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Boldly Take Your Business Where No One Has Gone Before

Sep 11, 2008
The future belongs to those who
believe in the beauty of their dreams.

--Eleanor Roosevelt

Another of the big hurdles to making improvements is found in the bee analogy: Many people limit themselves to that concept of having a bee bring some pollen from another flower to improve a person or organization with some added attribute. The purpose of such pollen spreading is seen as incorporating that which already exists elsewhere as a way to become the equal of the other person or organization. Think of this as the copycat strategy, a preferred method of competing that most people and organizations favor.

Here's how the copycat strategy works: You watch what others are doing, and if it seems to work, you rush out with your own version of what's working. But usually the results from this strategy are mixed. Why? Almost everyone else is doing the same thing, and cutthroat competition ensues in a market that's now glutted with capacity and attention. In addition, those who come in later are often seen by customers and suppliers as less authentic and desirable than the provider who pioneered the offering or approach.

Wouldn't it be better to leap well beyond what anyone is doing now? Sure it would, but organizations rarely work on that direction. Why? Leaders often lack a sense of what the leap ahead will be that everyone will want, and the organizations almost always lack the business processes and experience to create such leaps.

Copycats, in other words, don't easily turn into genetic engineers creating new varieties that deliver vast improvements.

Back in the 1970s, it was popular for companies doing their planning to find a single company that could serve as a model for everything they felt they needed to copy. These companies were called "success models," and thousands of executives identified such success models and began copying them with even more attention and rigor than before.

Realizing that this approach would lead to disaster for most companies, I encouraged those executives I worked with to create success models that borrowed excellent elements from many companies in a variety of industries and circumstances. In this way, it was easy for those who liked to use copycat tactics to put together programs that would exceed what competitors would be doing in the immediate future.

If you can't change the cat, at least change what the cat looks at. Clients found this approach worked well for them.

In 1977, I spent a lot of time looking around to see where people would have the easiest time improving their performance. From that thinking and research, it became clear that opportunities that provided both the most near- and long-term benefits would be best to focus on. It also became clear that most people emphasized what helped the near term, even if it hurt the long term, and that many long-term focused individuals were willing to virtually destroy the present situation in order to grasp at straws that they hoped would turn into something in the future.

From that investigation, I learned that the most attractive opportunities could be found where organizations and offerings were already growing rapidly, their profit margins were expanding, and little added money was needed to pay for the future growth.

Unfortunately, that delightful conjunction was almost always mismanaged to the detriment of future performance, regardless of how much potential existed. Why? The organizations usually chose to maximize what they had today, rather than build on their potential in new ways. In essence, they were acting like copycats of their own outdated ways to succeed.

Having been well trained by my mother to keep seeking higher levels of perfection, I realized that people could accomplish a lot more. One basis for that opinion came from comparing how poorly most organizations did new things compared to how effectively they did the tried-and-true.

Was it possible to take the tried-and-true for a person and build on that foundation to create incredible effectiveness in what was new and of enormous potential? What results might follow?

Consider this: If people can successfully turn their copycat skills towards new targets and break through to higher levels of performance, what other habits might be harnessed for more productive results?

Trying to harness more habits to achieve breakthroughs seemed worth a try. Here's why: Even people with few habits often had virtues hidden within their lack of habits.

For example, they might be willing to leave others alone. Couple that inertia with partners who would be harmed by receiving interference, and you could accomplish more than more active people would with these same partners.

One example of this combination was our work in helping clients find and make successful acquisitions. Our studies showed that purchasing other businesses succeeds best when the acquirer can add lots of immediate and valuable improvements to the newly purchased business or when the acquired operation is left alone to pursue an appropriate improvement path that would be harmed by interference. That latter circumstance most often occurs when the purchased organization is a capable innovator with a great backlog of projects to work on. Such organizations can often be found in the hidden byways of larger operations that are focused in a different direction.

Eventually we realized that creating perfection would entail doing things that no one seemed to have done before. In the field of acquisitions, perfection might mean both adding great, immediate improvements from the acquirer while stimulating the innovative capability of the purchased organization to a large multiple of the former level.

How might you do that? Here's an example: In the early 1980s I had a chance to work on that problem. A market-leading business was languishing in a company where its activities didn't fit with anything else. The parent company's top management saw limited potential.

As a result, the parent company kept the business starved for the funds required to develop new products and services. But prototype development of new products and services went on anyway in secret within the business. A client of mine had a smaller, somewhat related, business that looked at the success and potential of market-leading business with great envy. I was asked to think about how my client might put the two operations together for the best results.

I began by looking at what both organizations would do naturally if left alone. My client would run with technology opportunities early and often. My client also knew many other types of markets that the firm would continually explore and develop. But most of the leaders of my client's business were within three years of retirement, and little had been done to groom successors.

The market-leading business was very cautious in its marketing and made few mistakes. Its quality was high. Its leaders, about 15 to 20 years younger than the client's leaders, understood the potential for adding new technology for their business and were capable of doing so.

I brought the two management teams together to see how their personalities mixed. By observing that they naturally employed mutual respect and courtesy, I suggested that the market-leading business take the top jobs in each function except for the CEO position.

The client's leader in that business would be retiring in two years. I proposed that both leaders share the CEO position until the client's leader retired, at which time the acquired company's leader would take sole charge. This joint leadership would help the two organizations get to know one another and coordinate activities between the two groups, which would continue to be in different locations.

I recommended that the remaining few young Turks who wanted to build a big new business in the client organization spin out of the combined organization by becoming an independent unit focused on one high-potential opportunity.

That way of combining the businesses was decidedly unusual. Typically, the executives and managers in the company that paid the price gets all the good jobs somewhat like conquerors in wars grab the spoils from the conquered. In this case, the newly combined operations benefited by greatly accelerating their growth, profitability, and innovation.

Later this new unit became the core of the acquiring company. This success showed that you could have your cake and eat it, too, when it comes to spreading strengths and innovation to create a more effective organization for creating breakthroughs! And the results further bolstered the unconscious development within me of an idea that would become the project to make 400 years of normal global improvements between 2015 and 2035.
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through and receive tips by e-mail through registering for free at

http://www.fastforward400.com .
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