When Act Together Moving Services, a Victoria business that helps seniors downsize and move, onboards a new employee, it isn’t all doughnuts and policy-manual reviews. The company actually arranges for new employees to visit with happy past customers for tea and conversation. Act Together knows there isn’t anything that inspires new employees more than hearing from seniors who felt safe, cared for and understood by the great work the business does. Those conversations are transformative in a way no training video, office tour and “here’s your desk” could ever be. This isn’t a hot app; it’s a quiet innovation driving a critical business value: loyalty and engagement. Romeo’s Trucking, a Saskatoon-based firm that hauls across Canada, has a significant prejudice against modern trucks (Tupperware in trucking language). Their love for vintage rigs has brought them the attention of international customers and serves to attract drivers in a tight trucking-labour market. It also turns out there are expense- and balancesheet benefits to running older but reliable machinery. Not sexy (unless you are a trucker) but very innovative. These organizations zig when others zag. Squeezing that innovation and reinvention out of a tired industry takes as much creativity and courage as creating a new iPhone app. The Beginner’s Mind All of these stories point to one common feature of innovation: looking at assumptions embedded in an industry or a business and taking none of them for granted. In the discipline of Zen, it’s called shoshin or “beginner’s mind” — and it’s about paying
attention and seeing the world through a beginner’s eyes. It’s how Brian Scudamore and Romeo’s saw what no one else saw. Innovation and reinvention in old-economy businesses are not only possible, they are necessary. There is no growth in just doing more or just working harder. In a world of tight labour markets, nervous capital and bottomfeeding pricing by your competitors, doing things differently is the only way forward. And it begins with a beginner’s mind. Get Intentional If you haven’t explored intentional innovation as a strategy for growth, here are some places to start: w Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Like Scudamore, figure out what the real pain point is. Don’t assume it is the usual pablum of quality or customer service. Dig deeper and ask real customers real questions. Try to see with a beginner’s mind, without preconceptions about what can or can’t be done. w Put yourself in your employees’ shoes. As Act Together Moving did, get past what everyone else does to hire and build a team. Go straight for the heart. w Tread boldly. Fools may rush in where angels fear to tread, but so do entrepreneurs. Business leadership is seldom a place for cautious angels. Do your due diligence, of course, but just because everyone else says “There’s no gold there,” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pan the creek anyhow. Innovation rejects the idea of common sense. Common sense said there is no profit in a market’s long tail. Amazon saw it differently. Common sense also said old trucks have no business in a modern trucking business. Romeo’s didn’t agree.
w Pay attention. Most innovation is unplanned. Scudamore was getting his house painted, not looking for a new business. The HVLS Fan Company in Kentucky changed its name to Big Ass Fans (now Big Ass Solutions) because customers kept calling it that. There were no months of painful brainstorming with consultants, just paying attention on the way to becoming a $34M company with $2B goals and a cool name. w Drive a stake through the phrase “best practices.” Read this column long enough and you’ll start to anticipate my antipathy for banal language. Here’s one: best practices. Look at every best practice in your industry and in your market and challenge it: pricing, delivery, talent acquisition, core products and services, who your customers really are or what they really want — and pull those assumptions apart. There are no best practices. There are only successful and unsuccessful practices. Innovation happens everywhere and at every level in a growing business. There is no growth without it. There is also no innovation without three things: paying attention, risk taking and hard work. So forget the programs and workshops on innovation. Learn instead to listen, to see with a beginner’s mind, to take intelligent risks based on what you observe — and then put in the hours. Do all that, and innovation just becomes what you do every day. Clemens Rettich of Great Performances Management has an MBA in Executive Management, with 20 years of experience in education, management and small business.
by Angela Coté
Demystifying Doing Business with the U.S.
Helpful Tips for Winning Over
When it comes to doing business with our neighbours to the south, there are some big cultural divides to bridge. Here’s how to do it.
Communicate with confidence
iven the recent election results, I’m likely not the only one wondering what might change in regard to doing business in the United States. As a franchise consultant with industry connections and prospects all over North America, one thing I do know is that regardless of the country’s president, it is essential to understand and respect the cultural differences between how Canadians and Americans do business. Anyone who knows me would tell you that 50 Douglas
I am very comfortable in a room full of people I’ve never met. This pays off in business, especially as an independent consultant who must do a lot of networking to build my business. However, I recently signed up to attend a franchise conference in Philadelphia — my first in the U.S. I was honoured to have been asked to be part of a panel on Unit Economics, but it hit me while preparing for the event that I would be mixing, mingling and sharing my knowledge with a potentially
Our American Counterparts
Get to know key players in your industry by following them on social media and ultimately connecting Don’t be shy about touting your company’s strengths
Engage regularly with your American connections to continuously build trust Listen and learn, always giving them an opportunity to make their point Stay clear of expressing political opinions