Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Uniquely Better...All the Time

Where can we find our next 'uniquely better product'?

At a recent leadership summit, Andy Stanley talked about his church's struggle. For a while they were growing a lot. For some time, that growth has slowed or stalled. Once, their church services were uniquely better. Now, there are lots of churches operating under their model. What should they be doing now? What's the next uniquely better 'product' that they should find?

This is relevant to all of our organizations. Where can we find our next uniquely better 'product'? (There's a particular reason why the question is phrased as 'finding' the new idea.)

The idea has to be unique. It can't be copycat. Yet it still has to be recognizable. I've seen a lot of products that look different but weren't unique. I've seen a few products that were unique but not recognizable.

It's also got to be better. What's the competition for a Segway? A bike, walking, a car? Is it better for your health? For the environment? What if you can't use it on sidewalks because it's motorized? There are lots of better products out there that fail. Check any list of major product/service failures and they were better at something...but not better at what the customer wanted. One organization had a better water filter for people to use in underdeveloped countries. It would purify the unclean water and reduce illnesses. However, it wasn't easy to use--was one more thing to carry a mile or more to the river, and then it wasn't clear how to operate it--and therefore it wasn't adopted.

A classic example of a uniquely better product that hasn't gotten the acclaim it deserves: the Kaman (pronounced like 'command' without the 'd') helicopter. It's more stable and easier to fly--doesn't require a tail rotor to counter a single rotor's forces.

Yet when you think of helicopters you think of Sikorsky and other manufacturers even though Kaman has been around almost as long as the others.

'Someone somewhere is messing with the rules of the prevailing [business] model,' according to Andy Stanley in his leadership summit talk. Someone is already challenging the assumptions and presumption on which you operate your business. Unfortunately, it's not within your organization...unless you're one of the few leaders who encourages innovative thought. Most of us don't recognize the new uniquely better idea because it challenges what we know, or think we know, and challenges our comfortable of way of operating. It's risky to venture out there with something new.

Our best hope and responsibility as leaders is to develop a culture that recognizes the uniquely better. We must transform the culture (and ourselves) when resistance to the new builds up. It's only natural, Stanley says, that we resist things we don't understand nor control. If it's outside our understanding or control, we discount the new idea. How many buggy whip makers thought there wouldn't be many automobiles in the world because of the risk of mechanical breakdown?

Therefore, we need to be:

  1. Students, not critics
  2. Keeping our eyes and minds open, listening to outsiders
  3. Replacing our 'How?' response to 'Wow! Tell me more!'
  4. Asking uniquely better questions, i.e. 
    • Is this unique
    • What would make it unique?
    • Is it better? Really?
Apple was the dominant technology player for many decades. It developed uniquely better products but was usually late to enter the marketplace. And it's not enough to guarantee success. I think the real competitive advantage isn't going to be in the uniquely better product or service. It's going to be in the uniquely better work culture, a culture that a high portion of employees who are fully engaged. Unfortunately a minority of leaders will be capable of creating this. Fortunately those that can be part of the ten percent will have uniquely better work product or service...all the time...because their team is working together, finding the new idea and figuring out how to do it.

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