Good item here that should remind you to enjoy your weekend AND do it on purpose!

Life Lessons From One of the World’s Oldest Men

What this rich life taught him was a kind of inner peace, an equanimity reflecting the robust wisdom known as Stoicism. Charlie was able to separate the things he could control from the things that he could not, and he didn’t fret about matters beyond his power. One of his daughters told us once that she was complaining about an insufferable certain someone we all knew when her father told her to stop. You can’t change people like that, Charlie schooled her. If I let such people irritate me, I would have been dead a long time ago.

He taught me something even more useful in the last months of his life. By then, his superhuman body was finally wearing out. Charlie was nearly blind and mostly deaf, though his mind never faded. More and more of his charming and straightforward conversation has to do with his readiness for death. He wasn’t depressed about the oncoming end. Even less was he angry or fearful. He didn’t pine for days past nor pick scabs of regret and resentment.

True leadership. Great product and service experience. Superior business discipline in terms of maintaining impeccable personnel and operational standards, and upholding strong financial control (i.e., low debt, private ownership, etc.). Best of all, courageous and ever humble in his convictions. A perfect tribute…

Fear

This appraisal of the current state of American foreign policy from last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal should be required reading. Brookings scholar Robert Kagan describes America’s (and the West’s) precipitous turn away from the realities of and stomach for power politics:

… in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is the U.S. that seems to be yearning for an escape from the burdens of power and a reprieve from the tragic realities of human existence.

For those of us in the strategy business, the lessons Kagan lays out are all too common in the business and economic sphere.

The most prevalent  is poor assumptions about competitors and outside actors. Too often I see clients make the fatal mistake of ascribing their own beliefs and worldviews to adversaries and customers. No matter how many times they parrot the idea of “walking in the other guy’s shoes,” they seem unable to accept that others are motivated by different ideas and different objectives…some that may seem completely illogical.

The other parallel I see, especially with large firms, is the utter loss of guts. Executives opt out of the big decisions and longer odds because either they feel they must “protect” the current business or they fear the hard work, emotional turbulence and potential for failure that attends the big moves. The evolution of executive reward and compensation away from long term payout (e.g., stock options) only fosters this defensive posture.

Nations, companies and individuals don’t make their mark on history by shrinking from the contest. But sadly it seems more and more the way of things.

Strategy

I have a friend who has been building a great technology prototyping business. Over the first couple of years, he exceeded all his expectations in terms of sales and financial performance. He was able to recruit some great engineers and this enabled him to take on more clients and bigger projects. Things were going great.

And then his business hit a rut. Several important clients left. Sales growth slowed. And two of his top employees submitted their resignations. The business was still steady, but my friend couldn’t seem to figure out how to get things moving again.

Does this sound familiar?

Here are four critical signs that you and your business need to take a fresh look at your strategy:

It’s harder to set and achieve goals.  All businesses experience a slowdown in growth. You begin to saturate target markets and customer groups, and market penetration plateaus. But in the past you seemed able to pivot to new segments or change your proposition to keep things moving. Now it’s getting harder. You aren’t sure what to shoot for and the targets you do have are being missed.

A common response to the inevitable slowdown is to spend more time working on goals. A lot of strategy frameworks devolve from goal setting exercises. But better goal setting usually misses structural problems growing businesses experience when their business models tap out or copycats and other competitive forces enter the fray. Exhorting sales teams to aim higher, run faster or yell louder, doesn’t address these structural problems. In fact, they might make things worse.

You are being surprised too often. Things start happening that no one expects. Customer requirements change in ways you didn’t anticipate. New competition appears. Suppliers try to muscle in on your action. Outside parties start challenging your business approach or reputation. These surprises put you on the defensive and suck up time you should be devoting to growth.

You don’t know why you are winning or losing customers. You seem to have lost the pulse on your customers … the very thing that set you apart. You used to know your customers in a way that anticipated and delighted their needs. Now you study the CRM data and call reports and can’t make sense of why certain customers are leaving you or why other customers are buying for the first time.

Good people are leaving and you don’t know why.  Every growing business experiences talent loss. But when departing employees give cliche’ reasons like “it’s time to move on”, “I’m no longer being challenged” or “I’m not growing anymore,” it may be time to take stock of the situation. Are these excuses? Or is your talent really saying “you don’t listen to my ideas” or “we don’t understand where this business is going?” Talent wants to contribute and wants to be part of a winning team with a clear and compelling game plan.

The good news is strategic therapy doesn’t have to be complicated. What it requires is a brief time-out and an honest and thorough assessment of the situation. While you can certainly call in help (and those of us in the consulting game get to eat), don’t get caught up in clever or involved processes. Seek fresh perspective, not beautiful charts and diagrams.

Also, major surgery is rarely required. What is typically needed is a small number of clear decisions and a dogged determination to pursue them.

Over breakfast one day with my prototyping friend, I suggested it was time he took a fresh look at his strategy. After a couple of “strategy discussions” we identified a critical weakness in his operations and also some huge customer opportunities. With just of handful of “to-do” items, my friend began to figure a pathway out of the rut. His top performers worked out some innovative product ideas. And very quickly the business scored several new clients. Sales started growing again.

Last week I posted George Gilder’s lesson on knowledge based economics. Meantime, LinkedIn Influencer Ron Baker posted an item on Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral SentimentsThe Invisible Handshake. It was a good take-down of the too often accepted thesis that capitalism and free markets are, at best, an amoral, if not downright rotten and immoral set of economic arrangements. SUCH NONSENSE!

Capitalism is actually the MOST moral arrangement of human economic and social affairs. It is the only way humanity gets anything good done. It is predicated on benevolence and giving much more so than on greed and taking. The more freedom, the more manifest gifts are spread.

Here again, George Gilder:

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Image comes thanks to Maggie’s Farm which picked it off Ace of Spades.  Good blogs both for challenging conventional wisdom.

A tremendous reminder of how the economy creates wealth … and how increasing prosperity requires freedom just as our bodies require oxygen.

Those of us who wish to create and lead, to learn and make new things, would do well to heed Gilder’s call. Be courageous for freedom!

SCIP SW Ohio Chapter Presents:

Creating Insight-Driven Strategic Plans with Mike Crawford of Fifth Third Bank 

September 25, 2014

(CLICK TO REGISTER)

Location:  Procter & Gamble Mason Business Center – Mason, OH

Time:  11:30:00 – 13:30:00

Mike Crawford will share his insight into the evolution of the competitive and intelligence function that he nurtures at Fifth Third Bank. The function went from a start-up, to one that is high performing and fully integrated into annual strategic planning processes with key stakeholders.

Mike will share…

  • A framework for incorporating customer, market, and competitor data into business unit strategic planning

  • How he has established effective, routine processes to foster strategic thinking

  • Lessons learned: Success factors and pitfalls along the journey

Boxed Lunches will be provided.

About Mike Crawford:  Mike serves as Senior Manager in Fifth Third Bancorp’s Strategic Planning Group, located in Cincinnati, Ohio. He joined Fifth Third in 2011 and has led the building of a market and competitive intelligence function, process and deliverables for the company. He is responsible for uncovering key trends and competitive actions that can impact the company’s strategic direction and synthesizing that information into actionable insights and profit opportunities for Fifth Third’s lines of business.
In addition, Mike assists the lines of business to create, socialize and implement their strategic plans.  Prior to joining Fifth Third Bank, Mike worked at Raytheon, creating the strategy for and leading a multi-national sales team commercializing new homeland security analytic products. Prior to that role, he was in a sales management and strategy role for an $800 Million product line in Raytheon’s Intelligence and Information Systems business. Mike also has had several consulting or contract positions providing innovation, product and portfolio management andmarketing support to leading Fortune 500 companies.Mike earned his M.B.A. in International Business with a concentration in Applied Economics from DePaul University and has a B.S. in Marketing from Clemson University. He currently serves on Frost & Sullivan’s Growth, Innovation and Leadership Advisory Board and American Banker’s Peer-to-Peer Lending and Investing Summit Board.

Something interesting for your Friday …

everest

OK, just how many of those schmaltzy “personal challenge”, “live life to its fullest”, “self actualizing”, (and ridiculously narcissistic) puff pieces do you read on Facebook and LinkedIn every week?  You know the ones! Where Ted or Suzy Overachiever quits his or her super-cool career, hobnobbing with other super smarty pants’s, to go “find themselves”. And, lo and behold, they end up climbing Mount Everest.

We are here today to save you the trouble! Take a virtual climb up Mount Everest.

And by the way, if you haven’t read Into Thin Air, it is worth it. It might even dissuade you from overdoing the self-discovery process.

merging

Whenever I hear of Intelligence colleagues getting involved in mergers and acquisition, I figure “smart company”.

A friend at an Aerospace Firm tells a great story about how, in the process of profiling competition ahead of bidding on a major defense program, the Intelligence Team identified a unique opportunity one rival firm held in radio communication technology.

Instead of simply advising management that this would require lowering the firm’s bid, the Intelligence Team went looking for small firms and intellectual property that could address the firm’s perceived weakness.

This led to the discovery and fast acquisition of a small tech company that allowed the firm to take a major lead in this particular radio communication technology.  Not only did the firm win the big defense contract, it gave them a major leg up in future commercial aviation contracts.

Firms that conduct their M&A activities the traditional way -through top secret finance teams working with blue-chip investment bankers and reporting only to a CFO or Chief Counsel- are remarkably short sighted and more inept at deal making than they’ll ever admit.

This item in Sunday’s New York Times points out many of weaknesses of the finance and investment banker approach.

In Silicon Valley, Mergers Must Meet the Toothbrush Test

The toothbrush test is Larry Page’s vernacular for judging the relative attractiveness of an M&A target.

As intelligence professionals who aspire to nothing less than influencing the direction of their firms -to helping them win in the market- designing M&A strategies, finding acquisition targets, and conducting due diligence, are all logical and important intelligence deliverables.

I’ve always thought that investment bankers were uniquely ill-suited to these tasks. Not because they aren’t bright or talented people, but because they aren’t experienced in the transaction level dynamics of the businesses they are evaluating. Despite the reams of paper and financial modeling these folks produce, they simply can’t speak to the operational, selling or marketing aspects of a potential acquisition.

The way they overcome this weakness, of course, is to hire and sub-contract opinions … a huge industry in and of itself. But even after paying more outsiders to understand transaction level issues, investment bankers still end up reflecting these insights back to their buyer clients through a financial lens.

So it should be no surprise that the traditional M&A approach is showing weakness and a Do-It-Yourself approach is on the rise.  And aisle 1 for the Do-It-Yourself approach should lead straight to your Intelligence Team!