5 Practical Tips for Business Survival in the Conceptual Age

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Business owners have wonderful opportunities to make important contributions to their industries. All information you need is at your fingertips and you can skillfully use that information to your advantage.

Daniel Pink has described the coming environment as the Conceptual Age.

“The Conceptual Age is the new era of work where current economic demand calls for workers who are skilled in areas guided by the right hemisphere of the brain including: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning”

The primary thing to do is to value the potential of your workers and include creativity and innovation as strong Values in your business building efforts. If you keep these intentions in the minds of all of your business affiliates, you’ll be able to survive and grow in this rapidly changing environment.

Creativity and innovation are sometimes used interchangeably, but they’re different.

According to Drew Marshall, 

Creativity is about unleashing the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas.” and Innovation is about introducing change into relatively stable systems.” 

So, your business should be able to develop new products or services and also amend, improve or provide extra value to existing systems in your chosen industry. Doing this will help you build your business as an indispensable service to your industry.

You can find opportunities for creativity in many situations. Here’s just a few:

Unexpected conditions such as natural disasters, an unexpected previously reliable national, local or industry system failure.

Demographic changes. Opportunities are available because of changes in numbers, age distribution, education, occupations, location and technology. Such as millions of people being out of work because of artificial intelligence or robots.

New knowledge in the areas of science, technology or sociology offer tremendous opportunities for innovation. Customer awareness and acceptance are the basic challenges when implementing knowledge based creations.

Opportunities for innovation are found in:

Incongruities in system process operation or efficiencies such as incongruities in an educational system or incongruities in your marketing system.

Incongruities between expectations and results such as found in many customer service processes. These process needs can be exploited, simplified or redesigned for your particular industry.

A change in the way people perceive a service or product. According to Peter Drucker “A change in perception does not alter facts, it changes their meaning…It [this perception] can be defined, tested and exploited for innovation opportunity.”

The management strategies you use will significantly impact the outcome of your creative or innovative endeavors. Neil Kokemuller in “Difference Between a Proactive & a Reactive Business Strategy” contrasted proactive and reactive basics for each strategy.

Proactive Basics

“Proactive business strategies are used to achieve predetermined goals. For instance, a proactive marketing strategy carries out research, development and promotional objectives for your business. You outline your message and media strategies within your marketing plan. Companies that want to shift gears or business approaches ahead of an environmental or economic threat also use proactive strategies. For instance, some companies proactively cut budgets ahead of anticipated slowdowns in demand.”

Reactive Basics

“A reactive strategy doesn’t mean your business waits for crises to plan. Instead, you develop a strategy with more of a wait-and-see approach. For instance, if sales decline, the response may be to invest in promotions or a clearance of remaining inventory ahead of a new product launch. In marketing, a reactive strategy is a plan for response in the wake of criticism or negative events that impact your brand.”

In other words, If you are using a proactive strategy you stay abreast of the current and changing trends in your industry. You identify opportunities for you to create or innovate ahead of the changes. You will allot time and resources for proactive activities.

If you use a reactive strategy, you create or innovate in response to additional needs or requirements in your business or industry. Your creative or innovative actions take place only after you identify a need. Theses contributions can be helpful to your industry but seldom put you ahead of others in your discipline.

The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.

~Peter Drucker

What are some practical tips for business survival in the Conceptual Age?

Fundamentally, recognize and nourish the creative and innovative potential of all business affiliates.

  1. Stay in touch with your customers. Ask for suggestions. Carefully analyze customer complaints or problems. This is your primary source of creative ideas and it helps you begin with a level of customer acceptance built in. See Peter Drucker’s advice above: define, exploit and test your customer’s perceptions.
  2. Constantly search for trends and new findings in your industry by reading relevant magazines articles and social media posts. Attending conferences will help you remain current. Find other ways to communicate with people in your industry. Adopt a “trend foraging” habit.
  3. Design your overall strategy to include resources for proactivity when creating and innovating.
  4. Always ask “why”. When you’re designing your business systems you can find opportunities for innovation if you answer this question for each element of the system. Why are we using this method? This will lead to greater efficiency and effectiveness. Encourage affiliates to remain curious also.
  5. Encourage and reward creativity and innovation from everyone in your organization. Model the behaviors you require of your affiliates. Demonstrate the creative and innovative process as a part of your management activities. Your training and coaching efforts should also demonstrate creative and innovative activities. There are opportunities in everywhere waiting for new ideas in your industry.

There are no barriers to the amount of information you can obtain to help you build a trend setting business. It only depends on your willingness to constantly study, create and innovate.  Legacy companies do this on a regular basis. It empowers them to continue to contribute. Know the difference between reactive and proactive strategies and choose proactivity. Use practical ways to practice these principles and prevail in your industry. The agility of a small business is perfect for the Conceptual Age!

Related: “9 Ways to Embed Innovation and Creativity Into Your Business Environment”

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The Superiority of Trend Foraging in the Conceptual Age

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Many talk about the the existence of rapid change and how it’s disrupting the status quo. It seems as soon as we become accustomed to one way of managing our everyday lives, something changes. We find the need to learn a new technique or a new process. We are pushed into learning something new even if we don’t intend to. There are new functions on our cell phones, computers , TV’s, the addition of new electronic devices and more. There is no indication that change will slow down. So, survivors will learn to deal with it.

If you are building a business, staying ahead of and managing constant change is a paramount survival skill. Trend foraging will help you control and direct the types of change required if you want to build and maintain a strong business. The availability of vast amounts of information will help you know what you need to know to become and remain an industry leader.

Industry trend foraging is using as many methods as you can afford, to find out where your industry is now and where it is going in the future. Websites, magazines, blogs and industry conferences are the most logical resources to use. Use as many free sources as possible and if you value frugality, free resources will be more than adequate.

Norma D. Anderson in “The Importance of Watching Trends” suggests, “Network with other entrepreneurs, both in and out of your industry (I promise, you’ll gain some of your most valuable trend insights by talking to people in completely different industries.) Take advantage of social networking tools like LinkedIn and Facebook. Start or join groups on the networks and see what people are buzzing about. Pose questions about trends you are seeing.”

Interact with your customers as much as possible. This is probably one of your best sources of trending needs in your industry. You may need to simplify or enhance your product/service quality or delivery process to align with the changes your customers are experiencing. Try to determine the level of stress they may experience around your product/service and use this as a possible indication for innovation.

“You win by engaging with your most visionary customers to co-design new products and new processes.” Patricia Seybold

Proactive innovation, not reactive innovation, is a basic requirement for industry dominance in the Conceptual Age although both may be useful.

If you are using a proactive strategy you stay abreast of the current and changing trends in your industry. You identify opportunities for you to create or innovate ahead of the changes. You will allocate time and resources for proactive activities.

If you use a reactive strategy, you create or innovate in response to additional needs or requirements in your business or industry. Your creative or innovative actions take place only after you identify a need. Theses contributions may be helpful or even necessary to your industry but seldom put you ahead of others in your discipline.

“Nothing is done. Everything in the world remains to be done or done over. The greatest picture is not yet painted, the greatest play isn’t written, the greatest poem is unsung. There isn’t in all the world a perfect railroad, nor a good government, nor a sound law.” Lincoln Steffens

Trend foraging will help you plan your creative and innovative projects. You can determine the value of these projects to your business building efforts by testing them against your Purpose, Values, strategy and working Systems.

Test the feasibility of your creative and innovative endeavors.

You can test for system incongruities, demographic changes, customer perceptions and new knowledge. This will help you measure the efficiency and effectiveness of your creation or innovation. In addition, you’ll learn how much your customers will accept or adapt to your creation or innovation.

According to Branden Kelley in “Innovation is All About Value” “Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into solutions valued above every existing alternative..and [is] widely adopted.” If your innovation seems to have high value and improves upon the existing design and customers want it, you’re on the right track.

Does this seem like a daunting task? There is no doubt it is. It will take plenty of conscientious work. Building a business is a daunting task at its core. However, your love and dedication to your Purpose will pull you through the required tasks. Trend foraging can become a part of your regular schedule and you can make it a requirement for anyone joining your enterprise. This will allow you to stay ahead of the curve in all of your critical business Systems. Become a futurist and help create the future with regular trend foraging.

For System design and control see: “20 Directives for Small Business Success: Do or Die”

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5 Reasons Strong Marketing Before You Build a Business Foundation Can Be Lethal

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Great marketing plans are essential. No one will know about your service or product unless you put it out there so your potential customers can see it. Many small businesses fail or never grow because they don’t put enough time into marketing. However, it seems that many startups have gotten the message. Marketing is essential. As a result, they put tremendous time and resources into marketing efforts with very little effort put into other critical business functions.

Hundreds of marketing services can be found, particularly online, so entrepreneurs sometimes overestimate their importance. A great marketing service may drive customers to your business, but how will you keep them pleased and willing to come back again?

How will you handle the inevitable changes that come with business expansion? What will you do when the money is going out too fast? What will you do when customers require more than what you can offer? How will you handle too many customers? How will you make sure all customers are served in the same manner? When will you know when its time to hire someone to help in your business?

How will you embed and ensure excellence in all operations? How will you know when it’s time to scale or open another business? How will you manage employee performance? How will you keep up with changing customer needs and trends in your industry? How will you measure business results?

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Well, these are just a few of the questions you must answer for your business.

These and other questions are often left to chance and that’s why the businesses don’t last. New owners think they’ll magically find answers when various business situations come up. Unfortunately, answers don’t “come out of thin air.” For some reason its very hard for entrepreneurs to consider the big picture and understand the need to prepare for growth and success.

Most know they have the technical skills and more than likely, have had success with satisfied customers in the past. However, running a business and maintaining great product or service delivery must be designed consciously if you want to grow a larger business. You’ll also need to know how to perform the management skills needed to complete the actions indicated by the questions above.

Michael Gerber in “The E Myth” states: “Life is what a business is about, ….Coming to grips with oneself, in the face of an incredibly complex world that can teach us if we’re willing to learn. In this way, the Business Development Process can be thought of as a metaphor for personal transformation, for coming to grips with real life. For developing real skills within a structure of your own design.” A fantastic privilege!

Building a business in our fast changing environment is complicated and requires a change of mindset for success and growth. A mindset that includes a framework for business development, not just product or service delivery with marketing.

5 Reasons a strong emphasis on marketing only can lead to business defeat.

1. No strong and clearly defined Vision is adopted and used as a guide. There could be a tendency to perform tasks outside of the original Vision and splinter the business in too many directions.

2. Important Values are not embed in all business activities leaving customers confused about the promises of your brand, product or service.

3. No consideration of what will happen if the business begins getting more customers than you can handle efficiently or effectively. No plan for growth has been designed. Customers may become frustrated and leave with a bad reputation of your business. They will sometimes pass on the bad reputation to others and undermine your business growth.

4. No knowledge of what processes are working and what processes aren’t. Or even worst, no standard processes at all. This leads to a lack of reliable measurements leading to a “shot in the dark” approach for decision making. It’s frustrating to do it this way and the results are often frustrating as well.

5. Lack of standardized Systems for important business functions leads to irregular and unstable results. This fills you with feelings of uncertainty and anxiety about the future of the business. You eventually get overwhelmed and quit trying.

“No business in the world has ever made money with poorer management.” Bill Terry

If you want to escape some of the problems lack of proper business management causes, make time to get acquainted with basic management skills. Plan for success in the complicated business building process with emphasis on all required business functions, not just marketing. Actually, you should ask yourself the question Michael Gerber suggests: “How can I systematize my business in such a way that it could be replicated 5,000 times, so the 5000th unit would run as smoothly as the first?

Of course, marketing must be one of your strong Systems but you’ll also design and put adequate effort into budgeting , production, delivery, customer service and other Systemsrequired of your industry.

If you’re building a business, build it the right way according to current “best practices”. Avoid feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. You can then enjoy making a real contribution, financial freedom and experiencing your preferred life style. What are your feelings on this subject?

An easy guide to critical management skills: “20 Directives for Small Business Success: Do or Die”

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3 Ways Generative Thinking Can Increase the Number of Businesses You Own

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Most of us don’t think about having many businesses with our name on them when we start out as business builders. We like the independence and prestige of owning our own business, so we work and work to keep paying the bills and perhaps, make a little profit in the one enterprise we have. I have a suggestion. Take a few moments to think about what could happen if you visualize several businesses from day 1. What would you do differently? What would you plan for? What steps would you take to build more than one business? How would the activities you engage in change?

Did you think about making sure that the same qualities of excellence and efficiency were carried out in all your businesses? Did you consider the kind of people you would need in each place? Did you consider what budget levels you would need to add a new business each time? There is a lot to think about if you want your business to grow and make a great impact to society in several locations.

Even if you don’t want to have several businesses with your name on them, using a growth and replication perspective can make your business stronger, more profitable and best of all, give you time to do other things. Your main purpose for starting your business was independence, achieving your purpose and financial freedom. With this financial freedom, you see yourself enjoying life. However, more than three quarters of all small businesses never achieve all of these goals. They may enjoy independence and purpose but financial freedom is still far away and there is hardly any time to really enjoy doing other things in life. Most spend many hours just keeping the business alive.

“There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.” Ronald Reagan, Actor and 40th President of the United States

The mindset required for building multiple strong businesses is call “generative thinking”.Generative thinking is the ability to hold a grand vision in mind while designing multiple definitive enterprises. In other words, your business building efforts are designed with the intent to repeat successful processes in several locations. It’s a growth and replication perspective. Initially, you may add one or two locations to your current enterprise and as they are successful, you will add more.

Does this sound like something from outer space? Are you wondering what kind of green tea I’m drinking? It’s true. You can actually plan to own several businesses with proven procedures.

Following are 3 basic things you will do as a generative manager:

First, you must have a deeply embodied and personal business Purpose. There must be a strong emotional and intellectual attachment to your Purpose or Mission. Kyle Zagrodzky in “7 Reasons Why the ‘Why’ is So Important in Business” explained the role of a Purpose with a clear analogy.

“Light moves in mysterious ways. A single beam of light can do a million different things depending on what it reflects through or onto. If you shine a ray of light into a crystal, you can see rainbows on the wall. Shine light onto a mirror, and you can project the beam into a dark corner. Tilt a prism just right, and you get one solid ray of rainbow colors. Focus a single laser beam just right, and you can slice steel.

Rediscovering the why in your business is like honing the laser to a razor point that’s sharp enough to cut through metal. The why isn’t just the reason you do what you do, it’s the consistent reminder that keeps you grounded, energized and focused. It’s your cause, your purpose, your motive and your proof. The why is the core belief in what you do.”

Your Purpose will take you through the disappointments, failures, and various difficulties that are normal parts of business building. Each time you experience a negative situation, you’ll be reminded of the ‘why’ you started the business. You’ll keep going.

Second, you will design a big Vision. This is a visualization of the ultimate outcome of your business building efforts. A good Vision is thoroughly designed and describes the dreams that you have for the enterprise(s) you are creating. A well thought out Vision has the following characteristics:

  1. It exhibits the purpose and direction of the business.
  2. It is supported by the established Values.
  3. It helps to set operational standards of excellence.
  4. It is believable and motivating.
  5. It is ambitious and challenging.
  6. It identifies the uniqueness of the business.

Your Vision is what your business will become in the future.

Third, your business strategy will be achieved through well designed Systems.  This is the primary component that will make your enterprise repeatable. Without tested and enforced Systems, your dream of many businesses can’t be achieved. Small businesses that succeed, develop systems of operation for almost every function performed. See “The E Myth” by Michael Gerber and “Stick With It” by Lee Colan. 

Business systems are activities performed in a consistent manner to achieve the business goals. Creating systems simply starts with documenting what you do and how you do it. It could be called an operations manual or a systems manual or some unique name that might come to you, but the object is to document the successful operations that you want to make routine.

“Organize around business functions, not people. Build systems within each business function. Let systems run the business and people run the systems. People come and go but the systems remain constant”

Michael Gerber

With effective dedication, planning, perseverance and resolve, you can become the owner of from 1 to 1000 businesses. The most important ingredient is how dedicated you are to your ‘why’.

Kyle Zagrodzky nailed it again when he shared:

“Sometimes, we just want to start something from the ground up, because there is no challenge like it. When things are first getting off the ground, entrepreneurs have to become experts in everything, from finance to marketing and everything in between. It’s an uphill climb like no other, and genuine entrepreneurs thrive on the drive required to crest that hill. Whatever the longest, worst day throws at you, it’s never, ever going to be dull.”

A simplified and clear starting point is to read and apply “20 Directives for Small Business Success: Do or Die”

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How a Deeply Embodied Business Purpose Can Build a Legacy

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“With purpose, a company can create positive value that is far greater than the sum of its parts.” Sherri Hakimi

A business Purpose or Mission is the GPS of your business. It’s your guiding star.

Sherry Hakimi describes the importance of Purpose this way:

“As a company, it’s important to think about why you are in the business you’re in. What drives you? If your business succeeds, what would your ideal world look like? When a company demonstrates an authentic purpose, consumers feel a connection to the products and company. They will choose the authentically purposeful company’s products, even if it’s not the cheapest offering.”

How do we find a business Purpose?

Your Purpose comes from a desire to contribute something to the economy. Your Purpose can be mainly economic progress for yourself and partners or it can be geared toward economic progress as well as contribution toward a improved society. You have designed either of these from your personal beliefs, values and desires.  Therefore, your Purpose is a deeply held expression of what you believe you can do with your business.

Are you excited about your business venture? Are you fulfilling a life-long dream? Are you excited to get up everyday to work on your venture? If you answered yes to these questions, you may have a deeply embodied business Purpose. A deeply embodied business Purpose (Mission) is a purpose that motivates you dramatically, gives you a sense of well being and brings you joy. If this is the state you’re in, congratulations. Your business has a much higher chance of success than many of the businesses of your entrepreneurial colleagues.

Craig and Snook in “ From Impact to Purpose” explains: “Business experts make the case that purpose is a key to exceptional performance, while psychologists describe it as the pathway to greater well-being. Doctors have even found that people with purpose in their lives are less prone to disease. Purpose is increasingly being touted as the key to navigating the complex, volatile, ambiguous world we face today, where strategy is ever changing and few decisions are obviously right or wrong.”

A strong business Purpose/Mission can create a legacy in these ways:

It will provide a strong foundation for your Values, Vision and Strategy. Everything you do in your business will spring from your Purpose. You will have definite parameters for decision making and System building.

You will facilitate an “adaptive business culture” with your Purpose as the anchor. Our fast changing environment will require the ability to make rapid changes and innovations. An adaptable culture supports the continuous flexibility your business will need. As a result, you will need something to direct and ground you activities. A strong Purpose performs this function.

You will create and sustain a great reputation. A strong Purpose will draw employees and customers to your organization and if that Purpose is promoted over time, your reputation for consistently delivering according to your Purpose will spread.

Following are some great examples of how deeply embodied purpose works in reality.

Birkenstock 243 years

The core of their Mission/Purpose is: “Birkenstock is deeply rooted in the fine art of crafting premium quality shoes that are good for you.”

Delta Airlines 90 years

“Delta Air Lines Mission Statement: “We—Delta’s employees, customers, and community partners together form a force for positive local and global change, dedicated to bettering standards of living and the environment where we and our customers live and work.”

Southwest Airlines 38 years

“Our Purpose is: To connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

Amazon 23 years

“Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

All of the Purposes described are very broad. They allow for any technological advance or other changes that relate to their industry. They address social needs or challenges and are designed as economically feasible business models.

“Most of us go to our graves with the music still inside us, unplayed. Oliver Wendell Holmes

Don’t be like “most”. Design your entrepreneurship because you can do anything you want to do! The information available to everybody today can hep you build a genuine legacy. Designing a Purpose that energizes you should be your first step. This can also move you closer to building your legacy.

Easy to apply business building guides: “20 Directives for Small Business Success: Do or Die”

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