Thursday, October 23, 2008


I love when the messages that are out in the universe trying to reach you finally catch up to you. I regularly eat at various Vietnamese restaurants, especially in cooler weather, because I love pho, and I love hoping that a little wisdom will be imparted to me via the fortune cookie.

I also love a calendar that gives daily advice or food for thought. My 2008 calendar is Tom Peter's Re-Imagine! It is full of incredible snippets for the brave, imaginative warrior like I am.

Today's advice is this:

Opportunity now lies,
not in perfecting routines,
but in taking advantage of instability --
that is, creating opportunities of the
daily discontinuity of the turbulent marketplace.

I don't think that Tom Peters, as smart as he is, could forsee the market crash that we are experiencing, but I love that his advice is so fitting. Here is my interpretative application of this advice from the master for finding opportunity in instability:

1) Get over it and deal with the reality at hand. Start to talk and plan for decreased customers and a cash poor operating environment. This applies to a manufacturing plant as much as it does to a church or a school or the neighborhood deli. Look for the opportunities you have to change the conversation with your customers to one that focuses on the value that you provide.

2) Reign in account receivables. I am just starting with a new client that is generous to a fault. He extends credit to distributors and waits more than 90 days to receive his payment. All the while, his suppliers have their hands out. He is getting squeezed by his own doing and it is draining him unnecessarily because he has to worry about cash needs too much. When I was the GM of a hotel, one of the innovations that I introduced to that system was to pay the first room night including taxes upon making a reservation. All of a sudden, no-shows went down dramatically. And the cancellation policy within 72 hours was a penalty of the first night's stay, which we had already collected. It is especially dangerous to get strung out in cash positions in this cash poor environment.

3) Instead of perfecting routines or the same old-same old way of doing things, the current environment is a perfect excuse to pull the trigger on the things that you might only have been thinking about. For example, there are tremendous cost savings to be had in communicating to your customers through technology that is by and large FREE. Online publishing and strategic use of email far exceeds producing and sending paper documents. Evites are part of daily life, why can't they be used for institutional life. I just received an Evite to my college reunion and I can look to see who is coming and RSVP at the click of a button. No telling the hard dollars saved in printing much less the design effort and stuffing and sealing efforts. I am sure on the other end, many steps are decreased in creating guest lists etc because the database is built from customer responses. You will save in paper costs, labor costs, mailing costs, and message ignored costs if you go paperless. Extending your organization down the status quo path when the market fundamentals are so dramatically new and unusual is dangerously naive. Dramatic change in fundamentals requires a re-evaluation and re-consideration of all previous assumptions and directions.

4) Invest in learning and innovation. Now is the time to find ways for everyone in your organization to be able to give more and to be able to work more effectively and collaboratively as a team. Also, to create an environment where employess feel they receive more in the form of meaning in their jobs helps fulfill their spirit when raises might not happen for a few years. Together, there is more leverage in coordinated effort than in many uncoordinated efforts. We all with have to get used to accomplishing more with less. I anticipate expectations of service and communication and value will dramatically increase while resources for expansion in programs and personnel will decrease for the next few years. Asking how and what we can do that is more with less will be a fruitful conversation for all organizations to have.

There are great opportunities in instability. Only those that actively engage in the exploratory process of discerning the needs creating by this new instability will find them.

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