Archive for November, 2010

Being Expert: Bringing Personal Value to Those Around You

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

I’ve written recently about how our economy is fundamentally changing. Everything seems to be disrupted and in a state of chaos. Normally routine business and established practices no longer function as they used to. Entire industries are being transformed along with the people in them. This brings me to the subject of today’s post, being an expert in your space and how you bring value to those around you.

In the past, our value was defined by how much we knew combined with the experience we accumulated over time. If you are truly an expert, every hour of everyday brings new experience and personal growth.

Those that find themselves in trouble today are the ones who learned their primary skill set a long time ago and have resisted learning more. They simply took what they were trained in and used it over and over, in a static kind of way. They would become more proficient at their daily performance and execution, much in the same way a golfer gets better at their swing if they practice the same swing over and over a thousand times. This is call “grooving.” Once you’re in a groove it is very difficult to get out of it. Grooving works very well when the skill does not require change to remain valuable.

In the knowledge or professional arena, our value was defined by how much knowledge we had and how specialized that knowledge was. If it was difficult material that took a long time to master, all the better. This meant we could charge more for our understanding of this knowledge. Think doctors, lawyers, and CPA’s. You could also think of master craftsmen as well.

This is the way we used to position ourselves and bring value, have knowledge that is hard to find, access, duplicate, and master.

Things are different now. With the rate at which technology, markets, and economies are changing, simply having the knowledge or experience is no longer enough. To remain an “expert” you must remain relevant to those you serve. To maintain your position of authority and value requires another skill set few truly master. It begins with the ability to be observational and recognize which elements of change are at work.

Simply observing isn’t the answer. The true answer is the ability to draw upon your knowledge and experience to synthesize new opportunities and solutions. This is an amazing time to be alive. There is so much disruptive change and technology around us.

The current recession and underlying permanent unemployment are perfect examples. The economies that are recovering quickly are the ones with low cost labor that can do many of the things our own skilled blue collar labor used to do. Now even our white collar workers are being outsourced by low cost offshore labor.

With rapid, pervasive change everywhere, we all have the opportunity to re-invent and redefine our value and skills. Our individual expertise comes from the ability to respond to these disruptive changes with innovative solutions that bring value to our customers and clients. As uncomfortable as change is, this is an amazing time of opportunity for those that can recognized and innovate new solutions.

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What Your Customers Really Want

Friday, November 5th, 2010

If you’ve been in business for any period of time, you may think you know what your customers really want. We draw our conclusions from past experience of what our customers have purchased. We tend to look at the the most popular colors, styles, and sizes. On the surface this is a logical, but not necessarily accurate conclusion.

This type of purchase analysis is mostly based on simple observation. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach, we can go much deeper. Doing so helps us to gain a broader understanding of the true motivations of our customer base.

As an example. The guy that goes to the hardware store to buy a 1/4″ drill bit, doesn’t really want the drill bit. He really wants the 1/4″ hole that results from the use of the drill bit. Further, he really wants the result the 1/4″ hole will enable for him. And so it is when people buy printed t-shirts. They really don’t want the shirt with the message on it, they want what the results that come from wearing the shirt with the message.

While this may seem obvious, the implications go much deeper. Let’s ask ourselves what are the benefits of a message on a shirt? It’s a form of media and the message is seen by many people when the shirt is worn. At least that’s what the customer hopes for. In reality, the message is mostly lost because the graphic design element is so weak that the image is nothing more than visual noise, resulting in it blending in with everything around it.

The lesson for us is to make sure the graphics, colors, and body style are sufficiently powerful enough to garner viewer attention. The graphics don’t have to be complex or multi-color, but they do have to be striking enough so as to stand out. But this simply isn’t enough.

The second element of the garment graphic is that it has to tell a story. The old Chinese saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” is absolutely right on. Yet, most apparel graphics don’t tell a story. Their message is shallow and often unclear. Remember the person wearing the shirt is presenting a message to the viewer. How is that message going to connect with the viewer? Is there an emotional bond? Is it working on a deeper level than the obvious advertising and basic facts it presents?

When you dig deeper into the end motivation of your customers, you put yourself into the position of selling more, selling more effectiveness, and selling results. The garment and the graphics are a means to an end. When you get clarity as to what that end is, you end up selling much more to the customer to satisfy their desired end result.

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Why The Economy Isn’t Working Like It Used To

Monday, November 1st, 2010

We’ve all been through a very rough ride over the last two years. Some are surviving, holding on by their fingernails, others have failed, and still others have show some degree of growth. How is this possible? Being a student of life and an active observer, several things have become apparent and i’d like to share my observations.

First, there has been a fundamental change in the way we do things. It’s been developing for a number of years, but most of us aren’t fully aware of the significance. This has to do with change. In the old economy, our goal was to find a better way, prove it, refine it, apply it, and then make a gazillion widgets using these new methods or tools over and over until we made the next innovative extension of the idea. We’ve been doing just this for thousands of years, and it’s worked well because we’ve built our economies on the principle that knowledge is potential economic power. If guarded, and applied carefully, we can use this knowledge for our economic advantage.

Our patent system, professional trades, and even our higher education system are based on the controlled delivery of scarce knowledge. When knowledge was hard to find, and difficult to master, it was very easy to design an economy where knowledge could be exploited in this manner. We established an education system where the pure knowledge was hypothesized, fabricated, and proven. Later, often years later, this raw knowledge was commercialized and protected by the patent system so that technology originators could recover the development costs and profit in a protected environment for a certain number of years.

Today, all of that has changed. Along with the geometric growth of computer processor speed follows the same geometric growth of knowledge. Couple this blinding expansion of information with instant accessibility via search engines and we upset the economic model we’ve been using for thousands of years.

Things are moving too fast to achieve any real long term profit. In the printing industries it used to be that a company would buy a huge printing press (which we affectionately call “big iron.”) Their market would only be marginally established. Over a period of time, their huge investment in this big iron would pay off because of the opportunity it presented not only to the company, but to the marketplace. Simply having the capability was enough to attract new business. Often business would develop organically, independent of the actual marketing effort. Pricing was based on quality, service, and price. You could have any two of the three. Now, we need all three AND we’ve added smaller runs and faster turn times besides.

Today, that scenario is gone. Digital technologies are in continuous change. Products are obsolete as soon as they hit the market. Worse, the next generation digital is twice as fast at half the cost. It’s therefore an economic disadvantage to be the first one in. The only exception to this is if you have a fully developed marketing plan, with customers, and a backlog of orders in place. In this case you have a chance of success, but it is only fleeting at best.

The key to success in today’s information driven, expanding digital economy is to have a market that is expanding as fast as the technology. This has become an exceedingly illusive and difficult thing to find. In fact, it’s almost impossible to attain given the general state of the global economy today.

What will allow for success under these conditions requires a shift in our thinking. It’s clear we’ll need to do things differently. There are two things needed to enable this kind of growth. The first is to greatly develop and hone your skill of using Search to find and reach new customers. This is typically done through the use of keyword searches. Our ability to position our goods and services so that a big enough pool of potential customers can find you and buy your offerings will be essential.

In the old economy we did this by broadcasting who we were and how great we are. We would blast our messages out to the world in massive numbers, hoping enough potential customers would find us to sustain our business. That too has changed. Today, our customers are searching for solutions. To succeed, we must be seen as a relevant solution.

To accomplish this.

The second, and far more difficult challenge is to overcome what I call “legacy baggage.” These are the holdover thoughts, ideas, and practices of the old economy. This is tremendously difficult to achieve because our employees have been taught to learn once, use over and over. It is exactly what the old economy was built on. It no longer works. Today, employees must be retrained to be open minded and actively embrace change. It almost never happens that way. The reason is simple.

Most blue collar workers, and many white collar workers have abandoned continuous learning. School and learning threaten them. They don’t want to risk being exposed as less than competent. They don’t want t make a mistake or appear to be weak or dumb. In the process, there is a built-in resistance to anything new. The culture and environment of change is critical to your success. Yet, management rarely knows what they want to do, or how they’re actually going to accomplish it. They’re used to mandating by directive. That approach no longer works.

The resistance to change, or rather the resistance to the acceptance of new knowledge, is at the core of our ability to survive. This is why new start-ups and even offshore competition often get the new business. They don’t have the entrenched resistance to change. The one-two punch of “not invented here” and “we’ve never done it this way before” are the killers of innovation. The legacy baggage of the old economy are pulling us under. Look at your own organization and ask yourself honestly, it this isn’t the case for you. Recognizing the situation is the first step toward finding a solution.

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