Category Archives: Future Thinking

A little knowledge can make you smile

Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond, and cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.- Mark Twain

After all these years there has been no one to compare with Twain, and the light of his wisdom has not dimmed.

No matter what we do or where we go, owner or employee, and now more than ever before, we must continue to study, train, and learn. Everyone in your organization. Everyone. Everyday. Lifelong learning.

Are you feeling threatened these days – maybe even frightened – because of all the changes brought on by the advent of the information age? Me, too. Sometimes it seems we’re like Alice – we have to run as fast as we can just to stay in one place. And in our Wonderland, everything is changing so fast that what we learn today may be obsolete tomorrow.

The irony is that the thing that is creating so much potential for anxiety – technology – is also the thing that can help you stay competitive. And the unprecedented wealth of information available on the Internet is a two edged sword: one side cutting for us, and the other for our competition.

When I feel threatened by all of the new information and capability that’s emerging, I just make a point to learn something new, with emphasis on e-commerce, or the Internet, or how my industry is adapting to the virtual marketplace. And when I acquire that new understanding or capability, I smile like Alice’s Cheshire Cat.

Learning makes me feel stronger, as if I’ve gained a little ground in the marketplace. Maybe today I’ll put the heat on somebody else.

Advantage: Me.

Give it a try. The only thing better than your garden variety smile is one that comes from knowing that you just got a little smarter.

I have to say, however, cauliflower does not make me smile.

Some thoughts on certainty

As we conduct the due diligence on what’s next for our business, we seek the information that will help us acquire knowledge and create conditions that minimize the risks and maximize the opportunity. After all, we want to be as certain as possible that our next step is the right one, don’t we?

That’s an interesting word, certain. Webster says it means fixed, settled, determined, not to be doubted. But it’s a word that isn’t often found in business plans.

The 19th century president of Harvard University, Charles W. Eliot, said, “All business proceeds onbeliefs, or judgment of probabilities, and not on certainties.”

What do you think the marketplace – indeed, the world – would look like if business had been built more on certainties than beliefs? I think we would probably be closer to holding a stone ax on our hand than a smartphone.

It’s important to understand that on the entrepreneurial scale, each of us resides somewhere between the foolhardy and seekers of certainty. The challenge for entrepreneurs is to know when to seek certainty and when to move forward with our beliefs.

No position on this scale is better than another – the world needs all kinds of entrepreneurs. But understanding where we reside on the entrepreneurial scale helps us make better business plans.

Some thoughts on lifelong learning

The life of a small business owner is hectic, to say the least. Multi-tasking is the norm. So much of our day is spent reacting to the crisis of the moment, conducting the business of the day, and initiating our plans for the future. And once we acquire a level of competence in this life we’ve chosen, it’s natural to want to relax, settle in, and seek the ease that can come with familiarity and repetition.

But the marketplace isn’t a comfortable, lumbering vessel anymore, rolling along like a single screw trawler. It’s become more like a vibrant starship capable of warp speed. Indeed, it takes a much more knowledgeable person to successfully operate a business in today’s marketplace than it did even 10 years ago.

The great American revolutionary and legendary wordsmith, Thomas Paine, said, “I have seldompassed five minutes of my life, however circumstanced, in which I did not acquire some knowledge.” This from a corset maker who dropped out of school at 13.

You can’t anticipate everything, so react when you must. The business of the day, obviously, must be attended to. And what will you have tomorrow if you don’t plan for it?

But however circumstanced, before you succumb to the human tendency to rest on your laurels, make it part of your daily tasks to acquire some knowledge.

Make it your daily intention to learn something new that might help you react more effectively, operate more profitably, and plan more intelligently.

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My website www.SmallBusinessAdvocate.com was created for small business owners just like you. With daily articles and interviews with my Brain Trust members you are sure to find effective ways to help your small business grow.

Do you prefer achievement or success?

success conceptWhat’s the difference between success and achieve? Webster is unable to define either word without the other.

If there’s no difference, why don’t we use achieve more to describe wealth, fame, status, credentials, etc.? Perhaps it’s because success is a noun and achieve is a verb, and nouns are handier than verbs.

But grammar isn’t the only reason success is more popular. Even achievement, the noun cousin of achieve, isn’t as preferred when describing accomplishment.

Perhaps early on, success just had better PR than achievement. Today success is synonymous with celebrating at the finish line, holding the trophy or the check, while achievement has more of a work and effort connotation. But don’t you have more memories of the journey of work and effort toward your goals than of the high fives at the end?

Legendary actress, Helen Hayes (1900-1993), said, “Always strive for achievement; forget about success.” But are there benefits to focusing more on the virtues of achievement? My friend, Dr. Gene Griessman says there are.

In his audiotape, “The Path to High Achievement,” Griessman identifies common characteristics of high achievement and how they’re in evidence long before anyone flourishes a checkered flag. Here are five of those characteristics, each followed by my thoughts.

1. The power of self-knowledge.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses may be the most important characteristic to seeking excellence. High achievers regularly critique themselves and make adjustments.

2. Time consciousness.
Like soybeans or gold, time is a commodity. And although not traded in any market, any billionaire will tell you that time is more precious than gold. High achievers don’t waste time.

3. Persistence.
Stick-to-itiveness is a real word and a handy noun coined in 1884, meaning dogged perseverance. High achievers personify stick-to-itiveness.

4. The power of decision.
Indecision is the Kryptonite of achievement. History has shown that an army with a poor battle plan boldly executed can defeat a greater force tentatively deployed.

5. Learn from mistakes.
No one likes failure, but high achievers recognize the value of setbacks and actually leverage them in the quest for excellence. Failure is the abiding harness mate of achievement, and high-achievers expect to always be hitched to both.

No one lives their life in the winner’s circle. Strive for success, but focus on achievement.

Are you prepared for a business interruption?

It’s doubtful that American small businesses have ever been impacted by as many potential business interruption events as we’ve seen in the past 20 years: beginning with the Oklahoma City bombing, the events of 9-11, and now the Boston bombings; hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy; tornados like those that wiped out Joplin, MO, and Hackleberg, AL, and many floods.

Recently we asked our online audience if they were financially prepared for an interruption with this question: “Could your business handle the financial impact of a business interruption?” Almost one-fifth said they, “… have cash and business interruption insurance if we need it,” and a little more than one-third reported they had “…cash and credit if we need it.” The other half admitted, “We would be hurting if it lasted more than a few days.”

There are three kinds of interruption preparation to focus on: operational, financial and digital. Here are examples of how to manage all three:

Operational
What would you do if your building became unavailable to you or your customers?

  1. Use laptops that allow key employees to work and connect remotely, both internally and with customers. And make sure they have high-speed Internet connections at home.
  2. Identify and become proficient with cloud-based applications that serve as an alternative for any installed programs that may be lost.

Financial
A significant part of the working capital of most small businesses is from cash flow. What would happen if your cash flow was interrupted?

  1. Purchase a “business interruption” rider on your property and casualty policy to pay you cash upon the acceptance of a claim. Read the fine print; all policies are not created equal.
  2. Maintain a close working relationship with your banker so you won’t have to introduce yourself to the person you might ask for a disaster loan.

Digital
Small businesses are increasingly using digital assets more and physical assets less. Are you prepared to protect your data as diligently as you do your building, equipment and inventory?

  1. Assign one person to be in charge of keeping all computers enabled with a proven firewall and anti-malware program, and keep them current.
  2. Regularly copy critical data from your hard drives and store it offsite. Better yet, backup your date with one of the cloud-based backup and recovery firms. Search for “online data backup.”

Business interruption – it’s a matter of when, not if.

What does your intellectual property (IP) strategy look like?

For 10,000 years, business leverage has come from three asset categories, shown below in chronological order of appearance:

  1. Muscle power: human or animal
  2. Tangible stuff: raw material, buildings, inventory, machines, etc.
  3. Intangible stuff: Patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and other intellectual property

For most of history, business power was heavily weighted on the first two categories. First the strongest caveman and biggest horses had the advantage. Later the fastest ships and largest factories got the jump on lesser competitors. For a small business it sounded like this: “We have the largest inventory in the tri-county area.”

But, as revealed in a study by IP attorney Kenneth Krosin, intangible assets became a powerful force in the latter third of the 20th century. Krosin discovered that at the end of the 1970s, corporate balance sheets were represented by 80% tangible assets and 20% intangible. But in 30 years, by 1997, the ratio of assets had essentially inverted to 73% intangible and the rest tangible.

Here’s what small businesses should take away from the breathtaking explosion of IP revealed by the Krosin study:

• The power of IP is no longer the wholly-owned franchise of big business.

• For centuries intellectual property provided only a marginal advantage even for big business, but has become a two-edged sword – one edge provides opportunity for those who leverage intangible assets more and tangible less, and the other edge delivers disruption for those who don’t.

• Exciting Internet resources and other digital innovations are converging and coalescing in front of our eyes to make intangible assets a much more powerful lever for all businesses.

• IP in the form of digital assets has evolved from two-dimensional tools, like websites, to add the third dimension of a virtual marketplace in cyberspace, aka The Cloud.

• Just because a small businesses may never reach 73% intangible assets doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have an IP strategy.

• Your IP strategy should include acquired intangible assets, like software, as well as the kind that you create, like a business process you maintain as a trade secret.

In The Age of the Customer, a small business must have an IP strategy that’s born from the acknowledgement that it is integral to the performance of virtually every talent and task in your business, and required to maintain marketplace viability.

What does your IP strategy look like?

Acquire and create intangible assets for your IP strategy

In my previous column, I discussed intangible assets as intellectual property (IP) and recommended every small business have an IP strategy.

It’s not my job to tell you what your IP strategy should look like because, by definition, small business intellectual property is as unique as belly buttons. But it is my job is to help you get your head out of the tangible asset sand and start thinking about the increasing role IP is playing in the success of your business operation and customer acquisition.

Remember, your strategy will include IP you acquire from others, as well as the proprietary intangible assets you create. Here are some ways to think about both kinds of IP:

• Don’t think of your new delivery schedule as just a new route for your trucks; it’s your proprietary IP that’s making your business more efficient and more relevant to customers.

• The systems you’ve developed to produce products probably seem routine and common sense to you, right? No big deal. Well, it is a big deal because it’s one of the keys to your success. It’s an intangible asset you created and are maintaining as a trade secret – your proprietary IP. As such it should be recognized, protected and defended just as diligently as you lock the doors of your business at night.

• Don’t think of social media IP you’re borrowing from Facebook, Twitter, etc., as an obligatory task everyone else is doing; this acquired IP is an intangible resource you use to create communities from which come very tangible customers.

• Connect members of communities you build on social media IP with your face-to-face communities (customer list) by developing proprietary IP that integrates the two groups.

• Acquire customer relationship management (CRM) and email marketing IP, and integrate the two with your own program to deliver content to and connect with prospects and customers.

• When you buy your next computer, don’t think of it as replacing an old one. This time acquire an IP tool that puts you in a position to maximize time, energy and resources, and is the device from which you can create your own IP and manage your IP strategy.

Having an IP strategy doesn’t mean you abandon tangible assets – we’ll always need those. But it does mean you put them in the proper proportion with intangible assets. Today, the alpha member of the asset classes is IP. In fact, any and all tangible assets we acquire, and how we use them in the future, will be determined by IP innovations.

Grow your business more efficiently and effectively with an IP strategy.

Business interruption: It’s not a matter of if, but when

Ten years ago, on August 14, 2003, a single outage in the electric grid cascaded across eight northeastern states, putting 55 million people in the dark for days.

The Great Blackout of ’03, which also temporarily shut down thousands of small businesses, was a catastrophic reminder that we’re all one squirrel-in-a-transformer, fire, flood, tornado, hard drive crash or computer virus away from being out of business. One survey revealed that three out of four small business owners believe they will have a business interruption event in any given year. Alas, in that same survey, only 20% said they were prepared.

Are you prepared to deal with a business interruption event? Here are a few ideas.

Operational recovery
What would you do if your building became unavailable to you or your customers?

1. Instead of desktop computers, purchase laptops with docking stations that allow key employees to work and connect remotely, both internally and with customers. Make sure the laptops have Wi-Fi and a mobile router (4G) in case your broadband connection goes down. This costs a little more, but it’s good connectivity insurance.

2. Identify and become proficient with cloud computing applications that serve as alternatives for any installed programs that may be lost.

Financial recovery
A significant part of the working capital of most small businesses is from cash flow. What would happen if your cash flow was interrupted?

1. Consider purchasing a business interruption rider on your business’s property and casualty insurance policy that will pay you cash upon the acceptance of a claim. Be sure to read the fine print, all policies are not created equal.

2. Maintain a close working relationship with your banker so you won’t have to introduce yourself to the person you’re asking for a disaster loan.

 

Data recovery
Small businesses are using digital assets more and physical assets less in the execution of their business model. Are you prepared to protect your data as comprehensively as you protect your building, equipment and inventory?

1. Assign one person to be in charge of keeping all computers enabled with a proven malware program and keep them current on all units.

2. Regularly copy critical data from your hard drives and store it offsite, plus backup your data with a cloud-based data backup and recovery firm.

The only people who never experience a business interruption event are those who don’t have a business.

Your future and customer paradigms

In his book, Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future, futurist Joel Barker explains that paradigms are filters through which humans view the world and around which we pursue our lives.

Things that align with our paradigms sail right through; otherwise they meet resistance. A favorite color, for example, is a paradigm.

We also establish marketplace paradigms. Perhaps the most interesting paradigm dynamic is between a customer and a business, because a customer’s product paradigm logically becomes a business’s production paradigm.

Product paradigms always work for customers because they can pick and choose at will. But for a business, a production paradigm comes with significant risks, because they can be left with an investment – physically, financially and emotionally – in a newly unviable production paradigm.

When there is a paradigm disruption – like customers changing preferences – that’s called a shift. Barker says when a paradigm shifts, everything goes back to zero; what once worked so well becomes unavailable or obsolete.

When a shift occurs – the ability to buy stocks online, for example – customers easily transition to the new thing that likely caused the shift. But for a business with multi-faceted investments in the old paradigm – only stockbrokers can place stock orders – such a shift can be expensive and dangerously disruptive.

In the past I’ve introduced you to several examples of how the marketplace is transitioning from The Age of the Seller to The Age of the Customer™. This transformation is creating a number of shifts which are at once exciting for some and disruptive for others.

In the new Age, there are three primary shifts a business must now monitor constantly; each associated with a key element of customer relationships.

The Buying Decision
Customers have always controlled the buying decision element, but they now need less decision-making help from a business. The paradigm shift question: “How do we prevent our marketing and sales strategy from becoming obsolete?”

The Information
Previously controlled by businesses, access to information is now almost completely controlled by the customer. The paradigm shift question: “How do we maintain a relevant value proposition?”

The Product
Once controlled by the business, customers increasingly influence product development. The paradigm shift question: “How do we love what we do without loving how we do it?”

Discover the future by monitoring customer paradigms.