Your core business may not be what you think it is

We are caught in tension between our human inclination to be faithful to products, forms, systems, methodologies, practices, and procedures that we have inherited and our constituents increasing lack of response to them. There are some benefits that result from using familiar forms.

They are comfortable. Like that pair of jeans and that old tee-shirt, they fit, the remind us of good times, and their costs are buried in the past.

They are reassuring. We’ve used them before, have measured the results, and become confident in what they did…even if they don’t necessarily do now what they did then.

They are manageable. Because they’ve been around for a while, we’ve become fairly adept at controlling them.

But there is danger in this. Their comfort, reassurance, and manageability tend to chain them to us. We are understandably reluctant to abandon them for what may be untried and unproven products, forms, systems, methodologies, practices, and procedures. And, just because something is new does not mean we should make the switch.

But, the converse is also true. Newness is not the only criteria for making a change, nor is it even the most critical criteria. We need not engage new things simply because they are new. Evaluation and qualification must be determined. If, and only if, new technology, new methodology, new products propel us toward our vision, or get us back on track toward our vision, then and only then should we latch onto it. Deliberation and then deliberate action are called for.

When Lowe’s embarked on the brave new world of reorienting the company in an attempt to bring its forms, systems, methodologies, practices, and procedures into the 21st century, they readily admitted that the probability of failure was greater than the probability of success. This merely proves my three benefits from using the familiar listed above and explains why so many leaders are reluctant to depart from it.

Nonetheless, the tension we as leaders must contend with remains. If anything is constant and predictable it is change and its partner unpredictability.

So why am I even writing about it?

Because the companies and organizations that survive are those that are best at adapting. Agility, flexibility, and adaptability are hallmarks of a vibrant company and organization.

About a year ago I spent 9 weeks in Uganda. On the way there I had a 12 hour layover in Dubai. There are excellent accommodations inside the terminal. I could get a room at an excellent hotel at a decent price without having to clear customs. I cannot hardly bear sitting in a terminal for 12 hours waiting for a connecting flight especially after a 14 hour flight to get there. So I booked a room, checked in, and began a search in the shopping concourse for a restaurant for dinner. The restaurant I selected was upscale and pleasant.

Fixating on a methodology is okay when you’re trying to execute a tactic

Making a note of its location, I determined to dine there again on my return trip. When I did I discovered that the menu had changed. There was no printed menu anymore. The new menu was an iPad. Swiping through the pages I made my selection which the waiter then tapped in and the order transmitted to the kitchen. iPads are expensive, but then so are quality printed menus. Digital tablets are readily updatable; prices can be quickly adjusted to market conditions, menu items can be added or deleted.

Kodak actually developed and owned most of the patents for digital photography. As they embarked into the new product line of digital cameras, a consultant convinced them to abandon that and return to their core business.

But their core business is not, and never was, film photography. Their core business was, and still is, the capturing of images. The medium by which that happened changed with time. Their core business was no more film focused (no pun intended) than it was Brownie cameras. Those were mere technologies and products that propelled them toward their vision of providing images for commercial and personal use.

The vision remains constant, or at least it should have. The consultant who convinced them to return to their “core business” is misguided and the members of the Board of Directors who agreed with his prescription either misunderstood the company’s vision or got cold feet and decided to return to the familiar even if it results in the demise of a great company.

What’s really your core business? Once you determine what it is, you are getting closer to your vision.

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