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Confront Assumptions

Confront Assumptions

Challenge Your Assumptions

    Every time that we approach a problem, in any walk of life, we bring to bear assumptions that limit our ability to conceive fresh solutions. Innovators are always aware of assumptions and are always happy to confront them.

    There is a story told about a northern pike, a large carnivorous freshwater fish. A pike was put into an aquarium, which had a glass partition dividing it. In the other half from the pike there were many small fish. The pike tried repeatedly to eat the fish but each time hit the glass partition. The partition was eventually removed but the pike did not attack the little fish. It had learnt that trying to eat the little fish was futile and painful so it stopped trying. We often suffer from this ‘Pike Syndrome’ where an early experience conditions us into wrong assumptions about similar but different situations.

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    The way that we see things is often circumscribed by assumptions. In the Middle Ages the definition of astronomy was ‘the study of how the heavenly bodies move around the Earth.’ The implicit belief was that the Earth was at centre of the Universe. In 1510 a brilliant Polish astronomer, Nicolai Copernicus, postulated the idea that the Sun was the centre of the solar system and that all the planets revolved around the sun. He was able to explain the motions of the planets in a way that made sense but was totally at odds with convention.

    The atom was originally defined as the smallest indivisible unit of matter. The assumption was that an atom could never be subdivided. This belief hampered the advancement of science until eventually J. J. Thomson discovered the existence of a sub-atomic particle, the electron in 1887.

    In business we make all sorts of assumptions. For example you might hear people say:

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    • Competition sets the price level in our industry
    • We must constantly raise our quality and service delivery
    • Our largest customers are our most important customers
    • We should hire people who fit in well with our team

    Each of these notions needs to be challenged.

    Often it is up to a newcomer to an industry to break the existing orthodoxies. For example:

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      Henry Ford challenged the assumption that automobiles were expensive hand-built carriages for the wealthy.

      Anita Roddick challenged the assumption that cosmetics had to be in expensive bottles. Her retail chain, Body Shop, sold products in plastic containers.

      IKEA challenged assumptions by allowing customers to collect their furniture from the warehouse.

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      The low-cost airlines like South-Western and Easyjet challenged the assumptions that you needed to issue tickets, allocate seats and sell through travel agents.

      Apple challenged the assumption that a personal computer was functional and not aesthetic.

      Assumptions are there to be challenged and you should relish defying them. How can you do this? Here are some tips:

      • Start by recognizing that you and everyone else have ingrained assumptions about every situation.
      • Ask plenty of basic questions in order to discover and challenge those assumptions.
      • Write a list of all the ground rules and assumptions that apply in your environment and then go through the list and ask, ‘What would happen if we deliberately broke this rule?’ ‘What if we did the opposite of the norm?’
      • Pretend you are a complete outsider and ask questions like ‘why do we do it this way at all?’
      • Reduce a situation to its simplest components in order to take it out of your environment.
      • Restate the problem in completely different terms.

      Ken Olsen was CEO of DEC who were great innovators in the days of the minicomputer. He said, “The best assumption to have is that any commonly held belief is wrong.”

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      Paul Sloane

      Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

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      Last Updated on May 28, 2020

      How to Succeed in Business: 10 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs

      How to Succeed in Business: 10 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs

      Learning how to succeed in business used to be a case of being really good at one skill or area and milking it for all its value. Today, we are fast becoming a “skills economy”[1], driving trends in employment and even the way we approach entrepreneurship.

      To succeed in today’s business landscape, business owners and executives need to possess a mix of skills that enable them to stay ahead and adapt to change.

      1. Digital Savviness

      As the adage goes: “If you’re not online, you don’t exist.” Today’s entrepreneurs need to take to the internet to increase their presence and to remain relevant in an evolving business landscape.

      Companies like Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb and more are a testament to the disruptive impact of technology and the new image of what it means to be a skilled, successful professional. Think about today’s Mark Zuckerberg versus a banker from the 90s.

      Being able to quickly adapt to new technology, like cloud applications and collaborating remotely across the internet, is fast becoming the expected norm for executives.

      For businesses, discoverability on the web is becoming a quick litmus test for credibility. Potential customers and investors bank on the first page of Google to make up half their minds about making further transactions with a business. GE Capital Retail Bank found that 81% of retail shoppers conduct online research before buying[2].

      How to Develop This Skill

      For a start, begin by hosting your website and reserving all of your brand’s handles across social media platforms. While hiring a web developer might sound like the next step, consider first hosting your company’s site on more user and budget-friendly options like Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress.

      From here, you can start on some simple search engine optimization techniques that will increase your discoverability over time. Through keyword research, organic content creation, and external back-links, your site will, eventually, slowly but surely garner more traffic.

      Note, however, that an increase in search traffic does not immediately imply an increase in revenue. But it’s a start for delving into customer conversion rates in the future.

      2. Financial Forecasting

      Let’s face it, many business owners feel that time could be better spent on developing and running the business instead of planning for it financially. However, a financial forecast serves as a roadmap for shaping any kind of business and is not just reserved for the likes of listed companies providing financial guidance to shareholders.

      Largely, forecasting and planning your financial goals will give you a clearer idea of resources required and ways to measure success. It can also provide assurance to investors as a testament to the thorough research and planning you have done when included in business plans.

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      However, inaccurate forecasts can lead to livid investors and mismanagement of expenses, which could potentially result in financial teething problems. When creating a detailed financial forecast, a rule of thumb is to always start with your expenses.

      How to Develop This Skill

      Generally, it is easier to calculate and predict your expenses compared to your revenue, so noting down your expenses is a starting point to benchmark how much you might need to generate in sales to turn a profit. It is a good habit to regularly update and evaluate how adjacent your operations are to what you have forecasted.

      Building a precise set of growth forecasting will take time, but, remember, you are an investor in your own business. You must have confidence in the validity of your business concept.

      3. Video Production Skills

      The rise of visual mediums and the dopamine boosts it gives to users has long been researched and proven as providing an unfair advantage to businesses that leverage it[3].

      If you’re a heavy user of social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and even YouTube, you’ll know that it’s pretty hard to stop once you get started on a binge-watching session.

      In fact, video marketing is seeing a non-stop rise in popularity and effectiveness when used in conjunction with social media to drive traffic and boost conversions[4]. According to research, by 2019, 80% of global Internet consumption will be video content[5]. With video marketing becoming more ubiquitous, businesses that fail to leverage the power of video are almost certain to lose out.

      How to Develop This Skill

      Some ways to get started with using videos for your business would be:

      • Creating a series of educational videos that cover useful information for your audiences
      • Live videos interacting with your community at large (these can be shot on your smart phone)
      • Using videos on landing pages to boost your customer conversions

      4. Benchmarking Personal Goals to Business Performance

      As far as you get into achieving endeavours on your business bucket list, it’s important to remember that being an entrepreneur is just one facet of your identity. Don’t forget why you started in the first place.

      Ambition usually stems from some lifestyle goals you’ve always wanted for yourself and the people you might be providing for today or in the future. Working 24/7 is a surefire route to burnout and may manifest in an unhealthy interaction between partners and employees as well.

      How to Develop This Skill

      Money can’t be your only motivation, but look into the positives of how having more financial freedom and time can impact your life. In the short term, involving your interests in your businesses can make everyday tasks feel less like mundane errands. In the long run, your business may also bring you fruitful rewards, including personal fulfilment.

      Set realistic income goals to manage expectations for your performance and your company’s revenue, especially during its earlier stages. See how projected growth can align with your personal goals and make adjustments accordingly to maintain a balance between growth and your personal values.

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      5. Leveraging Healthy Competition

      Some of the best athletes who have spent their careers neck-and-neck with each other have changed the standards in their respective sports. The notion of healthy competition applies to the business world more than it may seem on the surface.

      Innovation has always been a key driver in free markets, which were intended to boost economies and provide customers with more choices. Just like the biggest sporting rivals that build on each others’ game, you can use your biggest competitors to hone your strategies.

      How to Develop This Skill

      Turn a competitive market landscape into an advantageous one by leveraging on long-established systems your business proposes an alternative to. Learn from the mistakes of predecessors once you discover their product or service loopholes.

      For example, the Dollar Shave Club’s viral video[6] became a big hit because it hit the right buttons of consumers being tired of purchasing expensive but low quality shavers from incumbent retail giants. Going in second meant they could fill a gap competitors might not even have been aware of.

      Apart from lifting off from what could have been your second-mover advantage, solidify your place with your business’ own first-mover advantage — whether you’re tapping into a new geographical region, unexplored market sector, or introducing a business model that proves more viable than others. There’s always room for improvement in business from mature markets to newly emerging ones.

      6. Honing Pitches to Investors

      Stand out in a broad mix of budding entrepreneurs by mastering the art and science behind a solid investor pitch that can determine the acceleration of growth for your business. Get comfortable talking about your ideas and receiving feedback or questions from peers, partners, and advisors before setting out to make a good impression on potential customers and eventually investors.

      The phrase “If you can’t convince them, confuse them,” will certainly never get your business funded, especially in front of seasoned venture capitalists who have seen thousands of startup pitches. You should be able to deliver a quick elevator pitch that summarizes your unique proposition and its market viability for casual meet-ups[7] because you sometimes only have a few minutes to make a good impression and move on to another meeting.

      How to Develop This Skill

      Develop your investor pitch deck by highlighting your business’ strongest points, which will vary for every funding round. Create your deck with the investors’ interests in mind, balancing technical jargon and buzzwords.

      You can also introduce your diverse team of experts, some proven traction, or the current state of the market to demonstrate profitability and the attractiveness of the opportunity to investors.

      Ensure each slide flows into the other to develop a persuasive narrative, utilizing consistent and intelligent design principles to support your content.

      7. Developing a Strong Brand Identity

      In a world of saturated content and numerous emerging businesses that offer similar service lines, developing a unique brand identity will help you cut through the noise and stand out from your competition. From aesthetics to the body of clients you’re associated with, these contribute to how you’re perceived by prospects looking to buy.

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      Evaluating your brand identity is linked to identifying your target customers, your business goals, a proposed promised land your solution achieves, and identifying values that are aligned to these components. Brand identity serves as a guide to maintaining consistency and creating an image you want your business to be associated with.

      How to Develop This Skill

      Efforts to strengthen your brand identity are closely tied to giving marketing strategies a direction. By knowing what makes your target customers tick, their values, ideals, and behavior, you will be able to elevate your business from simply being a service or product to be utilized into a projected brand customers and partners would be happy to identify with.

      8. Automating to Your Advantage

      The need for efficiency is often the general problem new businesses aim to resolve across all markets and industries. Assure that your proposed solution is more efficient than what’s readily available in the market to instill the need for it.

      Efficiency is often achieved nowadays through digitalization and new technologies. While your product or service may not necessarily be the most innovative out there, you can apply the same automation concept across your business’ daily operations.

      How to Develop This Skill

      Shorten turnaround times and conversion rates by investing in small tools for automation where you deem fit. While it may come out of your pocket in the early stages, evaluate the holistic advantages and benefits of automating certain processes. At our office, we’ve tried using collaborative apps like Workplace by Facebook, Slack, Asana and a few other popular apps to reduce human error and friction.

      9. Managing Millennials

      Your team plays an integral part in whether your business will accelerate at breakneck speeds or be dragged down by dead weight. Hence, it is imperative to be selective and strategic when choosing your team.

      In leaner small business teams, the addition of every new teammate can impact how your organization culture evolves.

      Today, learning to manage millennials has become an increasingly sought after skill as well due to the increasing proportion of them in the workforce[8]. Some brand them as strawberries that are easily bruised and others loath their need for “meaning” and wearing t-shirts to work.

      How to Develop This Skill

      Naturally, there are many misconceptions surrounding millennials, and various businesses would do well to leverage their unique skills.

      A couple of ways to manage a millennial team include:

      Encourage a Flat Team Structure With Open Communication

      Maintain clear professional lines between supervisors and subordinates but keep communication channels open to ensure no negativity festers.

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      Offer Constructive Feedback

      Baby boomers are well known for their straightforward approach to delivering feedback. Millennials, on the other hand, don’t always take feedback in a form that could be construed as deep criticism.

      Being constructive with feedback ensures that we don’t coddle millennial workers but also tell them the things they need to hear.

      10. Maintaining a Network of Connectivity

      Instead of proposing a business that’s ambitiously and entirely disruptive to the supply or process chain in a respective industry, foster connections with other companies that cater to the same target customers as long as they provide a different service.

      By creating partnerships, both you and other businesses thrive simultaneously through creative avenues for customers to utilize your products and services for a holistically improved user experience.

      Sole market disruption isn’t always the best strategy to take. Not everybody has the opportunity, bandwidth, or financial capacity to dominate and monopolize a marketplace. See your potential for integration into other businesses and services as a good opportunity for co-collaborative marketing efforts with shared campaigns, split costs, and a strengthened customer database for everyone to tap into.

      How to Develop This Skill

      Regardless of the stage your business is in, never stop looking for ways to expand your network. Keep in contact with mentors you can look to for valuable industry advice that can help you avoid pitfalls and costly mistakes. Strengthen brand awareness by attending cross-industry events and casual meet-ups to open your business to reinvention and innovation.

      As the African proverb goes:

      “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

      Collaborating will get you where you want to go quicker and gear you up for further growth.

      More Tips on How to Succeed in Business

      Featured photo credit: Tyler Franta via unsplash.com

      Reference

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