Today, I picked my newspaper up off the lawn and brought it in to my house to read with my coffee. I didn’t have to take my daughter to school because of President’s Day, so I came back inside my house.
From all indications, this ritual is on the road to extinction. Many reports predict that all newspapers will transform to on-line versions where readers can see the content on a PC, mobile device, tablet, cell phone, or other electronic piece. Indeed, some newspapers have already gone that route, in the midst of many others folding.
Many of you may not be old enough to remember the milkman. When I was little, competing dairies would deliver two bottles of milk, ice cream, butter, and other goods directly to your door. Only one service still does that today, Schwann’s, and it has added many other food items and ready-to-eat meals in order to be profitable. If we don’t intervene, the delivery of daily print newspapers will go the way of the milkman.
This does not have to be the case! I am reminded in the now-classic work by Jim Collins, Good-to-Great, where he discusses the Hedgehog Concept. Of the three components, one is “understanding the denominator that drives your economic engine.” Or in other words, what is it that keeps your lights turned on?
For newspapers, this is not subscriptions. The number of subscribers to daily and weekend newspapers continues to dwindle nationwide. If the denominator were subscribers, print newspapers would be history.
Clearly, the economic factor is advertising. As long as companies are willing to advertise in print editions of papers, we will still have them produced and delivered.
If you love your paper delivered to your door, if you like picking it up off the lawn and taking it with you when you leave in the morning, the key is not to encourage your friends and co-workers to subscribe. Rather, it is to frequent the advertisers who invest in the paper with your business, and further, to let them know that the ad they placed in the paper influenced your buying decision. You can say at Macy’s, “I want to see the dress you advertised in the paper on Sunday,” which reinforces that is how you got there.
The simplest way to reinforce print advertising is to use the coupons that businesses pay for to print, giving you discounts or tw0-for-one purchases. If customers don’t use them, advertisers will stop paying for the newspapers to print them. And, when advertisers stop paying for printing, that will turn out the lights for papers.
Think about that. Do you really want a world where there are no print newspapers? Where everyone stares at a cell phone or tablet on the bus? Where you can’t sneak a peek at a headline and make a mental note to find more about it later? Where you eat cereal with your spoon in one hand and your stylus in the other? Where you have to send a link to a friend instead of clipping an article with a handwritte note and mailing it? Really – do you also appreciate receiving e-Cards?
Not me. I’ve got my coupons from Saturday’s and Sunday’s paper. I’m ready to turn them in this week. I want to support print editions.
The good news is that there are plenty of households that still subscribe to physical newspapers. Many homes on my street, including me, have more than one paper thrown and waiting for them each day. I also take the print edition of the Wall Street Journal. We are not starting from a base of zero.
If enough people want to keep papers printed, we can do that. It is just a decision that enough of us need to make and want to do.
How about you? Let’s talk about it really soon!
Maybe the most-known and most influential business understanding of the last few years is Jim Collins’ “Hedgehog principle.” You know the three circles:
In the book I am presenting tomorrow morning at the First Friday Book Synopsis, Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t by Kevin Maney, Jim Collins writes the foreword and is quoted again near the end. Here is a key excerpt:
“There are two ways to get to the top. One is to climb an existing ladder, which can be a bit crowded. The other is to make your own ladder, and put yourself at the top.”
So, aim at a clear sense of what distinguishes you from those around you… This is counsel not just for a company or organization, but for an individual. In other words, work on your own personal hedgehog concept, your own hedgehog differentiation.
And, it is not just “what can you be “best in the world at,” but simply, what do you do best personally, and how can you cultivate that, nurture that, improve on that, and then leverage that to build your success? “Figure out what you can be best at, and create a category that fits.”
The book argues that you have to choose to make a key trade-of: between high-fidelity and high-convenience. Fidelity is the total experience of something. Convenience is how easy (or hard) it is to get what you want. For example, if you are not the “best” real estate agent, then make yourself readily accessible/convenient – return every call, always answer your phone, make it very, very easy to get to you – excel at convenience!
So, what is in your personal hedgehog circles? What can you do best? Figure that out, cultivate that, and build on it constantly on your own road to success.
I had a conversation with a CEO of a company that is doing pretty well in the midst of this recession. A lot of companies aren’t, and he is experiencing a new “challenge.” Others — other people, other companies – are trying to get him to expand his company’s efforts into areas that really aren’t the business of his company. He told me of his absolute intent to stay focused – to keep doing what that company is best at, and only do what that company is best at. In other words, to say no to anything that would water down his emphatic yes that is most critical to his success. To stay focused on the right thing – this is one of the great challenges of business (and life) success.
I thought of Jim Collins and Peter Drucker as I pondered the power of focus. We all know Collin’s hedgehog principle: what are you passionate about? What can you be the best at? And, what drives your economic engine – that is, how can you make money doing what you are passionate about and what you can be the best at?
Collins is helpful. But Peter Drucker, forever providing great wisdom, boiled it down to three questions. (I apologize – I know from whom I heard these, but I don’t know where Drucker first wrote/spoke them):
Question 1: What is your business?
Question 2: Who is your customer?
Question 3: What does your customer consider value?
Focus. Finding your passion and your true expertise helps you discover what your business should be. But your customer will decide if it is valuable — and your job, from then on, is to provide such value.
I feel challenged. What about you?
Note: a later version of these questions, with a couple of new ones added, can be found in the book: The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization (J-B Leader to Leader Institute/PF Drucker Foundation) by Peter Drucker. Here is the new version (and the book offers essays on each, with co-authors):
Peter Drucker’s five questions are:
1) What is our Mission? — with Jim Collins
2) Who is our Customer? — with Phil Kotler
3) What does the Customer Value? — with Jim Kouzes
4) What are our Results? — with Judith Rodin
5) What is our Plan? — with V. Kasturi Rangan
There is a clear finding in the books I have presented so far in 2009. If you put Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell with Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, you learn that getting really, really good at anything requires a lot, a whole lot, of hard work, with a discipline of pursuing “deliberate practice” over the long haul.
Gladwell puts it this way (in a music context): “Practicing: that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better” (p. 39).
Colvin pursues this further, suggesting the specific steps required to “deliberately practice”:
What Deliberate Practice Is And Isn’t: For starters, it isn’t what most of us do when we’re “practicing.”
• It’s designed specifically to improve performance
• It can be repeated a lot
• Feedback on results is continuously available
• It’s highly demanding mentally
• It isn’t much fun
• Deliberate practice is not the only thing (luck; circumstances play a part) – but without it, greatness is not achieved and does not show up…
So, if it requires much hard work to get really good at something, and for those who do so, they discover, and admit, that deliberate practice is never fun, what in the world will drive someone to put in such practice? Colvin says that it must come from intrinsic, not extrinsic, motivation. And he has a chapter on the most crucial ingredient in this mix: passion. In his chapter on passion, he states: “The consistent finding reported by many researchers examining domains is that high creative achievement and intrinsic motivation go together. Creative people are focused on the task (How can I solve this problem?) and not on themselves (What will solving this problem do for me?)” (pp. 188-189).
The best ideas and observations from the best business books really do tie together. Jim Collins in Good to Great describes the Hedgehog Concept, in which the first circle is this: “What are you passionate about?” And now, a new book by “one of the world’s leading thinkers on creativity and innovation,” Ken Robinson, is entitled: the Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. (the Element is my selection for the May First Friday Book Synopsis). He states: “I use the term the Element to describe the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.” Passion is truly a dominant theme in current business thinking.
So — here is the question that we each need to ask: What do I care deeply enough about that I am willing to put in significant time, over the long haul, to get better at it? Even if the time I put in is not necessarily fun.
So: What are you passionate about?