Leaders: Looking to “Find Your Next” Competitive Edge? | Read Andrea Kates

New ideas intrigue me. So when I was contacted by Andrea Kates to comment on her newly released book, Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competitive Edge, I was all in. I was taken by how my business fitness metaphor for individual success aligned with Kates’ business genome metaphor for maintaining competitive business advantage. Innovative thinking and questioning, especially during uncertainty, are a must for every leader. 

It’s mistake if you’re thinking: 

  • “I’m not really a ‘business’ leader. I just direct a small work group.”
  • “I’m responsible for internal services, so I don’t have to think about the marketplace.”
  • “In my company, decisions about competitive edge and growth are made by the big execs. I’m not in that loop.” 

Everyone in a leadership role affects the future growth, competitive advantage, and sustainability of his/her company. 

Why? Because every function, no matter how big or small, has an effect on the business’s ability to out-perform and out-innovate the competition. 

If you need to be convinced, Andrea Kate’s book, Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competitive Edge, provides compelling insights. 

A powerful metaphor 

Scientists reveal the mysteries of our biology through DNA genome mapping. In a similar vein, Kate’s reveals a “genome” map of these six elements of business success. 

  1. Product and service innovation—the invention of offerings that resonate.
  2. Customer impact—a sustainable community of support.
  3. Process design—alignment of the ‘how’ of a business with the evolving ‘what’ that customers need.
  4. Talent and leadership—the culture that will move a business forward.
  5. Secret sauce—the recipe of differentiation and competitive advantage in a new world of unprecedented transparency.
  6. Trendability—the foresight to see the future more quickly and adapt more rapidly to shifts in the landscape. 

With an understanding of these elements in hand, what’s a leader to do? 

The answer is simple: ASK QUESTIONS. Lots of them. Make them challenging, unnerving, disturbing, pointed, wild, and complex. 

Then resist rejecting answers before you really examine, understand, deconstruct, and test them. 

Great leaders learn not to be afraid of innovative thinking, new direction, disruptive change, and paradigm shifts, even though they may be tempted to resist what they don’t immediately understand. 

Find your next … 

Leadership is about defining reality and then laying out a path for success. Every function in every organization is ripe for improvement, change, and innovation in order to keep up with best practices or to forge new ground. It’s the same whether its human resources, financial planning, product design or marketing. 

Kates lays out the struggle every leader faces: 

We are all facing new realities: the mountain of facts is huge, the speed of change is impossible to keep up with, the information that used to keep us ahead of our competition is now instantaneously available, our customers are talking about us to each other more than ever before, business dynamics have turned global, and the expectations for competitive advantage are rising at record speed. 

When it comes to thinking strategically, the model most leaders use is SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). Instead, Kates suggests business genomic thinking: 

  1. Sort through the options for your company and assess your hunches.
  2. Match your genome to successful businesses that have already steered themselves in the direction you want to explore.
  3. Hybridize your company by grafting the ideas that work in other companies to your own.
  4. Adapt and thrive by breaking out of old habits and fostering new traditions in your business that will enable you to take advantage of a rapidly-evolving business environment. 

To Kates, the key to competitive edge is looking at how you perform in any aspect of your business compared to businesses much different from yours. Even though apples and oranges are different on the surface, they are both fruit with attributes that are good for you. 

The leader’s coda 

Find Your Next is “based on the idea that the possibilities for what a business leader can do next must come from somewhere other than what they did last,” Kates writes. 

One of the smart moves of business fitness is to implement new ideas. To do that you need to think about what’s really going on in your business, how it addresses the vortex of marketplace change, and then what course of action to take. Kate’s book is filled with approaches, insights, and a wide-range of case studies that will help you find your next.

Start Smart. Finish Strong. | Job-to-Career Strategies

Singin’ the “I Need a Job” blues? It starts like this: “Don’t know what I wanna do with my life…Got so many bills to pay.” It’s a sorrowful tune about the rock and the hard place. 

You want a job that launches your career but can’t find one—the rock.  You settle for a make-do job to cover debts and expenses—the hard place. Luckily, there is a cure for the blues! 

Jobs don’t make a career, but they can add up to one. 

A job is a means to an end. So before you start looking, you need to know what you’re really after. 

I recently spoke to a group of college seniors with questions about the job market. One of the students expressed confusion and frustration about the pull of trying to find a job that matched his major versus taking a $20-an-hour security job to start paying his tuition debts. 

I asked him, “What are you interested in?” 

He answered, “Bodybuilding.”  Bingo! 

The bodybuilding industry is huge. It’s made up of companies that: 

  • Produce body-building equipment, supplements, and attire
  • Build and design gyms
  • Market equipment, products, and services
  • Handle event planning and promotion
  • Offer personal trainers, DVD’s, and on-air programs
  • Produce print and on-line publications 

Each one of these companies has jobs to fill at all salary levels. If you really want to work in a certain industry, first get connected to it. 

I told this young man, “If you’re willing to work for $20 an hour, then look for $20-an-hour job at a company that’s connected to the bodybuilding industry.” 

Why? Because, at least, he’ll get in a door that gives him an insider’s look at the industry that he’s attracted too. Once he’s there, he’s in a position to stand out.

 Positioning is about building your body of work.

When you start any job, you don’t really know how the business works. So your objective is to do what it takes to accumulate knowledge, skills, experience, and insights that will make you a strong candidate for new opportunities when the time comes. 

So what should you do in that current job: 

  • Master the technical skills and processes to maximize your productivity.
  • Make strong, professional relationships with the colleagues, managers, suppliers, and vendors you meet. Stay in touch.
  • Learn about the competition and how the company is dealing with it.
  • Volunteer for special assignments; Offer to work on a project even if it isn’t within your existing job.
  • Participate on work teams to solve problems.
  • Ask people you work with about their career paths; Do information interviewing with them.
  • Keep alert to internal openings and job opportunities in other companies tied to your preferred industry. 

Be ready to move when the time comes.  

  • Keep your resume updated.
  • Maintain a professional social media presence.
  • Let people in your company and outside know that you are interested in other opportunities.
  • Think through the next steps you want to take and what you require to make a move. (Remember: Each job change is about adding to your skills, knowledge, experience, and network! It’s not all about money and title.) 

The key is to be prepared and ready to make those moves. That’s what it means to be business fit. 

You build a career by being strategic about the jobs you take.

Flailing is not a strategy. That’s what taking jobs for paychecks looks like. In order to take control of your career, you need to be under control about your choices. 

The sequencing of your jobs tells a story on your resume. A job history that demonstrates a commitment to learning about an industry from the ground up sets you apart. That’s how to trade that hard place for a warm seat that fits just right.

 What are some of the related businesses you discovered while working in an industry? What do you see emerging in today’s marketplace?

Are You Worth the Risk? | Your Life Is Your Business

Any idea about who has a stake in you? I mean a real money stake based on your risk-reward value. Seem like a weird question? 

When you’re the investment, you’re expected to deliver a return. 

That’s right. Every time we borrow or accept money from an outside source, we are their investment. So we have an obligation to reward the investor. 

Here’s how this works. Let’s say, you’re a college student. Your parents pay part of your tuition and a lending institution pays the rest. Both are investors. You work to satisfy the terms of their investment. 

Parent-investors expect you to: 

  • Select a course of study that leads to a career that will support you
  • Complete all courses with passing or better grades
  • Meet all graduation requirements
  • Adhere to the rules and standards of the institution
  • Take advantage of placement opportunities
  • Successfully complete relevant internships
  • Graduate with an employment offer 

The return on investment for your parents is the knowledge that they have positioned you to be a productive, self-reliant citizen. It also brings to closure their expenses for your schooling. 

Lending institutions expect you to: 

  • Pay back their loan with interest according to the payment schedule

That’s all they care about. It doesn’t matter to them if you went to class, took courses that added up to anything, or got a job. They simply want their investment back with interest. How you do that is your business. Institutional investor’s aren’t fussy. They just want their return. 

Investing is about growth. Growth is about your future. 

Most of us have investors throughout our lives. The bank gives us a mortgage, a credit card, a car or home equity loan. They have a stake in us, want their money back with interest, and aren’t concerned if what we borrowed their money for is a good idea or not. 

We are the most important investors in ourselves because we have the biggest stake. 

I mean that. We’ve got to be smart with the money that we make or take. We need to use it in ways that position us for growth, increase our options, and provide us with the quality of life that makes sense for us. 

If we aren’t smart about the way we use the money others invest in us, then we are missing the boat. Each time we want to cry about our financial woes, we need to take a hard look at how we’ve used the money we’ve earned and the money we’ve borrowed. Our life is our business, right? 

I’m not talking about a time when the employment rug got pulled out from under you, although it is a reminder about having enough money saved to pay the bills for six months. I’m talking about the failure to have a real budget and financial strategy for your life. 

Robert T. Kiyosaki’s book, Rich Dad Poor Dad, is a must-read for everyone, no matter where you are in life. It’s a readable, straight-forward, and practical explanation of the right way to look at and handle your money. 

When I was eight, my parents bought me five shares of Sperry Rand Corporation. They thought I should understand about investing in the stock market. 

My dad told me that Sperry had invented a computer (Univac) that could do mathematical calculations faster than any human being. I had no idea why that mattered. 

“That machine is going to have a big impact on the future,” he predicted. 

“You betcha, Pop!” Thanks for showing me what it felt like to be an investor with just a small stake in what may lie ahead.

Like it or not, we are all the chief financial officers of our own lives.  

No business thrives if it isn’t fiscally sound. That includes the business of our own lives. Stay focused on the expectations of your investors, engage them strategically, meet your obligations to them, and enjoy being business fit as you move your life forward. 

What has been your experience dealing with those invested in you? Any advice to share?