6 Questions for a “Surviving in Chaos” era

News item – 17 year old Nive Jayasekar creates a mobile app for Home Depot for organizing projects over a weekend, wins $10,500, and she can’t decide wither or not to take job offer from Facebook.
Facebook Wants To Hire This 17-Year-Old But She Hasn’t Decided If She Wants The Job

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So, I was in an elevator recently with a man who was completely on task on his Blackberry.  As he looked up, I asked, “so, are you about ready to give your Blackberry up?  It is on its last legs, I read.”  His face registered the horror.  He said, “I’m just not ready.”  You know, the equivalent of the “they will have to pry it out of my hands” look.    After all, he grew up digitally on his Blackberry.  (And, after all, Blackberry is now “ancient” – the first ones came out in the days of the dinosaurs, way back in 1999).  He doesn’t want to learn the new replacement device.  But, he will have no choice.  If Blackberry survives, it will be a miracle.  (And, with a new touch screen, which I read just recently that RIM is  now preparing/developing.  The tiny little keyboard really is yesterday’s technology).

Chaos in 1987 – even more chaos today

The first book I presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis, way back in April, 1998, was The Circle of Innovation by Tom Peters.  A decade earlier, in 1987, Tom Peters wrote Thriving on Chaos.  The book begins with these words:

There are no excellent companies….  No companies are safe…  In 1987, and for the foreseeable future, there is no such thing as a solid, or even substantial lead, over your competitors.  Too much is changing for anyone to be complacent.    

This was true in 1987, has become more true as the years have gone by, and is even truer now than ever before.  Consider:  how secure do the following companies feel these days:  JC Penney; Research in Motion (BlackBerry); American Airlines, and a host of other companies?  I just read that Avon will probably disappear by the end of next year.

You know that each of these have had people, A+ players, with great insight and a terrific work ethic, work diligently to be competitive and stay competitive, and yet… their future is so very fragile, so very uncertain.

Tom Peters may say that we need to learn to “thrive” on chaos, but the part of the title that is on target is the “chaos” part.  Everything feels chaotic.

So, here’s some old, time-tested advice for surviving in this era of chaos.  Peters spoke of practicing “Proactive Management.”  Let’s put it this way – you’ve got to carve out plenty of time to think about your business, almost as much time as you carve out to spend on your business.

And, as you think about your business, you constantly ask these questions:

1)  What are our competitors doing that could do us in? How can we stay at least one step (preferably two, or more steps) ahead of them?
2)  Is our core business – our core product, our core service – genuinely “excellent?”  Is it genuinely competitive with what else is out there, and what else is coming right around the corner?
3)  What are we now doing that we could do better?
4)  What are we doing that we should just completely forget doing — that we should simply do no longer?
5)  What are the basics that we are neglecting?  (Are we having actual conversations with customers?  Are we listening to what they need rather than selling them on what we offer?)
6)  What are we doing to recruit, and keep, the best talent out there?  (There is a very real war for talent going on!).

There are other important questions to ask.  But the important point is this – it is a chaotic time.  A 17 year old may have the next idea that puts your business at risk…and if you don’t invest time in dealing with the chaos, thinking about your business, you may not have much business to conduct…

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