In a recent presentation, Andy Stanley, author of Next Generation Leader, which is on my Top Picks Leadership Book list, shared some of his recent thinking related to his 20-year-old church. It may seem like an odd source for business strategy advice, but I found his thoughts to be exceptional and very applicable to businesses that have been around for awhile.
Stanley and his leadership team asked the following rhetorical questions: If we had to do it again, what would we do over again? Why were we so successful? Why did we grow so fast? In Stanley’s case, his team concluded that when they launched North Point Community Church, it was the only church with its type of format in Atlanta. In other words (as we hope for in business!), they had no competition. As Stanley would say, “We had a uniquely better product.”
Today, churchgoers in Atlanta have many similar choices. As we know from Clayton Christensen and his disruptive innovation work at the Harvard Business School, it’s very difficult to change almost anything in a successful organization/business. To help those of us with 20-plus year successful businesses who want to continue to thrive, Stanley offered the following tips:
- Be a student, not a critic. As Steven Covey would say, “Seek to understand why others are providing a new approach to their product or service.” For you old-timers, remember what IBM said when the first Apple computer came out?
- Keep your eyes wide open. What trends may be going on that will affect your uniquely better product?
- Replace “How?” with “WOW!” Let me explain this one. Have you ever heard a young associate suggest a fresh, new idea and some old-timer says, “How can they do that?” Do you think that young associate will ever dare bring up a new, fresh idea again? On the other hand, what if the old-timer, like my mentor Ken Kunkel, would say, “Wow, I never thought of that. Maybe we should investigate and try it.” Actually, Kunkel had the following rule: If someone on the team had an idea, he would try his best to utilize or implement it in some way, and give lots of public praise to the person who had come up with the idea. Do you think Kunkel received more ideas using that approach? What about you? Do you say “How?” or “WOW!”?
- Finally, ask uniquely better questions and be open-minded to the answers.
Barbara and I are in our sixth year of Doescher Advisors. We plan to ask ourselves, and maybe some of you, this question: Do we have a uniquely better product?
We would encourage you to do the same.