Many business owners think of their business in terms of what they do on a daily basis e.g. farmers milk cows, printers print brochures and jewellers make jewellery. A better way of thinking about your business is to ask the question ‘what is it (of value) that I create and who helps me to do this?’ Any other person or business that helps you in terms of creating value, and hence money for your pocket, is in fact an extension of your business.
I can hear some readers saying to themselves ‘but I have not got any multi layered problems’. Well have I got news for you (sorry for the plagiarism there). Most problems bar the very simplest are multi level. Asking ‘Why’ over and over again is considered to be an alternative or creative technique for investigating issues. Let us consider the following scenario from a medium sized business.
Initially there are reports that sales are not as good as forecast and so the spotlight falls on the sales force. There are cries to sack and replace salesmen but one thoughtful soul begins to ask why? The following scenario unfolds:
- Our salesmen are rubbish. Why?
- Sales are falling. Why?
- Our product range is out of date. Why?
- There is no commitment from the boss. Why?
- The boss has no time. Why?
- The boss has time management issues.
So a while ago we were ready to sack our sales force but what is really needed is to send the boss on a time management course or perhaps get him a secretary to help with his workload.
Not only have we discovered that the initial problem and possible solution are quite a way apart, we have also revealed a multi layer problem. Just like the zipper in the picture above or a deep wound, the multi layer problem must be solved a layer at a time and from the bottom up. Solving the boss’s time management issues will not suddenly make sales leap up but it will allow he/she to devote more time to new products which will in turn lead to increased sales (if these issues are properly addressed).
And the moral of the story? Solving complex problems requires a little more effort and the problem you initially sees is not necessarily the one that needs solving!
Most, if not all of us have either a fixed way of doing things or a fixed way of thinking about things. These fixed patterns are known as mindsets and they can severely limit our actions in both business and private life.
Imagine that you take the same route each day when you walk to your place of work. Each day you buy the same newspaper and the same sandwich for lunch. Over time you begin to get a little fed up with your choice of sandwich and the newspaper does not seem to engage you as it once did. If you had turned right at the end of your road instead of left you would have been introduced 6 months ago to a brand new shop that had a larger stock of newspapers and magazines and also a more impressive selection of sandwiches, filled rolls, cakes (and salads for the health conscious). Unless a friend or colleague tells you of this new opportunity you will remain blissfully unaware of it. Just think of the new opportunities and new faces if you varied your walk to work on a weekly basis!
So what has this got to do with your business? Well take a long look at yourself and the people that you work with. Do you advertise in the same way all of the time? Do you make exactly the same products every day? Do you try anything different at all to try and improve your business or do you do the same as you have always done? A simple change of perspective or attitude may be all that is required. Even if your business is successful, you would be interested in new business opportunities, wouldn’t you?
The effects of mindsets can be greatly exaggerated when working alone and we all need to make an effort to overcome this. Note that changes you make in your working life will affect your private life and vice versa.
Did you think that this article would be about creative techniques and training courses? That would be too simple!
First of all let us think about training to be an athlete. We have to put in lots of effort – hours on a bike, in a boat or maybe the gym. Then we have different types of training where we train for intervals and have short breaks or perhaps we do something completely different. Finally we might think about tapering our training before a major competition. Most coaches will tell you that to get the best out of our bodies we need to push them hard and then rest. If we do not push hard we cannot improve and if we do not rest we injure ourselves.
It is exactly the same with our own organisations. If we wish to embrace creativity and reap the benefits then we cannot pull out our book of techniques once in a while, we need to use them so that they become second nature. We also need to work hard i.e. practise on real problems not trivial issues in workshops and have regular breaks. If we use creativity all of the time then it ceases to be creative. But what about tapering before that big event? Well in the calm before the storm we get ourselves organised. We ensure we have the right equipment (pens, flip charts etc.), right environment and right people so that when we get to the starting line we are ready to go.
And if you really wish to push the point, British sprinter Linford Christie always said that you ‘start on the B of the Bang’. For us this means getting ahead of our competitors.
My area of experience is creativity and alternative thinking, not customer service. However, I was inspired (or perhaps driven) to put pen to paper after recent experiences with several large organisations here in the UK. I will not name them directly but the two worst offenders provide my telephone and banking services.
Large organisations just want to give us what they think we want or they might be so arrogant as to be saying “this is what you are going to get”. Recently I wanted answers to some questions regarding banking so I checked the company’s website for possible answers and after determining that the answers were not there I used the secure messaging system to ask my questions. I did this 4 times and each time the reply was a section of the help text from their website that had been cut and pasted into the response that had been sent to me.
When trying to contact my telephone company I tried 5 times via telephone and their chat service to resolve an issue. Each time I was told what they thought I wanted to hear i.e. you will get xxx within 14 days . They seemed to see themselves as an information service, relaying how they were told the system should behave but not actually being able to deal with exceptions.
In most cases it is not actually the fault of the individuals providing the service, it is the actual system that needs revamping. Use a little creative thinking guys, ask why I might be emailing or calling you. It is usually because my query is technical or non standard and I want some real help. So why employ knowledgeable people as supervisors rather than let them answer the phone. Just think, if you answered your queries first time, you would ultimately cut down the number of calls to your call centres.