Vol. 11, No. 9 – June 27, 2011

June 27, 2011


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Here’s How To Create A Disruptive Hypothesis

Innovation starts with a disruptive hypothesis — an intentionally unreasonable idea or statement that gets your thinking flowing in a different direction. Disruptive hypotheses are designed to upset your comfortable business equilibrium and bring about an accelerated change in your own thinking.

But how do you develop these innovation igniters? On Fastcodesign.com, consultant Luke Williams offers the following tips in three steps:

  • Define what you want to disrupt: To differentiate yourself from others, you have to define the situation in the industry or category you want to challenge. You might decide there is an area where everyone is stuck in the same predicament and nothing has changed for awhile, or where profitability is stagnant. Then focus your attention in one sentence: “How can we disrupt the competitive landscape in [insert your target situation] by delivering an unexpected solution?”
  • Determine the clichés: Figure out the clichés — the widespread, hackneyed beliefs and assumptions that govern the way people think about and do business in that particular space. “If you pay attention, you’ll notice that clichés are everywhere,” he observes. Select a few competitors, go online, and make a list of the clichés that keep everyone doing the same thing.
  • Twist the clichés: Play with the clichés, like a Rubik’s cube, and see how they can be twisted. See what you can invert, by taking an opposite action. Or figure out what you can cut away — the key aspects of the prevailing cliché that can be dumped. Or ponder what you can scale: What is scarce that can be made abundant?

2. How To Become Pistachio

Are you — or more specifically, your company or organization — vanilla or pistachio?

Marketing consultant Sally Hogshead notes on her blog that vanilla ice cream is a crowd pleaser. Almost everyone will eat it. Vanilla is easy, comfortable and safe.

Pistachio, on the other hand, is a distinct and polarizing choice. Some people hate it, yet those who enjoy it usually love it. “While fewer people buy pistachio, it has a competitive advantage: Rather than dumbing-down its flavour, it can focus on serving a tightly-defined core with a distinct point of difference. The goal of pistachio isn’t to please everyone. It’s to engage a few people really, really well,” she writes.

In business, vanilla works best when you have the biggest marketing budget around and want the lowest common denominator. If you don’t, you should highlight what makes you different. “The smaller base of pistachio-loving customers has the potential to become intensely dedicated- even fanatical,” she says.

To do that:

  • Identify one thing about your organization that makes it distinctly different — where you diverge from common expectations. It should be something quirky or peculiar, perhaps even off-putting to the mass of customers.
  • Pinpoint the so-called weak spots of your company, be it an odd location or a slow manufacturing process that makes customers wait for products. (Custom burgers that take longer to make might better satisfy unique tastes.)
  • Identify how those “flaws” or competitive disadvantages can give your clients or customers unexpected benefits.
  • Flaunt those quirks. Appeal to the sense of rebellion in your niche customers. Become pistachio.

3. Stop Being An Interruption Magnet

If you’re constantly being interrupted during the day and held back from your own work, productivity expert Jeff Doubek says you have become an interruption magnet.

Instead, he suggests scheduling two separate “task hours” during the day where you close your figurative or literal office door and stay focused on one specific task or project. Each day, identify two super-critical tasks where undivided attention is a priority and schedule them for those task hours.

Communicate your limited availability to colleagues, with a sign or e-mail responder, indicating how to reach you for urgent matters.

Also, stop being a fixer. “Some people just can’t say no. They make themselves constantly available to others as a means of boosting job security or feeling validated at work. In the end, it devalues their time and leaves their to-do list full,” he writes on the Little Dumb Man blog.

4. Do You Under-explain?

When Jeff Shiraki, vice-president at Hay Group, studied the firms honoured by Fortune magazine as the World’s Most Admired Companies, he found that the secrets to their success could be applied by any organization. He lists those strengths on the Great Leadership blog:

  • Executing the “basics” is critical, but today those basics include identifying and addressing problems before they occur and fixing things that aren’t yet broken.
  • Efficiency is important, but in order to increase productivity over the long-term, you must involve your employees.
  • Organizations must focus on the growth of their employees as an ongoing process.

5. Zingers

  • Consultant Sam Geist urges you to praise performance, not ability. Praise aspects of performance that employees are able to control. (Source: QuickBites newsletter)
  • Management professor Robert Sutton’s favourite track on Tom Petty’s 2006 album Highway Companion is a song called Saving Grace, with the lyric, “You’re confident but not really sure.” He says the balancing act between confidence and doubt is a hallmark of great bosses. The confidence inspires people to follow them but the doubt helps ensure they get things right — they are always listening and watching for evidence that they might be wrong. (Source: Harvard Business Review Blogs)
  • If you don’t have a plan for your time, someone else does. The first to claim it wins. (Source: MichaelHyatt.com)
  • Get your management team together and have everyone write two lists about communication. On one list is how you prefer to receive communication, with not just channels for communicating but style, such as concepts vs. details, fast vs. slow, facts vs. stories, or directives vs. options. Then indicate how you prefer to send communications. Now discuss them, and keep notes about your colleagues. (Source: Justtellmehowtomanage.com)
  • Consultant George Torok says you should stop giving yourself goals of achieving 100 per cent. That just intimidates you, and is likely unachievable. Most people need to get past 30 per cent, or 40 per cent, or 60 per cent. Focus on one small success after another, moving up to the next number on the dial. (Source: Motivational Speaker blog)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:
On Employee Ownership

Question: My children aren’t interested in taking over my business and I am not interested in selling it prematurely. What about employee ownership as a potential exit option?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter replies:

That’s a reasonable idea, but it comes with some significant complications that will test your motives and commitment to the idea.

I had the privilege of collaborating with Carol Beatty, then director of the Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre, on the 2002 book, Employee Ownership: The New Source Of Competitive Advantage. We looked at 10 Canadian companies that had pursued that path, often after a reversal that threatened to close the company. Most did quite well, at least for a time, with employee ownership. It seemed to engage employees more, and for the unionized companies, tempered union-management disputes.

But the issues you face start with how employees get their stake: Do they buy shares? Just receive them? Or would you want some combination, where they get shares from the company now, and in future years, but at the end have to buy out your shares? And do those shares go equally to all employees, or unequally — for example, by performance or some other measure? Finally, on this issue of share ownership, does every employee need to own shares or can some opt out? What happens when a new employee is hired?

Second, if employees have shares, they will want to know how their business is faring. If your company is now private, will you open the books to them? That may be a chilling thought, a deal breaker. However there is a lot of evidence that educating employees about the state of company finances can be quite successful. It engages them, dispels myths, and encourages them to come up with helpful ideas as they better understand company operations. In an employee-owned company, opening the books is essential and should help productivity.

Third, if they have shares, how much control of day-to-day decision-making will they have? In our sample of 10 firms, that varied dramatically, from a general attitude of sharing/empowerment by top management to representation through a seat on the board of directors. You will want some measure of confidence about how that will work before going down the employee ownership path.

Fourth, you need to figure out your exit strategy — and how soon your employees will ultimately want to redeem their stake. Unless they are significantly younger than you, that may be sooner than you would imagine. Business also evolves, and some instabilities in employee ownership may encourage some individuals to sell their stakes.

To sum up, employee ownership offers you some opportunities but also some risks to be studied. Perry Phillips wrote an excellent book in 2001, Employee Share Ownership Plans, which looks at how to set up such programs in Canada and can help you with some of the details, while our book showed the variety of approaches in some Canadian companies, with quite fascinating case studies.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:
What Kind Of Consultant?

At a coffee meeting this week, an experienced manager said he was familiar with only one type of consultant – those known for highly specialized knowledge needed for assignments around the world. His example was a consultant with expertise in a particular mining engineering technique. We’ve worked with similar types of consultants who fly in to share their IT integration expertise on very particular aspects of complex enterprise-wide systems.

Another type of consultant (8020Info would be one) focuses more on process and collaboration with their clients. Deep expertise in a core domain may not be the issue (i.e. the client has it) but other qualities may be valued — expertise in communications and change management, helping a team come to consensus on the best way forward, or providing support services such as research, stakeholder consultation or neutral/independent facilitation.

If you are thinking about hiring a consultant, the important thing is to know what you need to help accomplish your goals.

8020Info helps teams develop, communicate and implement their marketing communications, research and strategic plans more effectively. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries at (613) 542-8020, or by email at watercooler@8020info.com

8. Closing Thought                                                                 Top

“Never do a good job at something you don’t want to do.”

— Malcolm Gladwell