Innovation: First Mover Advantage Isn’t What You Thought

All this talk (including mine) about reinvention.  Well you have to consider all sides and this is an important one.

Innovation does not need another advocate. It has acquired divine status, with even politicians promoting its virtues, promising that “we will innovate our way” out of any mess in which we find ourselves.

There is, however, one little problem: evidence. A close scrutiny of the empirical work suggests that the market supremacy of innovators is questionable, often distorted by biased assumptions and inadequate design. Many of the more rigorous studies show that innovators produce lackluster returns. Even those studies that identify a modest first-mover edge find that it has been receding over time.

Who does capture the benefits of new ideas, products, and models? Imitators. They get a free ride, avoid dead ends, capitalize on the shortcomings of early offerings or tweak the originals to better fit shifting consumer tastes. And yet, imitators rarely get the recognition they deserve: When was the last time someone received an Imitator of the Year Award?

Eli Broad, who built not one but two Fortune 500 companies — KB Home and SunAmerica — would be a good nominee for a lifetime achievement award for successful imitation. This excerpt from Broad’s recent book, which collects the insights and lessons he learned during his career, explains why.  Read More….Strategy and business The Value of Being Second

Good Things Happen When You Are Contagious

There is something about positive people that is…well…contagious.

(MoneyWatch) I love being in an office surrounded by contagious people. Not the sniffling, sneezing, coughing kind who don’t stay home when they should, but the kind whose enthusiasm and attitude towards their products, customers and company is absolutely infectious.

Many use the term “evangelist” to describe this, but I think there’s a distinction: Evangelism (which I also love) is mostly unidirectional — true believers, preaching and hoping to spread the good word to the masses, whereas contagiousness is more personal and subtle. When you’re truly, “professionally” contagious, the people you deal with catch the fever just by interacting with you.

Carriers of these positive contagions make every business better in virtually every way: Customers are happier, they buy more and are more loyal; employees work better together and are more productive; creativity has a more fertile breeding ground; projects, products and services are made better.

Here are a few great ways to pass the bug: (read more at CBS Money Watch)

Innovation Made Simple: The Five C’s

We make a big deal out of innovation.  We all tend to think BIG AND FLASHY.

My Take?  For my entire career in DeathCare I have watched as we have overserved most of the market and underserved part of it.  It’s not that we have entirely missed the mark but without fully understanding the 5 C’s we really don’t understand what we are trying to accomplish

More important we don’t really see the true opportunities.  We are only dressing up what we already do.


Simply asking “what job is the customer trying to get done?” can be a powerful way to enable innovation, because it forces you to go beyond superficial demographic markers that correlate with purchase and use to zero in on frustrations and desires that motivate purchase and use.

Seductive simplicity hides a rich, robust set of opportunity identification tools. Through our experience utilizing the “jobs-to-be-done” concept in a range of settings, my colleagues and I have developed five tips for would-be innovators: the five Cs of opportunity identification (modeled after marketing’s famous four Ps — price, product, place, and promotion).  The Five Cs of Opportunity Identification…HBR Blogpost

What I would do:

buy and read: 


Integrating Around the Job to be Done By Clayton Christensen


Which Is It? Strategy or Execution?

The cart before the horse, the egg before the chicken?  These Socratic questions take up a lot of time and space in literature, schools and business forums.  But they are important discussions.  My experience in DeathCare has been that there is a lot more emphasis on what many might perceive as execution than strategy.  People go to seminars and try to execute when they get home without any real strategy.  “Well it worked for George (or so he claimed), so it’ll work for me.”

This is particularly important to raise as an issue as the NFDA annual convention closes and the ICCFA Fall Management conference attempts to make “reinvention” the latest “fad-word” of our industry.

This article from Booz & co.  is especially timely reading.  If you want a balanced and potentially successful approach, that is.

 I once heard a business leader say, “Strategy is results.” He meant that strategy doesn’t matter as long as you are producing results. Many other business leaders feel the same way. Often, this is because they associate strategy with analysis and execution with getting things done, and they attribute more value to doing than to analyzing. From that perspective, a strategy is a lofty, self-evident statement such as “Our strategy is to maximize customer value” or “Our strategy is to become the market leader.” Such “strategies” don’t contribute much to producing results. Possibly, they motivate the troops, although even that is highly debatable.

On its surface, this view that strategy is less important than execution is hard to refute. If that’s all strategy is, execution is clearly more important.

But any seasoned strategist knows that strategy is not just sloganeering. It is the series of choices you make on where to play and how to win to maximize long-term value. Execution is producing results in the context of those choices. Therefore, you cannot have good execution without having good strategy. Read more at Strategy or Execution: Which Is More Important?

Your Mission Statement Sucks

WOW! That felt good.

I have been wanting to say that for a long time.  Some 20 years ago mission and vision statements became “must-have” fashion statements for businesses…as a matter of fact all organizations.

Maybe it’s just me but I feel like most of them are just words that sound nice.  Once crafted (usually by committee) they are dutifully gelded and placed on a shelf where they gather dust.  (That was gelded not gilded.  Look it up)  Frequently they are too long.  More often they can’t be understood.

My church is a great example.  Whenever we bring in new members the congregation reads it together aloud.  It is pasted in the back of the hymnals (yes, we still have those archaic things) It was created by some overly large committee.  Everyone’s opinion was honored.  It takes up an entire page and 5 minutes to read.  Don’t ask me what it says and don’t ask me to boil it down to any kind of essence…but we got one…a mission statement, that is.

This article is a great start to rethinking yours.  You do need one…just not a dusty shelf-worn one.

On the one hand, we have vision, mission and values statements that sound inspirational, but are so general they are almost entirely ignored. On the other hand, we have quarterly objectives we pay attention to, but these shorter term tactics can lack inspiration.

What becomes clear is that we are missing a directional document that is both inspirational and concrete. We need — using the language from Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad in their HBR piece — Strategic Intent. Going beyond their original definition, I advocate that executives develop a single 3-5 year strategic intent that is both aspirational and measureable. This can sound simple, but getting it right is not for the faint-hearted. It takes courage, insight and foresight to create such strategic clarity. Consider the following guidelines:…More at If I Read One More Platitude-Filled Mission Statement, I’ll Scream

Are You The Real Reason Your Company Is Stuck?

I hope you are as tired and bored as I am of chasing after rainbows and false starts.  DeathCare is undergoing a radical transformation.  And for those of you struggling with making that move here is excellent advice:

Screen shot 2012-07-02 at 8.03.03 PMAs small business owners we spend too much time: Learning to accept the fact that we need a team. Putting a team together. Don’t just let it fall apart because we can’t capture an idea and ride that horse until we break it in. There’s something to be said for tenacity and focus. In fact, you don’t have to be a great idea man (or woman) to be a game changer.  A single great concept that’s well executed holds more power than 25 unused proposals. Ideas Carry Potential, Which Is Why They’re So Attractive  But like children, if the idea is worth something, then it has be guided into maturity.  Action carries outcome. If you’re serious about doing something new, there are three sets of questions that should follow every brainstorming session:...More at Ideas Carry Potential: Action Carries Outcome | InnovationHeat

What I would do:

Absolutely read the article linked within this referenced article by Anita Campbell by clicking here.

But, MOST IMPORTANT, i would screen every hot idea I get at a convention or trade article through the questions at the end of this article.  DeathCare is chasing too many imaginary rabbits down too many rabbit trails.


The Danger of Success

“Let thine eye be single” says the bible.

Success is what we all strive for and we know (or should know) that focus is the thing that gets us there fastest.

Conversely as Greg Mckeown points out, success can be distracting and represents a danger in and of itself.

If success is a catalyst for failure because it leads to the “undisciplined pursuit of more,” then one simple antidote is the disciplined pursuit of less. Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just once a year as part of a planning meeting, but constantly reducing, focusing and simplifying. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well. Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones….More at The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown – Harvard Business

What I would do:

I think this is a “Be ever wary” kind of thing.  I mentioned recently the need for leaders to be responsible for making sure that their organizations were focused on “Making The Main Thing The Main Thing”.  

As I have grown older it has become a practice to regularly thank god for not making me rich.  I can only imagine the money I would have squandered on rabbit trails (distractions) had I had it to spend and now I realize I could have potentially lost focus altogether.

So, I would build clarity around the main thing.  Do you know what your main thing is?

Know Thyself If You Want To Succeed

This is an interesting article with an even more interesting self-diagnostic.

 If you want to be more successful — at anything — than you are right now, you need to know yourself and your skills. And when you fall short of your goals, you need to know why. This should be no problem; after all, who knows you better than you do?

And yet your own ratings of your personality traits — for instance, how open-minded, conscientious, or impulsive you are — correlate with the impressions of other people (who know you well) at around .40. In other words, how you see yourself and how other people see you are only very modestly correlated.

At the root of the problem is the human brain itself. There’s a lot going on in there, but just because it’s your brain doesn’t mean you know what it’s doing….More at You Are (Probably) Wrong About You – Heidi Grant Halvorson …

What I would do:

Take the self diagnostic and get your act together.

When It Costs Too Much NOT To Change

We can use all kinds of fancy financial terms but there is a point when it costs more NOT to change than it is to go ahead and start.  Much of DeathCare is well past that point.  This article underscores that observation

Sometimes, it’s scary to change, to innovate the way you do things. Because we tend to cling to the familiar, even when it’s not all that comfortable. It’s like doing your company finances on a yellow note pad, because it’s familiar.  When your 10 year old business would be better served by a simple accounting database. But that means you, and your team has to learn something new — and that takes effort.

If you’re willing to dive in, then innovation can show up in the simplest changes — they just have to be consistent and relevant.

Here’s my question: When does it cost you too much to stay the same?…More at Staying The Same Costs Too Much

What I Would Do:

As I see it you have several choices:

  1. Sell
  2. Hold on long enough to close it up and head home
  3. Truly reinvent yourself.  The feature video this week…How Not To Overserve Your Customers…will help you start thinking about this as will the Creedy Commentary Article associated with it.

5 Ways Poor Leadership Kills Your Business

These 5 leadership skills, poorly executed, spell disaster.  They are simple in concept but difficult for many small business owners in practice because they demand we become…DISCIPLINED.

There are a lot of smart and hardworking people out there. And one of the best ways I know of to differentiate and ensure successful outcomes in business is to create solid accountability mechanisms.

Here are the top five “accountability” pitfalls that business leaders and executives typically fall into, in my experience. Some of them don’t even appear to be accountability-related on the surface, which is why they’re so insidious. If you want a high-performance management team, make sure you avoid them:…More at 5 accountability pitfalls that kill companies – CBS Moneywatch

What I Would Do:

I have thought about this a lot since selecting this article for this week.  I tend to lead in a transparent style.  So, I have to answer the question (What Would I Do?) from that perspective.  I believe I would call my key people together and admit which ones I think I stink at (yes, I know, there’s that preposition at the end of a sentence again…sue me).  I would then work out a plan on how to address each one and how we could hold each other accountable to improve.  I can do this because I am old enough to realize I have never met a whole person.  Every one has a blind side.  Every one has flaws.  So, it’s ok to admit them.


IF I were a command and control kinda guy I would call in my senior manager and at least chew him out (if I didn’t fire him altogether) for my own personal failure.  If I didn’t fire him I would tell him to fix it or I would fire him. Then I would leave and go to some seminar or convention and forget it ever happened because I was working on my business instead of working in it.

Does that sound judgmental?  Sorry, but it happens that way a lot in funeral service.  Kinda sad because one of the silent rules in small business is that the odds are stacked in favor of having to be present to win.