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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Look Outside

During the holiday party season I asked a simple question that surprisingly took many business executives by surprise: “What are your biggest opportunities for next year?”

“Good question. I hadn’t really thought about business in that way,” almost all replied. Then they got quite animated.

You see, most of us get bogged down in the “how to run” our business, our organization, our projects. How to increase customer loyalty 2 percentage points. How to generate more sales leads. How to improve order pace.. How to increase efficiencies. How to implement new systems. How to measure performance.

Too much “how” and not enough “what” is a recipe for slow growth, both professionally and for business. Plus, let’s be honest, too much focus on “how” without enough “what” can be exhausting and demoralizing. It’s far more energizing and strategic to ask questions like, “What are the opportunities? What are the biggest obstacles? What’s most relevant to our prospects? What new partnerships might help us grow more quickly?”

Peter Drucker has long advised business executives to look outside the company – and their industries -- to observe new patterns and connections. By doing so, we’re then able to see opportunities and focus more on “what.”

“For strategy, we need organized information about the environment,” he wrote in Peter Drucker on the Profession of Management. “Strategy has to be based on information about markets, customers and non customers; about technology in one’s own industry and others; about the changing world economy. Major changes start outside an organization.”

Yet research geeks, take note. Drucker warns about going too deep. He learns enough to see patterns and important connections but not enough to lose his point of view.

Gary Hamel, another of my favorite business thinkers, says that “a fresh way of seeing is often more valuable than sheer brainpower.

“One of the reasons many people fail to fully appreciate what’s changing is because they’re down at the ground level, lost in a thicket of confusing, conflicting data. You have to make time to step back and ask yourself, ‘What’s the nig story that cuts across all these little facts.’”

Look outside in 2005. You might just see how to be different in ways that can make a real difference.

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