Saturday, July 17, 2010

Democracy is a terrible system. The only thing worse than people trying to lead themselves is letting somebody else do it!

I am sitting in the shade under one of the apple trees in my garden reading one of Sweden’s daily newspapers. The world championship in football is now over so the papers can’t seem to find much to write about, except of course the upcoming parliamentary elections this fall. Fortunately for the general public there has popped up a juicy sex scandal with one of the ministers who has been forced to jump ship right before the election. Otherwise I think this election and its total lack of issues would be the biggest sleeping pill of the decade.

The TV debate between the leaders of the two main parties was comical. Debate in this case is probably not the right expression since they agree on all the key issues. The height of their “debate” was about who came up with an idea first before the other party stole it. It was sad and funny seeing them try to say the same thing in different ways so that the viewers would think that they actually had different points of view and that the other party would lead the country to a catastrophe. When all was said and done not even the expert commentators could explain how the parties differed significantly on the issues. ( I have always been amazed that “expert commentators” can spend an hour telling you what a politician just said in 30 minutes.)

In the end the Swedish people will have to go to the polls and decide who will lead the country for the next mandate period based on who they think can best execute the plans that all the parties agree upon not who has the best ideas. Maybe that isn’t so bad but I can’t help worrying that with everyone in such agreement we might be missing something. Leading a country in times like these requires diversity of thought and real debate. Many of the challenges facing not only Sweden but the world are so complicated that they should tax the facilities of our brightest and best.

Where is the opposition when politicians agree on all the important issues? Who is representing alternative thoughts and ideas? What professional politician wants to represent marginalized ideas and issues that go against the mainstream?

Politicians want power and power comes from winning elections. From the very beginning of the great experiment known as democracy, politicians have understood that they must be closely aligned with the sentiments of the majority of the people if they want to stay in power. Hordes of PR agencies and research organizations using modern methods for measuring public opinion keep politicians and political parties on track. Politicians are continuously updated on what can be said and done that will appeal to as many as possible? This inevitably leads to a harmonization of the parties towards the center of the mainstream of public thought. Any party that ventures too far from the mainstream will be punished at the polls! In the end, democracy is a terrible system. The only thing worse than people trying to lead themselves is letting somebody else do it!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Challenge of Or!

I am riding on the train on the way home from a very interesting speaking engagement at a management conference for a 50 year old company with patented industrial solutions. I can’t help but think about the similarities this company has with so many others.

The company is a powerful global player in their industry. Like many successful companies their success has been built on solid technological foundation based on high quality and innovation.

Today they face new challenges which require them to re-think virtually every aspect of their business. Continued focus on developing better products is an important success factor but it must be based on deeper analysis of “real” customer needs. The winners in industries like this will join strong products with innovative new approaches to sales and distribution. Great products once separated leaders from losers.

Today, great products only open the door to the playing field. Winners combine great products or services with innovative new approaches to sales, service, distribution and marketing. Turning products into services and services into products is something of a mantra across countless industries. As James C. Collins, Jerry I. Porras put in in there book Built to Last, great companies must take on the challenge of the “or”. Should we focus on margin or volume? The winners do both! Should we focus on developing great products or be great at sales and marketing? The winners know that success will require both!

The company I met has understood that their outstanding products are a key element of a successful mix but that they must be stronger on all the other elements as well.

Many companies are facing numerous questions like:

How do we redefine sales processes to better support our customers’ buying processes our products are used in such a broad range of industries?

What steps need to be taken to go from selling products to solutions?

How do we develop new and flexible business models that maximize cash flow throughout the value chain?

How can we best use IT systems and telecom services to support our own and our customers’ processes?

Do we need to redefine the scope of our business to consolidate our past success and build a stronger platform for future growth?