More work for your think tank
The Great Recession was a great reminder on one great fact: the business cycle is not dead. There have been about ten recessions in my lifetime – one about every five to six years. Get used to them. If you are 35 now, expect another half a dozen before you retire.
There are a few other cycles we should also be aware of. There’s the life cycle of your products. They don’t remain fashionable forever. There’s also the life cycle of your business. It might begin as an exciting start-up. If it doesn’t crash and burn, there is a good chance it will evolve into a mature entity. But if it is like most companies, eventually it will go into decline.
It’s almost planned that way. Did you ever see a business plan that aimed to keep the business in the exciting start-up stage forever? No, the five year plan invariably targets some kind of stress-free, profitable existence by year five.
The life-cycle of a business mirrors your own life-cycle. The start-up stage is like adolescence. It’s high risk. It runs on adrenalin and hope is freely available. You work hard. You work weekends. Anything to get this great idea off the ground. Like many teenagers, it may run off the rails, but not for lack of enthusiasm. The startup business starts with a fully-charged set of batteries.
How do you stay charged when you start to mature?
What do you do to avoid that decline in market position or youthful enthusiasm?
This a job for your think tank. I’ve talked about this notion before. To refresh your mind on think tanks, click here. When you’ve done that, throw any one of the following topics into the tank.
- Your infrastructure: what can you do with what you’ve got. You might have developed a great sales team selling a great product. What else can they sell? What’s the exciting new product line that could build on your resources, or your market presence, or your creativity. What’s a good example? Apple went from Mac to laptop to Ipod to Iphone to Ipad. Sometimes it’s like a permanent startup.
- Your industry: who are the natural allies for your business? Can you buy customers? Do your suppliers make better returns than you? Are they such an integral part of your business that you should merge with them, or take them over, or be taken over by them? Are you better off buying a competitor? Examining the acquisition of another firm can put a very creative spotlight on your own. You might simply find a better way of doing what you already do.
- Your people: in their excellent book, Switch, Chip and Dan Heath gave the great example of what’s possible. The Latin American firm, Brasilata, introduced an innovation programme which encouraged roughly 1000 employees to be inventors and come up with new ideas. In 2008, they came with more than 130,000 of them. That’s a serious brainstorming session. Whether you have two employees or 200, try unleashing the power of an innovation contest in your own firm.
If you find inertia sneaking into your business, kick-start your think tank. Treat it like a venture capital firm. Give it a simple brief: look for exciting new investments that leverage off the infrastructure you’ve got, in the industry you know, using the people you already have.
For creative tactics to keep your business moving, invest in a copy of Recharge. It's in bookshops now, or you can buy it online here.