Posted: June 15, 2012
I’m an optimist. I recognised this many years ago and I’ve been reminded of the fact daily ever since. I look around me, see and hear the responses others have to situations that we are all facing and its obvious that my responses are different. I don’t know why this should be and and I’m not about to start trying to understand it, but what I do know is that it impacts in many ways on my life and never more so than right now.
With the economies of just about every country now in turmoil every business, anywhere in the world is having to make significant changes. If you have followed my work for any length of time, you’ll have probably picked up that I like change. Change is good, same is bad. You are only as good as your NEXT big idea. I can’t stand companies who strike it lucky and then settle into the rut of replicating what they did time and time again to milk it for all its worth. I don’t like them because there is an inevitable consequence to this approach – failure. The world moves on, customer needs change, attitudes swing, everything is in a state of flux. It is a very lucky business that has a product that will be equally successful through time with no change at all and right now I can’t even think of one.
I’ve been inside more companies over the years than I could even list and it has become clear to me that successful companies all have a spirit of optimism. Talk to their employees and their chatter is about HOW they are going to achieve things not WHETHER they can achieve them and that’s simply because they don’t consider for one minute that they won’t get there. And why should they? Anything is achievable. We are our own limitations.
I have never been far away from sports of one kind or another and the great sporting enlightenment of the last few decades has been sports psychology. At an elite level most athletes have equal capabilities. What separates them is most often belief in their ability to succeed. That’s where visualisation plays its part. Most athletes these days will sit and visualise their success, sometimes for hours. This conditions their brain so that it doesn’t consider failure as an option and that in turn enables them to perform to their full potential. It works, but if you don’t believe me consider this. Within twelve months of Roger Banister achieving the one-minute mile, 37 other runners did the same thing. What caused this surge of performance after years of believing it was impossible? The belief that it could be done! I’ve seen sportspeople who habitually performed below their skill level, transformed. What’s more, once they realise it’s working it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle – confidence increases, performance increases, success increases, confidence increases etc… It also works with sportspeople who are not in the elite group, even weekend warriors.
Anyway, back to business and why its clear to me which companies are going to make the transition that will earn them a place in the new world market.
I hear organisations all over the world acknowledging that they have to change to survive, but very few actually end up making the changes that are necessary. The reason for this is a combination of comfort with the status quo and fear of failure. Firstly, these organisations don’t have the change culture that I mentioned earlier (You are only as good as your NEXT big idea) so it’s not their habit to constantly look for improvements or changes. Secondly, they are, both individually as employees and on a corporate level terrified of doing something that will go wrong.
This fear is based on the failure to recognise that we are all capable of succeeding at anything. Anything is possible it’s just a matter of how badly you want it. If one company can innovate then you can. It’s just a matter of self-belief. My advice is, instead of focusing on the potential for failure, turn your attention to the risk of failing to exploit an opportunity, because that’s all that matters.
Attitude change like this has to start at the top. If you are a manager who accepts failure as inevitable or who doesn’t assume success, you need to pay a visit to a motivator or business psychologist, or you could quit of course if you think you’ll never make the change! (think about that comment, it’s deep) If you choose to re-focus your mind your next step has to be to eliminate all the doubters in your organisation. You can do this either by firing or re-training them. The latter is the best option of course, but you are going to have to focus a great deal of attention on internal marketing to pull it off.
Once you have introduced your organisation to positive thinking you’ll be surprised what you can achieve. Someone asked one of my contractors this week how sure they were that they would deliver a particular task. “Absolutely” was the unhesitating reply, but the questioner wasn’t convinced. “How can you be so certain?” came the response, to which my contractor replied “Anything can be done, its just a matter of how much time or money or effort you put behind it”. That task would never have been attempted until we came on the scene, but they’ll do it now and it will work and it will improve their business performance and I know that because my contractor recognises that anything is achievable. What’s more, like the cycle of positive thought I referred to earlier, the achievement will fuel further, bigger achievements for the company concerned.
It definitely pays to be an optimist.
Posted: June 7, 2012
As you contemplate the austerity that your government has wrought upon you, spare a thought for how national branding can make the whole thing both more acceptable and successful. You don’t believe me? Well try this.
So tied up are we with the dire straights that Greece finds itself in, we might forget that not so long ago Latvia faced a worse economic plight than Greece or Portugal are facing right now. Latvia fixed it with extremely stringent austerity measures and bounced back to become a very successful economy, in a far shorter time than we are anticipate will be the lot of the Greeks. What’s more, during the process their government was re-elected. So, what’s the trick?
There’s a hint in the fact that at the time of their crisis, polls of the Latvian public revealed a marked spirit of shared endeavour or one-ness. They were definitely meeting the challenge in the spirit of all for one and one for all. Now, that’s a state of collective minds that only a strong national brand can generate. While the Greek people (and to some extent pretty well all of the rest of us) play the blame game and try to lay responsibility for the mess on someone other than themselves, the Latvians kinda’ got the fact that arguing about whose fault it was, wasn’t going to fix it, and knuckled down to the task. Result – they fixed it in record time and suffered far less than the rest of us are going to unless we wise up fast. The big tick in the satisfaction box also makes the exercise self-perpetuating, serving to strengthen the community spirit and give the subject organisation or country the scope for more and bigger challenges.
The difference between Latvia and Greece or Portugal is national pride. The Greeks, despite their claims to the contrary don’t have any. If they did they would have been paying their taxes for the last few decades, which might have averted their current plight. Greeks are largely in it for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are any different from most of the rest of us, driven as we are by the belief that the only difference between happiness and abject misery is lodasamoney. From that perspective it’s but a short step to topping Gran for her pension.
National pride, in turn, is a product of good national branding (A subject that I have been beating on about for years). Once you have that sorted you can do some neat stuff – like win wars, bring home the world cup or sort one of the worst financial crises in recent history, in no time at all.
In fact, national branding is no different from any other kind of branding and the benefits it brings are no different either. Contrary to what I sometimes think is popular myth among businesspeople, branding isn’t just for customers, it’s for employees too. In fact, employees are where you start with any brand development programme, because unless they are on-board and have that feeling of belonging you aren’t even going to get to first base with customers.
A strong brand is represented, among other things, by a spirit of shared responsibility and those businesses that have set about building one have found that with the right guidance it can be channeled in any direction. Southwest Airlines employees famously went to all kinds of extreme lengths to create one of the most successful airlines in commercial aviation history. ABB Brown Boveri returned from the jaws of death and reduced their product development time from three years to three months. A one-man-and-a-dog operation called Saatchi & Saatchi (The real one not the one we know today) did the reverse takeover trick on the monolith Garland Compton and went on to build the world’s biggest advertising agency and Apple have persuaded millions of people that lap-tops with iffy software are best thing since sliced bread. I could cite innumerable others, but you get the idea.
So, if you are running a business or a country that’s facing a bit of a challenge right now, consider what the power of a strong brand can achieve and start building yours. You’ll be able to achieve more with less, probably give your competitors a good kicking and could even do all of this with a smile on your collective face throughout.