The culture of the power flip

upside down house Many of the economic ideologies we learned in business school are turning upside down. What once worked, now doesn’t. What was expensive, is now cheap. What was impossible, is now humdrum. But unless we stop, consider and look, we just might miss some of these changes in what is true. Capital used to be expensive, and labour used to be cheap. Now it’s moving in the opposite direction. We used to think that the accumulation of capital was the key to success. But we forget it was a substitute to try and uncover intrinsic value. Thankfully we are starting to remember money is a tool, and not an end. Creativity used to be chosen by gatekeepers, now it’s chosen by us through sharing. We got tricked into believing that we should leave creative pursuits to others in the media, in the movies, and to the rock bands with recording contracts. To those who got picked. But now we know that was just because they owned expensive tools and could afford to buy our attention. We’ve now proved there is no monopoly on art, we’re all artists. Technology used to be expensive, and walled behind industrial barriers. We could only experiment with it while ensconced in corporate quarters building things for them as employees. Now we have NASA in our Pocket, maker spaces and collaborative tools to make better tech than those who gave us the tools to do it. The best tech now comes from hacking entrepreneurs because it’s accessible to all now, at disposable price points. The challenge most established businesses face isn’t technology, or ideas but belief systems. They develop a culture that makes them fall in love with what made them successful. It’s why big business is being disrupted after years of relative stability. Sometimes the most important thing ‘Big Co’ can do is forget what they know, and maybe even burn the map that got them to their current destination. New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now!

The strategy day you’ve probably never had

While I’m a firm believer we can achieve more as entrepreneurs than we can as employees, there are some damn good lessons we can learn from corporates. One such thing that large companies tend to do is strategy planning. Annual or quarterly events, where time is taken out to sit down and plan the future. So my question is this:

When is the last time you did this for your most important startup: Your household?

Yes, the startup that is the people who live in your home. It seems ever so weird that we spend an inordinate amount of time doing strategy for the companies we work for, and yet fail to do it for ourselves and our family. My household is a 5 year old startup which is clearly the most important in my portfolio – the capstone of all the matters to me. Within it, we have two other startups, otherwise known as children.  So my wife and I are investing a few days where our entire focus is what we want out of life for our family, and how we might go about achieving it.

So what might we include in such a day? Our approach to health, loving, learning, sharing, housing, career, finance and our community. We’ll ratify our guiding philosophy on how we invest the 24 hours in each day. We’ll decide how we allocate our resources to maximise happiness. We know that the major asset in life is time, and the people we love. The financial part of our strategy day – our plans for income and investing – is last on the agenda. This should serve what we want as people, and so setting numbers before we know what we need, would be back to front. The outcome will be an operations plan for a happy home.

We often go through life thinking that if we earn enough money, and do well in our career, the other life stuff will be ok. Turns out the opposite of this is true.

NEW BOOK – THE GREAT FRAGMENTATION – ORDER HERE!

Wood chips, sugar & hazelnuts

It was recently the 50th birthday of that favourite chocolate spread we sometimes convince ourselves is ok to eat between two piece of bread. Nutella.

Nutella Jar

What a lot of people don’t realise is that Nutella is what it is because they couldn’t afford to make it the way they wanted to. Originally Nutella was a pure chocolate spread, but during the post WW2 era, a time of heavy rationing in Italy, they bulked up the ingredients with hazelnuts. They did this because hazelnuts were plentiful in the local area and much cheaper than cocoa per kilogram. The presence of mind to turn to the woodchips, in this case hazelnuts, and remarket the brand was very clever indeed. The branding was adapted to talk up the nut credentials and make people believe it was actually a hazelnut spread.

In fact it only has 13% hazelnuts and a whopping 52% sugar by volume – ironically about the same amount as the white label on the jar. While I’ll leave the moral discussion on the marketing of Nutella for another blog post, the question it poses for all of us is this:

How do we turn necessary cost cuts or lack of availability of inputs into brand advantage?

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The competition is invisible

I recently saw a prototype for the Google self drive car – It’s picture is below and looks kinda cute / cool / weird.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 9.50.12 am

Anyone who follows the technology world will know that Google have successfully driven their self drive cars without incident for more than million miles. But up until now, the cars have been retro fitted Toyota and Lexus’s – other companies cars they fitted their self drive technology to. This is a bit of a shift in the projects trajectory. The Google car, is quite It’s further proof that information, when distributed freely and easily changes the physical world too. That dramatic changes in information, have dramatic impacts on all things physical. But what it should remind business people is that we simply can’t know who our competitors are any more. In a world where everyone has access to all the major factors of production we end up with a global demarcation dispute. Non linear competition where brands and big businesses get blindsided by category newbies. We’ve already seen it in retail, music and media, and we are about to see it in every form of hardware and manufacturing. The established industries who should, could and would provide the next level of innovation probably wont.

Tesla is already around half the size in market capitalisation of GM and Ford after a few short years in the market. And as we can see by this post the auto industry better get ready for new players from the technology world – Google, and possibly even Apple. The auto industry would do well to remember that cars are about to become mobile lounge rooms, and all the high tech companies are already competing for the ‘lounge room’ in the house. Next they’ll be competing for the lounge room in transit. A preemptive sense of future irony right there. Even small players like Tomcar Australia (which I have an interest in) have proven you don’t need to own a factory to make best in category vehicles and disrupt an established industry base.

I also read yesterday about two absolute powerhouse Australian companies (both in the top 10) Coles and Woolworths better get ready for a new set of competitors. And while they mentioned a siphoning of revenue category by category, I believe they have a much bigger problem coming their way:

What to do with 1000+ stores when no one goes to a grocery store to get their shopping.

And no, this is not like discretionary retail which can be made a social, fun and entertaining experience. Grocery shopping is a chore and technology has a habit of removing chores from the human experience. Not many people run fast or lift heavy things for a living. And mind you, the word computer, was originally a job title, not a machine.

In the food industry there is a term called ‘share of stomach’. What share did the food company get of the stomach. Which is the type of measure which is used to assess the truth about who the competition is, and where the revenue threats lie. I feel as though every industry needs to develop their own ‘Share of Stomach’ metric so they can see the real change in their industry. Maybe all industries related to transport need to measure share of human movement? Self driving cars, aren’t just a competitive play against legacy auto industries, but it’s hard to see city car parks being a valid business when we can ‘send our car home to our driveway’ and get it to pick us up later. It also raises questions about what relatively new businesses like Uber will do when cars don’t need drivers? Chances are they’ll need to become a system which organises and delivers our cars?

Just like life, the real life threatening diseases are from entities our body hasn’t encountered before and built a natural defence against. At times like these, a tectonic shift, business would do well remember lessons from the natural world.

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Evolution & strategy

Evolution itself does not have a strategy. It just lets what wins, win. If anything, it is the accumulation of a lot of in market testing. Traits, (or tactics) are tested for advantage, and those that work, keep on happening through natural selection. Nature tries everything. Nature lets things that don’t work die.

We too can help our business evolve. We just need to do what nature does. That is to not pretend to know what will work. Instead we should try everything and find out what does. The good news of course, is that it’s so cheap to try so much in a low cost technology world.

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When innovation is not really innovation

Innovation is an interesting word which gets thrown around lot in organisations. No one seems to disagree that it is the life blood of long term organisational survival, but I think it’s clear that the definition of what it actually is happens to be wrong. The definition tends to be most wrong in large stable industrial companies. I should know, once upon a time I was the ‘head of innovation’ in one such large organisation. I was recently pointed to this article which goes a fair way to demystifying innovation, versus novelty and invention. But for me it doesn’t go far enough. I think the problem with innovation in many large companies is this:

They confuse Asset Utilisation with Innovation.

A colleague of mine works in a large industrial concern heading up the product innovation area. Here’s a bunch of constraints they’ve placed upon him:

– All innovations must be able to manufactured in their existing factory.

– All innovations must use the existing machines in the existing factories.

– All innovations must focus on the existing core users of the brand.

– All innovations need to be able sold in the existing sales channels and retailers.

– All innovations should have a price point in and around the existing price points their range of products are already sold for.

– All innovations have exactly 13 weeks to prove themselves in market, because that’s what the reseller demands.

Clearly constraints like this prove that the core task is not at all about innovation and much more about business management within a set set of structured parameters. In simple terms it’s an asset utilisation program. There’s nothing wrong with asset utilisation. It’s a valid, profit centric, strategic imperative. It’s what companies must and should do to reach their financial potential. What’s foolish though, is confusing it with innovation. Such confusion can only lead to a long term displacement of brand relevance.

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I’m making some terrible mistakes right now

The problem is that I’m not exactly sure what they are. The passing of time is the only thing that will actually reveal them to me. As much I want to avoid making mistakes, I know I’m doing some things right now which will just look silly or uninformed once I look back at them. Last night I was looking back at my life in 5 year increments thinking about the things I’ve done, some of the projects I’ve undertaken and how I would have done things differently in hind sight I look back to what I thought was right 5 years ago, and it seems glaringly obvious what the mistakes are. The interesting part is that it is not a one off. It seems to be true again and again – as every period of time elapses, there in the past lies a set of errors. It’s not like I am graduating from mistake making either – granted, they are not the same mistakes, but the process of making them is yet to desert me.

My history is a constant reminder of the truth. Like everyone, at least I assume, I have clear strategic and tactical vulnerability. I used to worry about it, but now I realise if what I did then, didn’t seem stupid now, then personal growth would not have been possible.

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