Saturday, February 24, 2007

(Re)thinking your business: where psychology meets business

Over the past couple of weeks I have been involved in work to help customers approach their business from a fresh perspective and in discussions with a friend who sees innovation opportunities in the way a traditional business is operated right now in Europe. There are challenges and perils in (re)thinking a business both for insiders and for outsiders, and these are not the "usual suspects" (strategy, marketing, sales, finance...) as the next frontier of business performance seems to be what is going on inside our psyche.

In a recent project, I noticed how difficult it is for people who have been running a business for a long time to step back and reconsider their fundamental assumptions about the business; for me as a facilitator it takes a lot of focus just to create an environment in which it is safe to question some of the fundamentals of a business, i.e. precisely what makes a business owner feel secure in a company that may not be an explosive success but that does manage to generate fairly decent profits. Helping someone approach their business from a fresh perspective is much more a psychological than a business endeavor: it's about guiding an entrepreneur with all his hopes, his dreams, his fears, his  ego, his desire to be loved / admired / accepted and his representations of complex equivalents of specific values... That's quite a fascinating job to perform and definitely one that completely confirms my strong belief that the next frontier of business performance lies in the proper management of people and of their potential.
At the same time, in very stark contrast, outsiders who see an opportunity to do things differently in established industries seem to be able to access relevant statistical data supporting their views very rapidly indeed. Thus, asymmetry of  information, one of the most important historical barriers to new entrants, seems to be rapidly collapsing as content of good-enough quality is made accessible in the open environment of the Internet. This has profound implications on the impact of the free flow of knowledge on the intensity of competition and on business strategy. People who run their businesses according to the good old methods of scientific labor organization and fail to go one step beyond to take the information age into account, will slowly but very surely become extinct. I think this is also supported by Mavericks at Work, a book I am currently listening when I'm in my car. Again, the disruptive potential is no longer prevented from expressing itself simply because mere access to information is impossible. And that disruptive potential becomes effective disruption when actual people manage to overcome their internal barriers and limitations to make a credible commitment to a fresh vision of an entire industry and lead the way. Again, the endeavor is largely a matter of psychology.
In a way, the Information Age may be characterized by the disappearance of "impossibilities" and objective barriers to entry (at least those based on mere access to information) that could be analyzed and almost quantified. And perhaps that is precisely what reveals the next frontier of business performance: man's internal barriers and limitations, which require a peculiar mix of skills to be removed or transformed into creative energy. A mix of skills applied to help individuals evolve, express and achieve goals and find meaning in a holistic approach to the individual person whose life requires her to play many different and increasingly interrelated social roles.