When's the best time to think of the biggest business lessons? Just before the start of a new year.
It's the most wonderful time of the business year. We're in the midst of that sweet temporal spot--right after Black Friday and just before Christmas--when we work frantically, party merrily, and reflect on what we've learned.
This year, the take-aways are writ large. There are many things we should have learned, especially when it came to rolling out websites. Read on for the biggest takeaways of 2013 and speak up in the comments if there's something I missed.
Measure twice, cut once.
The rollout of the Healthcare.gov website was a total disaster. How on Earth did anyone think it was a good idea to roll out a project of this scope without even beta testing it first?
It remains to be seen whether the website, and the new health insurance law, can fully recover. While waiting for perfection is rarely a great market strategy, it's hard to recover from an introduction that isn't even "good enough for government work."
With the rise of Facebook over-sharing and personal data-compilation companies, maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise. No matter what you do, someone, somewhere is probably watching.
Fear drives action (and markets).
Shortages in civilian ammunition, attributed to gun owners' fear that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting would lead to more gun control, meant boom times for ammunition manufacturers. All of which serves as a reminder that it's often easier to get people riled up about what they're afraid of losing, rather than what they might win.
Nostalgia is a force multiplier.
One smart entrepreneurial strategy is finding a compelling solution for customers' problems. But a better one is fixing pains your customers don't even realize they have.
This year, we got a reminder that sometimes it's "the pain of an old wound" that customers need cured the most. What else would explain Twinkies' hype?
After sales plummeted, Hostess filed for bankruptcy and the 80-year-old snack disappeared. But in the wake of a consumer uproar, an investment firm stepped in, reintroduced the sugary snacks and enjoyed a massive wave of publicity.
Go above expectations.
The year ended with the death of Nelson Mandela and wall-to-wall coverage of his funeral. Selfies and fake sign language interpreters aside, the lesson of Mandela's life was to give and forgive more than anyone expects.
The new pope, Francis, has been at the forefront of the news in large part because of his overt humility, from living in a small apartment and cruising around in a five-year-old Ford Focus to his "who am I to judge?" remarks in response to a question about gay priests.
The typhoon that struck the Philippines and left nearly 7,800 people dead or missing is but one example of a world where things cannot be controlled. For an entrepreneur, the scarcest resource isn't money, ideas, or people. The only truly finite resource is time.
We'll have 365 days to play with in 2014. Let's use them well.