// what do you think?


If Only We Knew What We Know. Then Had The Conviction To Do Something About It.

We’ve been in London now for less than 2 months and most of that time has been spent trying to get settled in. But in that time we’ve also seen about a dozen museums, historical monuments, castles, palaces (Hampton Court Palace is my favorite so far) and several other sites. Londoners - and the British in general - like to brag about how much history they have here, and they’re right. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve seen more London history in the few short weeks I’ve been here than your average Londoner sees in their lifetime. But I’ve been just as guilty of that when I lived in the States. Who wants to go to all the touristy spots?

For some reason, it’s human nature not to be interested in what’s in our own backyard. This goes double for companies.

Lew Platt, former CEO of HP famously said: “If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three-times more productive.” This quote is often thrown around by Knowledge Management enthusiasts championing the need for KM initiatives at their company. But I want to look at this problem a different way.

One of my favorite contrarian books on innovation is Douglass Rushkoff’s book, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. I don’t always agree with Rushkoff’s books - I agree with him directionally but it tends to be a matter of degrees - but I really like Get Back in the Box. It throws out the notion that we need to do more “outside the box” innovating and should instead focus on what we’re good at, and on your employees and serving your customers.

We spend so much of our time looking outside the walls of our company that we often overlook the opportunities inside our companies. Whether that’s the opportunity to hire someone internal rather than that promising external candidate - whether is looking at the innovation happening inside our companies rather than what our competitors are doing - whether it’s the constant testing, and second guessing we do around over our new products or our strategy.

Whatever it is, I’m afraid we’re wasting a lot of time looking externally rather than looking internally. And I know for a fact that we just spend too much time looking than we spend doing.

The people inside your company know what’s wrong. And in most cases, they know how to fix it. But no one has bothered to ask them. (And BTW executive leadership don’t qualify as “people.”)

Not too long ago I was preaching that companies spent too much time being inward looking and I’m afraid we’re entering a time where we’re too focused on the external. We need a balance but we also need the fortitude to not flinch every time something in the market changes.

The best strategy can be proven wrong in the light of data.

We benchmark constantly. We beta test. We pre-release an alpha. We run a million A/B test. We use multiple focus groups. Then test some more. We set goals and stage gates for internal innovation and constantly measure. I’m a big believer in data but sometimes a blip is just a blip. Not all changes are trends. Most goals are arbitrary to begin with so why do we treat them like laws of nature?

This post probably seems totally schizophrenia and I’m sorry about that.

Yes! We need to look outside the company.
Yes! We need to look around inside the company more.
Yes! We need more/better data.
Yes! All of that will help you build a strategy.

None of that will help you make a *better* strategy.
None of that will help you execute on that strategy any better.

Failure doesn’t mean the strategy was wrong.

Look at HP’s recent TouchPad woes. They bought Palm, build a decent tablet, then killed it. Then sold in a fire sale and guess what? People bought them. So now they’re going to make more and we may or may not be spinning out the PC business. This is a company with too much data right now. Their strategy was probably just fine, it just needed some tweaking (like cost).

Do you think Apple used data to make the decision to make the iPad?

One thing I respect about Microsoft (which in the case of full disclosure is a client) is that they are not just reacting to the market but executing on a deliberate strategy. Will it prove the right one? I don’t know but at least they’re not being (too) reactive - which isn’t something they can always say.

Here’s my 8 steps for creating and executing a successful strategy:

  1. Look at all the data.
  2. Watch the market, watch your competitors.
  3. Then go back inside your conference room with the brightest people from inside your company (this will leave out some senior execs and include some junior level people).
  4. Shut the door.
  5. Create the best strategy you can based on your companies capabilities.
  6. And then execute the hell out of it.
  7. Adjust it in incremental steps constantly until it doesn’t work anymore.
  8. Then start all over again.

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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

  • http://timbursch.com timbursch

    I think it’s great that companies are listening and monitoring more external data. What about internal? Are businesses listening to their own people? Not spying on employees and micro-managing, but really hearing their ideas. 

    I’m hopeful about social enterprise tools like Yammer and Chatter, but it has to be empowered by leadership. 

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com/ tacanderson

    Agree that external listening is good but at some point you have to act and forget about the outside naysayers. I think Jobs did this really well as does Bezos at Amazon. And yes, internal listening I don’t know you can do enough of. 

  • http://twitter.com/devlind Devlin Dunsmore

    Great post. 

    Being a champion of innovation inside a company definitely has it’s challenges, even in companies that say they encourage great ideas to come from within. Ultimately it takes an entire company culture, like Google’s or Facebook’s (I’m sure there are many other examples), that really expects great ideas to come from inside and for people to regularly work outside their everyday tasks to do this kind of exploration and really cultivate them into strategies to be executed on. Even in cases where a regular employee can get some face time with key decision makers in a company to demo something rough, the drive and process has to be there to turn that rough concept into something tangible or else it just dies on the table. 

    To paraphrase Y Combinator’s Paul Graham, startup or prototype ideas are not million dollar ideas. They take time and effort and “executing the hell out of them” to turn them into game changing concepts. When companies see a competitor or a startup with some great technology or business model, it’s easy to just look in their direction because they provide an actual “business case” in practice that allows the company to bypass the exploration process that comes with innovating internally.

  • http://jeffhora.wordpress.com Jeff Hora

    I feel some companies have a problem with ideas generated internally.  One part worship (“it was invented here!”), one part demean (“well, you’re no Bezos, buddy”) and one part shred (so caught up in byzantine agendas/policies/politics that new ideas are gutted before they can get a toehold). In many conversations I have with others across my company, we discover synergies, ways to bring together ideas and projects in different ways that are potentially quite valuable. It is indeed that EXECUTE part that seems to hold us back most of the time. Presumptive solutions are presented early on before anyone even has a clear view of the opportunity/problem and we head down a sadly worn path of satisfying a date or a commitment instead of the customer. Innovation needs some room to breathe and stretch and we have a hard time doing that and making next quarters numbers.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com/ tacanderson

    It does seem like companies have swung from a “not invented here” to “invented here” bias. Which is sad. I think people today undervalue the known and overvalue the new and unknown. Thanks for the comment Devlin. 

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com/ tacanderson

    I think you’ve hit on the biggest undervalued potential of large companies (and probably small too) and that’s cross silo collaboration. Market changing potential lies inside every company if they just cross pollinated. 

  • http://timbursch.com timbursch

    And this exactly why companies need open communication internally. First in practice, then with tools. 

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