04 Oct Fresh perspective could give you the winning look
Madison, Wis. — IT is the new kid on the business block, and as such we have to make an effort to learn not only the rules and history of this new environment, but also the customs and slang of its natives. As the newbie, it’s tempting to demonstrate how hip we are by taking the new ways to ridiculous heights. Imagine rich white boys in pre-distressed jeans by Omar the tent maker and baseball caps pointing anywhere but forward. One of the joys, however, of being a newbie is that you get to ask stupid questions and maybe bring a new perspective or two to the situation.
One of the most seductive pages out of the big book of business slang is the sports analogy. While the sales equivalent of a T.O. touchdown dance or a Yankee fan’s chant of “Who’s your daddy?” might be appropriate for winning a closely-competed big deal, it might not be the best way to respond to one’s customers and partners. And face it. Despite our present position as king of the fantasy football league, most of us weren’t exactly the first one’s picked for the killer dodgeball games at recess. Rather than denying that history, we can use it to ask what else we were focused on, what other perspectives might have we developed out there on the playground of PS 14?
I don’t know about you, but I got pretty good at reading the people I was around. Who were the decision makers? What was important to them? Were they impressed or dismissive of that cool new thing? What was their mood? Were there any outside constraints I could count on (other than Miss Yoblanski and her home run swing with a paddle?) Those all sound like good questions to be asking about the customers and partners you work with. You might not be able to wrap it all up nicely in a sports analogy but there are other ways of modeling the business world. Not all the good questions can be asked in the language of sports and conquest.
That was illustrated for me in a presentation by one of the execs from American Girl. In the world of Barbie, who’d have thought you could attract the attention of the kings of children’s toys by selling cute if appropriately plumpish pre-adolescent girl dolls? With historically accurate books, no less! Yet, that’s exactly what Pleasant Company, now American Girl did. Mattel, the 900-pound gorilla of toys, liked the idea so much that it bought the company. How did Pleasant Company do it?
At least part of the story was focus. People at the company worked very hard to understand who the decision makers were for pre-adolescent girl’s toys. Not surprisingly, turns out the decision maker is most often the girl’s mommy. While the girl might be swayed by the glitter and glamour and general persistent perkiness of Barbie, moms have more aspirations for their daughters than just an eye-popping physique and enough clothes and accessories to comfort and cozy half the displaced citizenry from Hurricane Katrina. Understanding who those moms were and what they wanted for their daughters in a doll and in a girl’s development was key.
I’m not suggesting that you pipe up in the middle of the next rah-rah sales meeting and ask “Who’s your mommy?” We do have to learn the native language of business and fit into that, sports analogies and all. But don’t forget the real value of being a newbie, the ability to bring fresh perspective to what others find so familiar they hardly see it anymore.
You might not have loved the playground growing up. You might still be more comfortable with the systems and hardware of modern technology than with the rough and tumble that passes for doing business. But that doesn’t mean all you have to offer is the black box of working business systems. You can ask what seem like stupid questions. Rather than chuffing out the “Who’s your daddy?” type questions, you can ask the “Who’s your mommy?” type questions.
Draw on your natural systems expertise and insight to understand how different components of business culture and competitive environment interact and impact one another. Just maybe you’ll ask that one question that unlocks the holy grail of business, differentiation and competitive advantage.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.