Staying at the top: Are you the smartest person in the room?

If you think you are the smartest person in the room, you better move to another space.  

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If you think you are the smartest person in the room, you better move to another space. If you are not confused some of the time, you are clinging to the cloudy illusion of certainty.

Ours is a perfectly imperfect business world. Unpredictability and disruption have become almost standard operating procedures. Now whatever business you are in, you are up against ‘super competitors’ who are either treading on your turf or have a strong influence. Perhaps the best way to compete is to begin to consider how the tech giants: Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon stay on top of their game. Begin to think about how they think.

At one time, Michael Porter’s five forces analysis was a useful framework to analyse a sector or industry. Now in a digital world, the lines of where a business segment begins and ends are completely blurred, often on three dimensions. In Kenya, for instance, telecom dominates banking like payments and money transfers, banc assurance is a reality, and an algorithm determines what you will watch next, and decides advertising revenues. How does one move from being frozen, stuck in a ditch, to making small bold moves?

Begin with what we think we know

What do we believe is happening, that’s the ‘best guess’ hypothesis one has to go about proving, or disproving. Careful, don’t let your ego rule, be open to the possibility that what you think is true, is the corporate equivalent of fake news.

Deconstruct the business problem, and break it down into small more manageable chunks. Visualise and reduce problem elements down to their true essence. Apply first principles thinking to understand what is known, aiming to create original thinking, not working necessarily from ‘copy cat’ analogies of what others have done.

Always curious

With child-like questioning keep asking why and why not. If your team thinks they know everything you are sunk. Leverage tech, use an AI tool like Chat GPT to ask, for instance, What is global best practice? How do we become more effective and profitable? Who are the market leaders and why? A touch predictable, it will give a comprehensive checklist of factors to address.

Energy, drive and initiative

Hire people smarter than you, people who are fun to work with. And, aren’t afraid to tell the boss, to ‘think again’. It's not uncommon that a very small team of ‘little David’s’ can be 10 times more productive than a group of Goliath-like giants, only full of noise and hype.

Forget the voodoo of HR performance management, simply treat people like you would like to be treated, and provide a stimulating work space. No micro-management, let the bright sparks demonstrate their analytical and creative skills. Check in frequently when invited, and celebrate contributions. A simple mention of ‘well done’ leads to snowballing greater confidence, and taking on more responsibility.

See through Dragonfly multiple lenses and perspectives

We often aren’t aware of it, but it’s easy to get stuck in looking at a problem through one’s own precious tinted eyeglasses, with a clear confirmation bias. Seeing only what one wants to see. Imagine just observing yourself from 10 feet away. Take on the perspective of the customer, the non-customer [as this is where the big market is] and the competition. What do they see, that you may be missing?

Constant small experiments

Stressing co-creation is the secret sauce of the tech giants. Make low-cost, low-risk, reversible experiments creating products that address pressing customers’ problems. Have an incubation process that allows staff to experiment and fail, profiting from the lessons learned.

The problem with using existing data sets is that it is looking into the rearview mirror of the past. These days it is very easy to, for instance, crowd-source ideas, and do simple A – B testing, seeing which version of the product performs better. And, create MVPs – minimal viable products to get real-time feedback from customers.

Take an ecosystem approach

Tap into the wisdom of others. Sun Microsystems cofounder Bill Joy, said: “It’s better to create an ecology that gets all the world’s smartest people toiling in your garden for your own goals. If you rely on your own employees, you’ll never solve all of your customer needs.”

David is a director at aCatalyst Consulting | [email protected]

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