What’s more motivating for you — learning how to fish or the fish itself? (Image Source: http://thelakemurraynews.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Fishing.jpg)
I was talking to an intellectual yesterday about an idea of his. He’s an entrepreneur in the marketing realm, and wants to get a technology idea off the ground. He’s also an author and PhD with a wide breadth of exciting experiences; hence the “intellectual”.
So we were talking about his idea, and it’s in the realm of politics. I know diddly squat about politics. I’m sitting there and understanding what he’s proposing conceptually, and at the end, he asked me to get back to him if I’m interested in taking on the project in some capacity, but also, if I’m not passionate about it or the subject at all, then no worries.
That little bit made me think about if I need to know or “care” about politics, or if there was another drive that would motivate me to take this on. It made me think of what I’m passionate about, what challenges I find rewarding, and to some extent, what am I scared of – the domain of an idea or building the idea.
Throughout our talk, I was leaning on my experience building startups in thinking about the venture as it relates to marketing, user experience, and largely, the technical mechanics of it. It’s not technically difficult to be honest, but I don’t know politics necessarily. So all this time, the hamster in my head is running furiously thinking about the building aspect of the idea, not really politics. That’s what drives me.
I’ve long called myself an opportunist. I mentioned in prior posts like “The Next Act for an Entrepreneur With Breadth, Not Depth – Am I A Product Manager?” that I don’t necessarily have a specific domain expertise, but look at what I’ve done, and you won’t necessarily find much commonalities in domains. Instead, you’d find the BUILDING part of my ventures as the common thread. It’s the thrill of the strategy formation, hypothesis testing, implementation, learning, and then the recycle.
Thinking about this “domain” vs. “build” concept, I suppose I can relate “build” to the “work”, “implementation”, or “delivery” of other occupations or even in the corporate job world. Or better yet, “domain” would be the “what” question and “build” would be the “how” question. For me, it doesn’t so much matter about what an occupation or idea is in. Instead, I’m interested in the “how”. What scares me when I’m building iOS apps right now, for instance, is how to mechanize an idea. How do I use the iPhone’s GPS, if I’ve never used it before?

Taking the old proverb, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. But perhaps the more relevant question is if the man even wants fish. What if he’s allergic?! So fishing, in this case, is the “HOW”. And the “fish” is actually the “WHAT”.

And of course, you have more questions that can and will motivate you as you choose a new job, a new venture, etc. including WHO, WHEN, WHERE, and my favorite… the WHY.
  • The Who question can address who you work with (want to work with your best friend?) or who you serve.
  • The When question can address if timing is right – if the market’s ready, if you’re ready, etc.
  • The WHERE question, similarly to WHEN, can address if the location’s right. 
  • The Why question is a tough one, and yet so easy… this can answer if you’re in sync with the purpose of a company. Is the company pursuing a mission you’re proud of and feel strongly about?

But with the Intellectual, the questions that raced into my mind that concerned me the most were that of the domain (the WHAT) and how mechanizing the idea would work (the HOW). At least with this opportunity, I wouldn’t be able to tell if BM would or would not be someone WHO I would want to work with. I will have to consider the WHEN question before I get back to him given my bandwidth now and in the foreseeable future. And as for the WHY, this opportunity would allow me to learn a lot from a brilliant, well-connected individual that would perhaps be a great stepping stone for something later I could be even more passionate about.
Of course, for me, I have to be wary of that the building process only lasts for so long before the product reaches maturity and stability. And thus, the challenge dissipates, but perhaps, the challenge actually transforms into another type of build… like building a company, or building new innovative ideas… but in a better case, the WHAT becomes just as appealing as the HOW.

What are your thoughts about what excites you about your job or a new opportunity – is it the domain or the build? How do you consider the other questions (who, when, why) as you evaluate options?
Since I left business school at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School for my MBA, I’ve taken on the scary move of working full-time on the startup I co-founded with friends, Body Boss Fitness.  In a couple months of full-time startup-ship without the funds to really pay me (or anyone) a salary yet, I got all scared, and dipped my feet back into consulting part-time.  It’s been a few months doing this to put some money in my pocket, and I’ve taken on now two different consulting projects.  All the while, I also push Body Boss including traveling for sales and marketing and writing up blog posts like I just did here at Starbucks in Brookhaven on a Sunday.

I do enjoy supply chain consulting for sure… but I’m going to dip back out of consulting and give Body Boss my undivided attention for a long while.  If I say it out loud and put it on a blog post, I’ll have to stick to my word, right?  Well, all this experience has also brought out this strange affinity for writing my thoughts, and it’s about time that I write another article for my SC Ninja Skills blog

Reflecting on my previous life as a consultant (okay, some of my current, too) and my passion in weight lifting, I’ve seen a couple important take-aways that have been highly leverageable in both worlds.
  • Change is hard.  When you go to a gym for a few years consistently weekly, you see those who come and go, and those who stay true.  It’s clear those who are “newbs”.  They come in, sometimes work half-heartedly, and then either stick around and wonder they’re not seeing the gains they want or they just disappear as quickly as they arrived.  In consulting, similarly, companies who are looking to change make a difficult decision to embark on change.  However, it’s so easy for companies to lose sight of the goal and milestones to bring about sustainable change.
  • Even if you’re seasoned in the gym, you need to change to keep improving.  Companies who don’t embrace the necessity to change as the world evolves are likely to see growth become stagnant, and is most often the case, fade away.  It’s so easy for companies to keep going about their business managing the day-to-day without thinking larger and more strategically.  However, without change, it’s even easier to then let competition come in and take everything away (think Blackberry, Kodak, etc.).  In the gym, if you’re doing the same routine over and over again, your body adjusts and you no longer see gains in your strength.  It only takes six weeks before your body adapts.
  • Bringing an outside perspective can help.  As a consultant, this is almost the very reason we exist.  Similar to the point above, it’s so easy for companies to be complacent and continue to operate just as they have over the last 40 years.  However, bringing in fresh eyes from consultants, an outside hire, or otherwise, can easily give perspective from potentially competition, other industries, etc. In the gym, bringing a friend who is knowledgeable about working out can easily bring new routines, or even help spot when you’ve actually got poor form.
  • Establishing goals helps you achieve greater.  One of the first things you do as a trainer with a client is to run an assessment.  This includes understanding a baseline or where a client is, and where the client wants to go (i.e. lose weight, add 25 lbs to her squat, drop your 40 time by a half-second). Without knowing where you want to go, it’s hard to really push yourself and make it timely.  In the consulting world, if you don’t establish a baseline of “current state” and plan for a “future state” (Shangri-la), how do you know what to do, who to employ, how your customers will react (if any)?
  • Post-workout is just as important as in-workout.  In working out, it’s important to take care of your body after a workout.  That may include a post-workout protein shake to ensure you have the nutrients for recovery, or just daily nutrition in meals.  If you aren’t eating right and stretching and the like, it’s hard to sustain any gains you may have from a workout.  In consulting, implementing post-transformation catches is key to sustaining the change.  Tracking efforts via metrics is one way of ensuring change has sustainability; while establishing a culture embracing change is another sure-fire way of keeping the momentum going.
So what do you think about the parallels in working out and in consulting or even business in general?  How would you use the lessons learned in the weight room in consulting, or vice versa?

I just read an interesting article about how Nokia actually had research and made internal presentations about devices similar to the iPhone and iPad 7 YEARS BEFORE Apple ever actually introduced the iPhone.  Former Nokia Designer Frank Nuovo rummages through his old notes and presentations, and recalls how his team had all the research and development on where the mobile industry was going — “the Nokia team showed a phone with a color touch screen set above a single button” [1].  Yet, with all this foresight and research, it was Apple who actually invented the iPhone, not Nokia.  Nokia believed in its core basic phones even to the day Apple turned the mobile industry right-side up in 2006. 

This reminds me, too, of Xerox’s PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) back in the 70s when they actually developed the first PC.  Xerox spent boatloads of money in researching and developing new tech including the programming environment we’re all familiar with today with mice and the like.  And yet, it was actually Steve Jobs who saw the real value and future of the personal computer, and it was Steve Jobs who took it and ran with it and helped create the world we live in today.  Like Nokia mentioned before, Xerox had the opportunity to expand and grow and really change the technological landscape.  However, both companies failed to realize the real opportunities and read the tea leaves on how to shape their companies.

I’m not going to say companies should change their core competencies.  Instead, I want to highlight the true nature of why so many companies fail.  It’s ignorance.  Well, it’s more than that, but from the top, those who are actually steering the ship, ignorance and internal squabbles are what prevent companies from recognizing their ships are actually heading into an iceberg.  

In today’s world, I’m constantly reminded of large retailers who are struggling to keep up with their more agile competitors who operate e-commerce solutions and direct fulfillment.  Take the Best Buy vs. Amazon battle.  It’s apparent that Best Buy’s 42.0M+ square feet of retail space is a huge anchor on Best Buy’s financials, an anchor e-commerce companies like Amazon are not held down by [2].  With the advent of apps and smartphone penetration of 47% [3] (and of course, it was lower several years ago, but it’s explosive growth was readily apparent), you have to think to management in big box retailers would have seen this coming.

Not all is bad, however.  In the case of Best Buy, anyways, the company has shifted much of its growth strategy away from the big box stores and are focusing on smaller standalone stores (SAS).  These stores features much smaller footprints (you’ve probably seen one in a mall near you) are mobile device-oriented.  Best Buy has been focusing much of its efforts on the growing mobile industry, and it’s clear where the company wants to go with 2012 projections of closing 50 big box stores in 2012 and opening 100 additional SAS formats across the U.S. [4] 

Will Best Buy’s new shift in strategy work?  Will it even be enough to right the ship towards calmer waters?  Only time will tell.  This much is certain, though: don’t get stick your heels too deep in the ground when it comes to your operations.  Oftentimes, the writing is on the walls or in the case of Nokia, the writing was right there in product designs and in presentations — the business needs to pivot.  Pivot to grow.  Pivot to capture new revenues.  Pivot to survive.



[1] Grundberg, Sven and Troianovski, Anton. Nokia’s Bad Call on Smartphones. In The Wall Street Journal. [Website]. Retrieved October 14, 2012, from  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304388004577531002591315494.html


[2] Reisinger, Don. Best Buy has become a soap oprea. In CNNMoney. [Website]. Retrieved October 12, 2012, from http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2012/07/31/best-buy/


[3] Lunden, Ingrid. ComScore: US Smartphone Penetration 47% In Q2; Android Remins Most Popular, But Apple’s Growing Faster. In Tech Crunch. [Website].  Retrieved October12, 2012, from http://techcrunch.com/2012/08/01/comscore-us-smartphone-penetration-47-in-q2-android-remains-most-popular-but-apples-growing-faster/


[4] Epstein, Zach. Best Buy posts mixed Q4 earnings, plans to close 50 U.S. stores. In BGR. Retrieved October 13, 2012 from http://www.bgr.com/2012/03/29/best-buy-posts-mixed-q4-earnings-plans-to-close-50-u-s-stores/