Economic recession forces positive attitude to see opportunities

There is a great article from Geoff Ramsey-CEO, Co-Founder of eMarketer on how it’s important to stay balanced during these difficult times. In it he mentions five key ways to keep on track and avoid seeing every article or news report as additional evidence that we are heading towards an inescapable catastrophe.

  1. Understand Your Locus of Control
  2. Tighten the Spigot
  3. Focus on the Opportunities
  4. Leverage Data to Construct Opportunistic Experiments
  5. Invest in the Future

What is interesting is that these five ways pretty much mirror in sequence how people deal with other stressful situations in their lives. I believe we are still in the early part of this sequence as business owners and consumers try to make sense of all the statistics and negative news which bombards them every day.

But the critical element in this sequence is moving beyond the paralyzing fear which has gripped the markets and realizing that this will turn around and everyone out there has an opportunity to creatively reshape how we do business. I was at a great talk at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of business last night and the speaker Geoffrey Helt reiterated that we are in a transformation right now and as painful as this is at the moment (especially with everything else going on in the economy) will result in new models and ways of conducting business.

We can help to get past this by decreasing the flow of negative news (#2) and promoting the opportunities (#3) inherent in this shift. Turning down the volume allows you to refocus that energy and hear emergent trends in the marketplace.

Finally leveraging data and investing in the future gives you a starting point for investigating how to move ahead. Just remember to balance what is coming in with a grounded sense that standing still won’t work for long; the agile competitors are already looking at opportunities and trying things to carve out a path to new revenue sources and better customer experiences.

Strategic innovation counters short-term thinking

Many executives find themselves facing difficult decisions these days in light of the challenging economic conditions. Short-term results are often scrutinized closely by the market as a way of determining a company’s financial health and direction. Although this can be a viable way of judging whether corporate strategy is translating into market success, what often happens is that short-term thinking permeates the organization leading to a starvation of resources for longer-term initiatives like new products and services.

One can see this happening at large companies in different sectors as they announce cutbacks in spending on innovation to meet customer needs. As the former CTO of Cisco notes, America is facing an “Innovation Crisis,” and needs to find “new ways of funding fundamental research.”

She cites the fact that Bell Labs announced late last year that it was discontinuing basic science research to “align the research work in the Lab closer to areas that the parent company is focusing on.”

The problem is that with these expense reductions, there is a tendency to pull back customer facing programs in order to conserve cash and “reduce” risk. As in an earlier post, I maintain that this may actually be a riskier strategy over the long term as competitors who continue their innovation program will be in better shape once the economy returns to normal growth.

Arguably, innovation can be seen as an “assembly” of tools, techniques, or assets to meet those deep customer needs. But without the foundation of basic research, it is very difficult to source assets to put into a solution. Of course there are grey areas within both fields, but I believe these days it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify investments in basic research which makes partnerships with universities an interesting way to explore getting access to more fundamental work.

In my opinion, innovation (which I define as meeting stated or unstated customer needs) is different than basic research or invention. While both are important, it is harder to make the case in today’s corporate environment for basic research, which is why I believe that many corporations are reducing their investments in these areas to (hopefully) concentrate more on innovation and getting more value from their existing assets. Keep in mind that the best way to use these assets is understanding the needs and taking a simple (but not dumb) approach to serving them.

In this economic climate, we at Brandsential work towards this goal by using “Value Extraction;” to leverage what’s inside the company to satisfy deep customer needs. And as I’ve said before, now is a perfect time to develop and innovate with these existing assets to make sure the company is well positioned to lead the market once the economic climate improves.