5 Ways to Keep Your Company Ahead of the Curve
BY Kevin Daum
The world is advancing faster than ever before. Can you keep up? Here Inc. columnists share how to stay ahead of the game.
The rate of technological and cultural change is astounding. The first text message was only 21 years ago. Due to cellphone usage, the government and phone companies are currently negotiating how to eliminate the use of the near obsolete copper phone and switching system. Google is only 15, Facebook will turn 10 in 2014 and Twitter has only been around 7 years. Companies and industries have seen infrastructure changes of mass proportions in the last 2 decades. 18-year-old Amazon is one of the fastest change agents. They have now added Sunday delivery and are actually developing the use of flying drones that can deliver individual packages to your door in 30 minutes.
As a thoughtful leader today of a company or team, you have to assess, apportion resources and take action in an environment with 3 to 5 year lifespans and constant technological disruption. You can do this only if you look to the future. If you spend your time enjoying the present or worse, wishing for the past, the world will most certainly pass you by.
Here are additional insights from my Inc. colleagues.
1. Be a Fast Follower
The days of creating a 3-year technology plan are over, but that doesn't mean that you should let your company pursue every new technology or trend that presents itself. My advice--be a fast follower. Hang back and give a new idea or approach a 6 to 9 month window to see if it will work by allowing another company to be the first to implement and deploy. You will learn from the mistakes others are making and discover the best practices for success. Take QR codes for example. The earliest deployments of QR codes focused on a user-pulling information, which was hard to implement and often fell short of users' expectations. Lessons learned from failed campaigns and user feedback led to more successful implementations such as ticket and coupon redemption. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward
My key advice for planning five years out? Don't count on it. Larger ventures have one big advantage over entrepreneurs. They can throw resources at more speculative long-term projects, knowing that only a few might hit it big. Thus, Apple can afford flops like the Lisa and Apple Maps as a price to pay for iTunes and the iPhone, and Amazon can pretend it will have drones in two years. For entrepreneurs in smaller ventures, however, the main benefits of planning for a future five years out are the insights into opportunities on a shorter, more manageable horizon.Bill Murphy Jr.--DC Bill
Flexibility--Stretch your mind to learn new skills and explore new approaches. Look for learning in post-project reviews, customer meetings, changes in priorities and mistakes. Seize these experiences to build flexibility into future approaches. Strength - Regardless of the whirlwind of changing circumstances around you, continue strengthening what your team is the very best at--core competencies. Don't paint stripes on your back if you are not a zebra. Speed--Quit analyzing and follow your intuition. Apply the 80/20 Principle to make smarter, faster decisions. Gather 80 percent of the relevant information in the first 20 percent of the available time. The remaining 20 percent of the data (which would take the remaining 80 percent of your time to obtain) typically will not substantially improve the quality of your decision. Lee Colan--Leadership Matters
Cope with constant change by locking yourself in as little as possible. Long-term leases, hard-to-sell property and expensive equipment may be necessary for your business, but choose shared or easily turned over resources when you can. The most successful entrepreneurs are those willing to quickly change direction to capture an opportunity or avoid a threat. It's human nature to stick with what's worked in the past, but that can be deadly--just ask Kodak. I'm not suggesting you should constantly flit from one idea to another. But if you've been doing the same thing for a while and find yourself wondering if it's time to change direction, you probably should. Minda Zetlin--Start Me Up
Change is a given--the question is not when will change come to your industry, your market and your business, but how soon. If you want to win in the long run, you've got to be a step ahead of your competition, not just one or two days out of seven, but every day of the week. This means keeping up with the latest news and trends in your industry, and then being ready to pivot at moment's notice. Learn some lessons from Jeff Bezos at Amazon. He just blew UPS and Fed-Ex (and all of Amazon's competition) out of the water by partnering with the Postal Service on Sunday delivery, and the 30-minute delivery idea via drone is blowing everyone's minds. Be like Jeff Bezos and Amazon, and lead change--don't wait for it to pass you by, because it will if you let it. Peter Economy--The Management Guy