What businesses leaders need to learn to unlearn

What Do Business Leaders Need to Unlearn?

We live in an age of rapid business evolution. What we do know is that “change is the only constant”.

Old business tools such as the Yellow Pages now function as door stops and prop up monitors instead of being used by the cold calling salesperson. Fax machines sit idle in corners or have been designated to the rubbish dump. Researching a company or executive is done with a Google search and LinkedIn, instead of that  expensive business service that had that paper database in dog eared flip cards.

Customers no longer need to turn up to your store to buy. Instead they order online and have it delivered by courier. We carry libraries of books on our iPad rather than lug hardcover books and magazines.

Mobiles and apps

We access our information on the go from our smart phone, set appointments on our online calendars and respond to emails on the train. Online apps for messaging like “WhatsApp” are bought for $19 billion. We gasp. But with 400 million monthly users, it sort of makes sense.

Instagram is our new photo library of choice.  The $1 billion Facebook paid when it had only 9 employees, losing money and had no website is now looking like a distinct bargain as its monthly users passes 200 million.

Skype rather than the boardroom

Many business meetings are now run from Skype. They are often international. All we have to do is sort out the world time zones. Google can help you there.

The challenge for business leaders is to remain relevant amongst this technology torrent. Terms like big data, cloud andcontent marketing slip off the consultants tongues with ease and appear in blogs. But understanding their implications is another matter.

A competitive advantage is now often determined by your technology and how you apply it to your business.

Business extinction is accelerating

The question is… which companies will recognize (and adapt to) transformative and disruptive moments, and which ones won’t? How relevant do you see your company today. How relevant is your competition?

According to Professor Richard Foster from Yale University, the average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index of leading US companies has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century. From 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today,

Professor Foster estimates that by 2020, more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 will be companies that we have not heard of yet.

What used to work doesn’t now

Many executives and CEO’s were born in an era of fixed phones, traditional media and suits and ties being the dress standard for every office. They built huge companies with what worked then. But it is now. Amazon has redefined retail. Apple has disrupted the music industry (just to name one) and Kodak missed the digital camera boat.

The old business models are being shaken to the core.

Education is not the first answer

I thought educating the CEO and the executive was the answer to manage these paradigm shifts. But I have come to realise that something has to happen before that succeeds. I stumbled upon this quote from the famous economist John Maynard Keynes.

“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping the old ones”

We are all creatures of habit and custom ingrained by decades of repetition and this is hard to shake. That is part of the reason why we are seeing the rapid demise of companies. To succeed needs “unlearning” in a digital age.

So what do business leaders need to unlearn?

So what are some of the old habits and paradigms that need “unlearning”? What are the shifts in thinking. What reinvention needs to occur?

This is both a personal and a cultural change for the CEO and the business.

Closed cultures

The social web is forcing a change from a closed business culture to a new openness. Revealing your systems and processes online in blogs and ebooks builds trust. The old guard saw this as revealing your intellectual property.

Free ebooks and content that creates trust and online credibility is now paramount. Some research reveals that nearly 60% of the online decision making has been done before you receive that online inquiry or that prospects phone call. Are you educating your customer or is it your competition?

Controlling the message

Still many brands are not active or participating on social media or had blogs that allowed comments. They were afraid of losing control of the conversation.

The new paradigm is allowing the crowd to participate and let them share your content. Crowd sourced content and sharing will amplify your message in a digital online world. Octoly tracked user generated content and found for some brands the advocates were producing 99% of the online brand conversations on YouTube. That is “free” marketing.

Not just local

Business is often not just a physical location. You now have access to global markets. Knowledge crosses global boundaries with ease. We now live in a knowledge economy. Skype makes education and consulting a global opportunity. E-commerce sites, technology and modern logistics make the world your market.

Physical assets are not as important

We still value the physical but often the importance of digital assets are ignored or undervalued through lack of awareness or just plain ignorance. Some retailers realize this as they become multi-channel businesses with smaller stores but bigger websites (online stores).

Digital assets that are not valued or given the priority they should be include what you “own and earn” online. This includes websites, blogs, email lists, search engine rankings and the size and value of your social networks for sharing your brand message and content.

Paying for attention

Businesses often still think that the only way to reach their customers is to pay the media gatekeepers for any marketing success. Ads are placed in magazines, newspapers and TV. The new digital world provides you with the power to bypass the traditional media and reach your audience yourself. If you understand how it works.

Savvy business brands such as Red Bull(built their own media and publishing company) and personal brands like Beyonce(who bypassed the traditional mass media product launch to her social media followers) understand this.

Publishing and marketing have been democratized. Businesses need to become media and publishing companies. Google and social media now powers your content and brand discovery.

What do you need to unlearn?

So what do you need to unlearn to survive and thrive?  Are you part of the problem or the answer? Is your business owner or CEO trapped in the past?

Look forward to hearing your insights and stories in the comments below.


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