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New year, new enthusiasm

January 27, 2009

I know I introduced this idea some time ago, but now it’s 2009 and a time for new brooms and all that, I thought I’d kick it off for real.
Here’s the deal.
Last year, whilst writing Virtually Free I met, either actually or virtually, a lot of nice people who were enthusiastic about their businesses.
What I noticed (and indeed have noticed ever since I was teaching MBA students) was that these business-people didn’t just care about what their strategy was or if they’d got their marketing mix right. They seemed to care as much, or maybe more, about their enjoyment of the business and the challenge or connecting with customers and collaborators, producing neat ideas and forging ahead.
So I asked myself; ‘What gives these kind of entrepreneurs their sense of direction?’
A long time ago now, I read a paper by two academics – Andrew Campbell and Marcus Alexander – asking an even simpler question; ‘What’s wrong with strategy?’
I’m paraphrasing them (badly) when I sum up their argument as the following.
Strategy doesn’t work as most textbooks say. The idea of a cascading structure of corporate objectives feeding down into strategies and tactics doesn’t appear to happen.
In truth (as John Rossiter observed of marketing strategies) most people can’t accurately recall what strategy they are using.
What happens (Campbell and Alexander argued) is that companies (that is, people) oscillate between gathering and using ‘insight’ and revisiting or revising their sense of ‘purpose’.
Insight can be internal – how things can work better – and/or external – what those customers really need.
Purpose is, in a sense, far clearer; what are we in business for?
Between these two (which you will see repeated in our book Marketing & PR and in Virtually Free) many small businesses get a sense of direction, of what they could do to achieve their ambitions.
But, as I observed from some of the contacts I made last year, a successful business needs more.
After some wrestling – well, serious frowning – I came the tentative conclusion that organisations need the two other ‘cardinal points’ that appear above.
Truth can relate closely to insight, since a ‘true’ solution is one with honesty where any exchange is transparent. But it also relates to how an organisation conducts itself. Truth means having nothing to hide…and that makes all communications (with customers, suppliers and others) so much easier: essential in a web 3.0 world. Truth is also a test of how well you know your customers’ needs – are you confident in the truth of your view of them?
Beauty may be more contentious. Again this links to the other cardinal points above; a truthful service solution can be beautiful as can a product that simply works. But I think we also have a responsibility to make people’s lives better by what we do (I think Guy Kawasaki agrees) – it might just be about making the world a better place to be.
The links between all these points isn’t, by the way, a weakness. Imagine these points all exerting force on the centre and you get the idea that a strong organisation exists in an equilibrium.
I would suggest that those who haven’t really worked through these issues has a blind spot somewhere.
I’m aware this is all slightly esoteric so I’m asking all my contacts (and complete strangers) to flesh this out in the next few months. I’m starting with Linked-In and will gradually seek to infect other social networking platforms as we go – feel free to do it yourself and claim some ownership!
All we want is a ratio of 70% example to 30% discussion – do successful organisations have this ‘compass’? Can we gather examples of good practice – insightful, purposeful, truthful and beautiful?
The Linked-In Group is called (surprisingly) ‘Insight, Purpose, Truth & Beauty’. Let’s see what we can do with it.

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