The Answer to Complacency and Nearsightedness
In the past year, the pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in most business models and placed stress on entire industries, and while the ups and downs of entrepreneurship can be expected no one could have foreseen the down being so significant. The road to recovery is well underway but one has to wonder what type of business model could have withstood such a dynamic stressor. E-commerce and digital service providers haven't done that bad but what about the rest of us. My research and business interests have led me to innovativeness as a proactive approach toward resilience and sustainability in uneven environments.
The life cycle of any business is never linear. Most businesses have periods of growth, maturity, and decline when we look at them from a macro-level or from 30,000 feet. However, if we take a closer look, most businesses will experience highs and lows representing beneficial and adverse business impacts as they go through the phases of their life cycle. If we get a little closer, we can see that there are several causal relationships between events that occur in and outside of the business that produces beneficial and adverse business impacts. At the top of the list of challenges facing business leaders are; lack of funding, qualified opportunities, and relationships, which can have an adverse impact on the business. Talking with executives at any Chamber of Commerce or Economic Development organization around the world would confirm these well-known challenges, that usually take the help of outside influences to resolve. These challenges can also have a reverberating effect on the business leaders and the staff within the business, which offsets the effects of beneficial influences like tax incentives and governmental set-asides and programs fostering business growth.
During challenging times, it's more likely for business leaders to innovate because as the saying goes; “necessity is the mother of invention”. Leaders are forced to innovate in response to outside forces as a survival tactic. The problem with that is it forces the leaders to focus on a limited view of their ecosystem. Take Kodak for example, after watching their market share being gobbled up by Sony and Canon, Kodak launched a marketing strategy to promote digital imaging technology that it developed back in 1975. However, because it was pressed into responding to outside forces, Kodak took a nearsighted view of their market in which they believed launching their digital camera in previous years would have worked against their established film business. Thus, by the time that they did release their version of the digital camera, (when they thought they had to) it was too late. Similarly, Circuit City, Blockbuster, Toys R Us, all had short-sighted views of their customers and employee's needs, which resulted in a narrow-minded response to competition and treatment of their employees that led to their ultimate demise.
During times of prosperity, it's very easy for business leaders to drink their own Kool-Aid© and believe that their current product or solution is all their customers will ever need to solve the problem they have or the jobs they need to get done. Complacency produces a mindset that prevents envisioning the new problems or jobs customers need to be done beyond today’s solution. While complacency does suggest an inability to adapt due to contentment with past successes, there is nothing wrong with being content, particularly when in contrast with being greedy. This goes without saying but greed is the epitome of short-sightedness in the business world. So enough on that, but complacency in a business leader can trickle down throughout the rest of the business and its culture, which can lead to a lack of productivity, heavily relying on the maintenance of the status quo, and an aversion toward anything that will disturb the revenue generation of current offerings.
The cure for business complacency in times of prosperity and nearsightedness in challenging times is innovativeness. Innovativeness is the ability and capacity of an individual or organization to regularly and consistently produce and commercially introduce innovations both internally and externally. Innovativeness is also the subject of research I conducted on Knowledge-Intensive Business Service (KIBS) firm leaders to determine its drivers and upon which STRATASCENSION is based. The remainder of this post elaborates on the research findings.
Innovativeness in the real world
So how is innovativeness is developed, deployed, and sustained in small and medium-sized businesses? Research has revealed that leaders must have an organizationally altruistic viewpoint but not a fully altruistic approach. Given leaders are compensated in their roles, there is a return to be expected. However, the return shouldn't be directly correlated with developing, deploying, and sustaining innovativeness in an organization. This approach is not to say the leaders should not be concerned with firm development and growth. On the contrary, they would identify paths of development and growth outside of themselves and their experiences. The data revealed that small and medium-sized businesses must be overtly customer-centric as well as actively embrace talent optimization for innovativeness to be developed, deployed, and sustained. Underlying the concept of customer-centricity, the data reflected relationships, trust, customer experience, and managing competition as integral to innovativeness coming to the forefront as a characteristic of the culture. Similarly, key concepts essential to the notion of embracing talent optimization identified in the data were communication, insight beyond the job description, and authority coinciding with responsibility.
Relationships are fundamental.
The knowledge-intensive essence of many technology firms and the leaders of the firms studied, requires a deeper connection and degree of interaction than that would be necessary for the consumption of commoditized products. One contributor to the study described the degree of interaction as being “an ongoing interaction with the customer”
throughout the customer’s purchase journey and further highlighting the importance of the relationship between the firm and its current as well as prospective customers. Participants repeatedly stressed the importance of the relationship with the customer, Participant Z4 stated, “it's about the relationship…so as a small business, it’s all about, one, the relationship, and two, it’s about the delivery.”
Considering the importance of relationships to customer-centricity, being proximate to customers allows access, but relationships aren’t developed just by being in the same environment. Relationships are developed by intentional behavior and the identification of mutual interests. Participant R7, discussed, “finding a champion or somebody that would be great to work with” [to extend the services provided] “by gauging their involvement and participati