Settled Science: Breakfast Edition

To understand how absurd a notion is settled science, we needn’t tread the politically inflammatory territory of weather, climate change, and global warming. Nor do we need go so far as to read — let alone comprehend — the one tract that utterly debunks the possibility that science can, should, or will ever be settled. Nope. In fact, we need go no farther than our breakfast tables to understand how profoundly unsettled, and unsettling, science can be.

Case in point: Should you harbor any doubts about the deleterious consequences of drinking your morning coffee, this article, warning us that coffee is the worst thing in the world for us, should put all such trepidation to rest. Here’s why:

 Those good vibes and the boost in energy you get from drinking a cup of coffee are the results of temporarily reversing the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. In other words, that euphoric short-term state that you enter after drinking coffee is what non-habitual caffeine consumers are experiencing all of the time.

Who’d have thought the only pleasure to be derived from coffee would be negative — that is, the only sensual benefit is not withdrawing from caffeine? Wow. Talk about a buzzkill. I guess that explains why … wait … no, it doesn’t.

And, should you harbor any doubts about the hygienic prudence of drinking your morning coffee, this article, reassuring us that coffee is the best thing in the world for us, should put all such trepidation to rest. Here’s why:

A growing body of research shows that coffee drinkers, compared to nondrinkers, are:

  • less likely to have type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia
  • have fewer cases of certain cancers, heart rhythm problems, and strokes

“There is certainly much more good news than bad news, in terms of coffee and health,” says Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

As if all this contradictory but oh-so-settled science weren’t confounding enough — and as if the notion that some of us might genuinely enjoy coffee for its taste were so utterly far-fetched — we also have to contend with the feel-good busybodies who just can’t seem to get through the day or attain any level of self-satisfaction without telling the rest of us what to do.

So much for settled science.

Does Past Success Prevent Future Success?

Is most of your revenue from products, services, or business models more than three years old? If so, and even if your revenue is growing, that should be a warning signal that you’re not innovating effectively. All industries are competitive and, by not moving forward, you’re falling behind.

There are numerous examples of former market leaders that failed to innovate and eventually fell victim to their markets. Companies like Kodak, Digital Equipment Corp., and Blockbuster all share a sad story of allowing their past successes to prevent exploration for new ideas.

Kodak, as reported by Startup Talky:

The Eastman Kodak Company’. It was the most famous name in the world of photography and videography in the 20th century. Kodak brought about a revolution in the photography and videography industries. At the time when only huge companies could access the cameras used for recording movies, Kodak enabled the availability of cameras to every household by producing equipment that was portable and affordable.

Kodak was the most dominant company in its field for almost the entire 20th century, but a series of wrong decisions killed its success. The company declared itself bankrupt in 2012.

Kodak failed to understand that its strategy of banking on traditional film cameras (which was effective at one point) was now depriving the company of success. Rapidly changing technology and evolving market needs made the strategy obsolete.

  • The ignorance of new technology and not adapting to changing market needs initiated Kodak’s downfall

  • Kodak wasted time promoting the use of film cameras instead of emulating its competitors. It completely ignored the feedback from the media and the market

  • When Kodak finally understood and started the sales and the production of digital cameras, it was too late. Many big companies had already established themselves in the market by then and Kodak couldn’t keep pace with the big shots

  • Kodak invested its funds in acquiring many small companies, depleting the money it could have used to promote the sales of digital cameras.

Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), as reported by MIT Sloan Review:

The DEC story is one of a dramatic rise and fall: DEC was an entrepreneurial computer company that grew to $14 billion in sales and employed an estimated 130,000 people worldwide at one point, but Digital failed to adapt successfully after the personal computer eroded its minicomputer market.

Blockbuster, as reported by Indigo Digital:

Blockbuster was extremely popular. It was the largest video rental company in the world with over 9,000 stores and over 50 million members. So what happened? While most talk of Blockbuster’s demise centers on the rise of Netflix, Blockbuster made many strategic errors throughout its history that caused it to have such a stunning fall from grace.

  • Walking away from the deal of the century. Blockbuster made a critical error when it walked away from a deal with Netflix. Netflix wanted to sell its company to Blockbuster for $50 million in 2000. At the time Blockbuster could have afforded the purchase price since it had raised $465 million in an IPO a year earlier.

  • An inability to pivot quickly. Blockbuster was skeptical about the potential of renting DVDs online and sending them to customers via mail the way Netflix did. But customers enjoyed Netflix’s service because it was convenient. As Netflix continued to gain subscribers it took Blockbuster six years to launch a similar service of its own in 2004 called Blockbuster Online. Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly,” said Reid Hastings, Netflix’s co-founder and CEO.

  • “I’ve been frankly confused by this fascination that everybody has with Netflix…Netflix doesn’t really have or do anything that we can’t or don’t already do ourselves,” said Keyes in 2008. Two years later Blockbuster was bankrupt. A healthy degree of hubris ended up being the fatal thorn in Blockbuster’s side. Blockbuster couldn’t see pass its previous success to see the change on the horizon and then once it did it was too slow to react.

Each of these companies was in an enviable market position, but their leaders believed they knew what it took to be successful and continued doing what they’d always done. By being unwilling to look ahead, take the small risks required to innovate new products, services, or business models, they eventually took the biggest risk a company could take … and failed.

Look at the composition of your revenue. Is it the canary in the coal mine? If so, look at the way you innovate or whether you innovate at all. Is there discipline, mindset, process, exploration, a framework, and investment in innovation? If any of these elements are lacking, it will be difficult to effectively develop new products, services, or business models. If you’re seeing warning signs, EinSource can help you to avoid the demise of some other great companies.

Don’t let past success prevent future success.

Prophets and Loss

What’s the most valuable attribute of successful people? We can find lots of answers to the question from lots of sources: Courage. Vision. Imagination. Persistence. Willingness to fail. Iconoclasm. Lunacy. Every one of those attributes is a factor in the equation that yields success. But none of them is the most important. The most important attribute of every successful person is objectivity.

Think about it: In every job you’ve ever had, in any business you’ve ever founded, in any set of circumstances in which you’ve created or revealed value, how and when did you do it? In all likelihood, you did it by seeing things that other couldn’t see. And in most cases, you did it early in your tenure, at a point at which you still retained an outsider’s perspective.

At that point — whether it was recognized or not, whether it was characterized this way or not — you had the status of a prophet. You were a seer, an oracle, a breath of fresh air, a font of wisdom and knowledge, a source of new perspectives and sound advice. And then you weren’t. What happened?

What happened is what always happens. It’s why every honeymoon ends. It’s why today’s heroes are tomorrow’s wallpaper. It’s why people get taken for granted. It’s why ordinary becomes acceptable. We lose our objectivity. Our preoccupations become subjective, be they ego, power, ostensible correctness, or garden-variety selfishness. And the straight lines we once intended to follow to our objectives become directionless circles.

In case you’re curious, this isn’t a new phenomenon. As this excerpt from Luke 4:14-29 indicates, we’ve been ignoring our prophets forever:

I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.

Nobody’s perfect, and nothing lasts forever. But if you’ve been wise enough to acquire the objectivity your business needs, running your prophet out of town too soon may be your loss.

Higher and Hierarchy

I recently became aware of a consulting company that compels its clients to begin strategic business planning with a sales and marketing review. That’s the rough equivalent of compelling architects and contractors to build skyscrapers from their lightning rods down. And it invites five perennially perplexing questions, as intriguing as they are troubling and, as yet, unanswered:

  1. Why do so many organizations create the position, VP of Sales and Marketing?
  2. Why is the VP of Sales and Marketing typically a sales person?
  3. Is the chief responsibility of the VP of Sales and Marketing sales or marketing?
  4. Why do we persist in giving one person two sets of responsibilities?
  5. Why do the people we saddle with those two sets of responsibilities always seem to struggle with both?

The answers are in the Strategic Hierarchy — or the lack thereof.

The relationship between sales and marketing is perennially misunderstood and consistently misaligned. That’s because the Strategic Hierarchy is equally misunderstood and misaligned. And it’s a wasteful shame because it should be this easy:

  1. The organization strategy is the organization’s reason for being. It’s the dream. “We recognize that, and we can capitalize by creating this.” It’s the why.
  2. The marketing strategy marketing program is the plan by which this does that. It’s the what. It’s the creation of the (realization of) the need.
  3. The sales strategy is the plan by which the fulfillment of the need is delivered. It’s the how. (Remember: Marketing is not a sales-support function. Sales is a marketing-fulfillment function.)
  4. Prospect qualification is the point at which prospects’ needs align with their desire to buy.
  5. Conversion is the point at which qualified prospects become become customers.

Even if most companies get steps 1 through 3 right (many don’t), dysfunction sets in between steps 4 and 5, after which business-generating activities come unglued because the gap between strategic marketing and feet-on-the-street sales is never bridged. Confusion reigns. Finger-pointing begins. Circular firing squads are assembled. And lost opportunity multiplies.

With the Strategic Hierarchy established and employed — with the organization and its activities structured in accordance with it — the gap starts to close itself, one unmade mistake at a time. The organization doesn’t expect prospects to contact it because it don’t assume its outbound communications are irresistible. The organization doesn’t imagine marketing and sales are inbound activities. And it initiates contact with prospects because it realizes the odds of prospects initiating contact with it are against it.

With the Strategic Hierarchy in place, organizations also recognize the burdens they place on VPs of Sales and Marketing are unrealistic. It requires the position to serve two masters and master two disciplines. It lets sales drive marketing. It tries to establish momentum from the bottom up.

And it forces organizations to realize gravity can’t, after all, be defied.

The Introverted Business Leader

It’s taken me most of my career to get comfortable with the idea that I’m an introverted business leader. Like many, I expect business leaders to be gregarious and charismatic. Through experience, though, I’ve learned reserved colleagues make significant contributions even when they’re not holding the attention of a room. I’m an introvert, but I like people. I can enjoy time in a group, but I don’t get energy from groups or do my best thinking in groups.

I’m a believer in collaboration, but I’ve learned it doesn’t begin or end with a group session. I’ve read that 50 percent of us are introverts. If that’s true, there are some simple ways to get valuable contributions from the quiet half of your colleagues.

Before the Meeting

Introverts do their best thinking alone, so give them some time with a challenge before calling a group session. Publish an agenda early. Agendas aren’t just useful for keeping a group on task in a meeting; agendas give people the opportunity to think and prepare. I need this before-the-meeting think time. Otherwise, I tend to receive information in the meeting and analyze it later. If a colleague expects me to be an active participant or to make a decision in the meeting, I’ll be reluctant unless I’ve had time to consider the topic in advance. Preparation doesn’t mean I’ve made a decision or that I won’t actively deliberate in a meeting. It means I’ve given the issues some thought, but I remain open-minded. When I’m prepared, I bring the best of what I can offer to the group.

In the Meeting

In meetings in which I’m the facilitator, and even in some in which I’m a participant, I may ask for input from colleagues who haven’t said much. I do this carefully because introverts may not do their best thinking with an audience. Even so, the group benefits from additional perspectives on a topic. If we’re making a decision, I’m careful to leave the door open to additional input. I usually say something like, “This is what we’ve decided, but if people have additional thoughts or ideas in the coming days, please let me know.” 

After the Meeting

I recommend publishing meeting minutes, writing a recap, or sending a note to thank the group for participating. This practice is polite, it provides documentation, and it gives introverts another opportunity to express themselves. In my follow-ups, I invite people to share additional ideas. At times, these new insights can cause the group to reconsider and improve their decisions, or at least to have a deeper understanding of an issue.

Even though we all get a lot of messages, I carefully read emails from colleagues. Introverts tend to express themselves best in writing. When someone has considered an issue and penned a well-thought-out email, know that may be their best way to share valuable information.

Last Thought

I’m a believer in collaboration. The best decisions are made with by groups but not necessarily during meetings. When soliciting input from colleagues, I’ve trained myself to ensure introverts are heard. I think of getting input from introverts like a hidden-image puzzle (stereogram): When I free myself from the dominant image, I can see the hidden image. While feedback from extroverts is easy to see, input from introverts takes a little more effort but is equally valuable. If you can draw input from everyone, you’re making better-informed decisions.

This is serious stuff.

If introverts aren’t given a way to be heard, they’ll leave. Introverts don’t like to be the center of attention, but they want to contribute. If their input is routinely ignored, they’ll look for another place in which to make a difference.