business. The purpose of the SWOT was to get you laser focused on the most critical parts of your business.

Now that you’re focused you can make better decisions in your business. Start by going through and trying to prioritize your most pressing opportunities. Decide which opportunities you are going to engage and set the goals and actions in place to start the allocation of resources and work to achieve those goals. Measure everything! Go back through your strengths and try to rate them. This will give you an idea of how to better differentiate and position your business to strengthen your unique selling/value proposition. Take a look at your weaknesses and really try to create systems to improve them. You’re supposed to use this SWOT as a springboard.

The worst thing you can do is nothing after you complete the SWOT! 

So the next time this comes up in your business or in your profession, I want you to calmly pull up this blog post and drop the SWOT gauntlet down in your group. You'll be a strategy hero. 


How To Create Better Strategy By Going Simple

Simplify Strategy

Being “disruptive” at it’s core is about simplification. Getting to outcomes or results more simply by better using the resources you have around you, by creating more efficient processes or a little bit of both. Disruption is all the rage these days in startups all over the world. There are books dedicated to teaching you to innovate in disruptive ways and conferences that pull entrepreneurs and programmers together to celebrate and showcase how markets are disruptively evolving. There are companies pitching for investor dollars everyday because they’ve thought up tricky ways to deliver value to customers in markets that have been stagnant for decades - think Uber.

You’re not Uber though (yet). So why should you care about disruption?

Thinking in terms of disruption is very good for running your business. The best part of thinking disruptively is that it doesn’t cost much and you don’t need a fancy set of tools to implement it well. In this blog post I outline three tips to help you get to simple so you can get more out of your strategy and your business.

Think simple for your next attempt at a strategy you want to try out. Running a business successfully means managing a lot of moving parts, there is no getting around that. Lots of running parts often leads people to think that there’s too much complexity to try to navigate around. I’m encouraging you to think about the parts of your business that you can simplify by a step or two. What are the processes you wake up and start in on everyday? At any time any one process might be a positive thing but look at what those singularly good processes are doing on the entire company. Are they slowing things down? Making it hard for information to flow or for decisions to get made? Besides trying to simplify how you do business, which could conceivably reduce your resource burn, how you position your brand and what you stand for also doesn’t have to be complicated. Think simplicity and act like 37Signals.

If you aren’t familiar with 37Signals (now officially just Basecamp) they are a firm that not only puts out amazing software but has published a few really rockstar entrepreneurship books. (One that I re-visit daily is ReWork.) What makes them simple lies in their product offerings: Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire. Each of these SaaS product offerings are very specific and very simple in their functionality.  I want to highlight Basecamp in particular. It’s SaaS business that is built around one thing project management. If you go to their website today you’ll see that they are pivoting their model yet again. They are going all in on Basecamp. They are taking their already simple model and drilling down to get really good at one thing. Project Management.

37Signals is an awesome example of how a business can cause innovative disruption, continue to differentiate themselves, and succeed. ( I swear this isn't a plug, just really like their model.) This is also not the only thing I want you to take away from this post - I want you to walk away with some tips on simplifying your strategy and finding success.

1. Start with the why.

This one is a little introspective but seriously, why are you in business. The more honest you can be about what your business does, the better. Stop trying to do everything. I did that once and I burned myself and a few relationships out. No bueno. When you can craft a story behind the motivation of why you are in business it not only helps your stakeholder’s relate to what you’re doing but it helps to make decision making in the future just a little easier because you have a story compass to follow.

2. Boil down to what matters most in your business.

What are the most critical functions within your business. What needs to happen every time so that a customer is delivered an amazing experience. Focus on flushing those out and simplifying them as much as possible. There is so much bloat in even small companies these days because firms are trying to hard to be the all providing problem solving experience for the customer. That suffocates your “why” and your mission and makes it harder for your key processes to work efficiently.

3. Fight wanting to do more.

I don’t mean get lazy what I do mean is flex your “no” muscle. As the economy continues to recover and expand it will be tempting to want to reach out to new markets or offer up complimentary products or services. It will sound great and you might even produce data that would support chasing customers in a new segment but you should fight that urge. Instead focus on being the best you can be at a few core competencies, offer more value, innovate, and reduce costs. Work on serving your clients and customers the best way that you can. This will keep you from feeling overworked, spread too thin, and help to keep you from wasting resources. If Google can and did unload Motorola to Lenovo that has to create some kind of social proof right?!

Simplify doesn’t mean easy and it doesn’t mean lazy. It means serving very specifically and very intensely to a focused market. When you do that you create opportunities to differentiate in a way that makes it very hard for rivals or competitors to match because you cultivate a depth of understanding and relationships that someone just strolling into your market won’t find. There are a lot of programs that do way more than Basecamp and I’ve tried them - only to hate them and make my way back to a software that is easy to use, has awesome customer services, and always does what I expect it to do. Make your business do that in your industry and you will have no problem being as successful as someone like 37Signals.