08/11/2010

By Andrew Lester

There is a great phrase in the iconic film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. Paul Newman speaks as Butch responding to a comment from Sundance... ”I’ve got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals”. But in the end, the true vision does not come from Butch, but from a friendly local marshall who states in anger that it’s over and all Butch can do is decide where it all ends.

Many business owners and directors have had a great vision of how to make money fulfilling a specific market’s needs. They had a great ability to see a gap in the market and meet it. They can keep focussed and deliver despite the operational difficulties that crop up.

However there is a major behavioural difference between those who have real vision and those who have tunnel vision. Real vision transcends changes in the market, based on an ability and behaviours which are open minded and creative. Real vision is applicable to different circumstances, it sees how things are likely to change based not just off the core customer needs of today but also based on the changes that are happening all around.

Tunnel vision on the other hand is only visionary in one direction at one time. It's fine to get going, but it invariably does not keep pace with related developments in associated markets and sectors. Tunnel vision creates behaviours that produce one of the most common reasons for business failure: an inability to adapt.

There is a well known and often well forgotten concept: “nothing fails like an old success”. The concept is simple. It states that if something worked well then we should repeat it to get further success. So the marketing programme that offered buy one get one free (BOGOF) had a great impact on short term sales. The trouble with repeating it time and again is that eventually customers will only buy when there is a BOGOF offer — effectively decimating your margins. The same is true for businesses as a whole. Just because the owner had the vision to start the company and grow it to a certain size, does not mean that his vision then is still relevant now. Markets change, customer needs change, the competitive and legislative landscape changes, and all of these have the ability to make your “old success” a complete and utter “new failure”.

The key to solving the issue is relatively simple in principle but incredibly hard in practice. Owners and directors who rely on past business success and continually roll out the old recipe have to change their vision to reflect future market needs. This means being careful with your own experience, being careful with your own view of the market, and being careful about who you listen to and what you listen out for. Successful people will regularly hear their own success being played back to them. The key for developing real vision and avoiding tunnel vision is to remain open minded, to use experience to balance risk, but to use openness and inquisitiveness to ensure that there’s a steady stream of unadulterated market insight coming into the business.

A real example: I worked in a private company a few years back. The company was re-launching a well established product line and wanted to have the maximum market impact.

The CEO of the business was a powerful and successful visionary. The team respected him. In developing their re-launch they developed a strong marketing campaign based on the prior brand and presented it for review. The team felt they had done a great job in responding to the needs of the market and the company. The new offer used the success of the brand and its position in the market to attack competitors’ offers. The reaction of the CEO was very interesting. His first question was “why are you continuing with the existing brand?” The team were gob smacked. They had assumed that there was no option but to keep the same brand. The CEO however had a different view: a real vision. His vision was not of a new product launch in isolation, but a company that could be relied upon to continually review the market and its dynamics, and to establish which elements of the marketing mix should be changed to meet emerging customer needs. He was not saying: you must change the brand. He was saying: I expect all of you in the company to take the authority to question and if needed rework any element of our business to make it better, to keep it fresh and to increase our margins. He was in effect asking his team to: open their minds, collect the data, think, create and deploy. This is real vision, not tunnel vision.

Please feel free to comment by contacting me: andrewlester@carr-michael.com - Andrew Lester is Managing Partner of Carr-Michael Consulting, specialists in growth management and business performance improvement.


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