Mind Blown

The power of perspective, an overlooked basic process tool

A couple of months back, I did a workshop for a group of senior engineers in Western Denmark who build big projects in the North Sea. The North Sea is rough, so the things they build are tough, but now their job is mutating in a way seen by countless others. Their customers want digital services to go with the steel and concrete. My engineers needed help.

I showed up from the big city with my scarf and my sneakers and I did my magic. Engineers and I generally get along well and we had a good afternoon. As we wrapped up, we did a round of lessons learned and their main take-away brought a smile to my lips. The big revelation for them was the need to look at their product from their customers’ point of view.

Your obvious is not everyone’s obvious

Startup people tend to shake their heads at stories like this, but the engineers’ lack of awareness is much closer to the norm than the opposite. Customer focus is a hard thing to create across an organization. We hire specialists for specialized tasks, but we rarely give them KPIs that ask them to judge their work by the customer’s standards.

It’s easy to imagine that rust prevention is a major issue in the North Sea. It’s just as easy to imagine an engineer over-engineering 100 years of rust prevention into something only meant to last for ten. Managing the expectations of both the customer and the product development team can be a challenge.

Make that challenge your product differentiator

An ounce of prevention can fix a lot of things. We can all look at our products from the customer’s point of view. From designers to developers to sales to HR, the whole team can contribute to a product’s development by looking from the outside in. This is a tool for everyone – and it ain’t complicated.

Look at your work the way the customer would

Have your whole team to look at your product from your customer’s point of view. Your experts can play the customers’ experts as well, so follow the first question with a second: “If you did what you do for our customer, how would look at our product?” The more complex something becomes, the greater the risk that we lose sight of the details. Your experts can help catch those missed details.

Don’t miss the obvious, just because you can’t see it

In college, a friend of mine edited the school newspaper, which came out twice a week. One night, something about a big photo on the sports page of two football players leaping for a header didn’t look right. Everyone seemed to notice it, but no one could put a finger on it.

It remained a mystery until someone’s girlfriend came by with pizza. She asked why there was a picture on the sports page of a guy with his penis hanging out of his shorts. The photo was edited promptly. She had looked at the newspaper as a reader, not a journalist.

Give Me Three Good Reasons

Scaling things is hard and ideas matter less than execution

”By the end of dinner, I want you to give me three good reasons why you’re building someone else’s brand instead of your own.”

The challenge came from Mikkel as we walked to a late dinner at Tommi’s Burger Joint. It was one of those questions. The kind you knew had been on the way for a long time and that once asked really needed no answer. We all need friends like Mikkel.

“I can’t think of a single one.”

I launched my last business in a niche that I knew well, tech and startup events, doing a variation of something I’ve done for years. I decided to work with a guy who developed a concept I really liked. I’d open it in my city and together we would see how far we could scale the concept. Over coffee, it looked like a great plan, but everyone knows the proof is in the execution.

Execution is hard

For years, I’ve told startups that execution has value, but concepts are worthless. A patent is only one piece of a business model for turning an idea into money. There are a lot of good reasons why repeatable success is so highly valued and one is it’s really, really hard. What works in one place often doesn’t work in another.

Don’t love your idea, love the results

Things didn’t work out. Mapping the concept to Copenhagen took a lot of adjusting. This took time and effort that we couldn’t spend on things like sales. I loved the idea, but making it happen sucked up huge amounts of time. The more we had to invent solutions that didn’t exist to deal with situations that didn’t exist, the less it looked like the original concept.

Franchising looks simple. So does golf.

Franchising only looks simple to those who’ve never tried it. It’s really hard if the concept is new and the product is new. It’s harder still, if the brand is new to the market as well. It takes a lot of support, great tools, great marketing, and a really clear road map to roll out a new franchise. As a mentor, I now give much more specific feedback on franchising.

The concept is dead. Long live the concept.

Eventually, I realized we were working in parallel instead of together. The synergies we had hoped for didn’t appear. Discussions turned into criticism and the criticism got personal. Cultural note: if a Swede curses at you, things are really, really bad.

Sometimes you need a push

I know I do. Hindsight is a clear, but distorted lens. Some things you know at the time and some things you don’t. I’m not going to beat myself up about the mistakes I made. I’m trying to learn from them. I overlooked things I shouldn’t have. Luckily my friends pushed me.