10 Growth Strategies From a Decade of Tech and Business Pioneers
By Elisabeth Chin
The past decade of global business has been exciting, scary, and disruptive, to say the least. Tech startups rule the world. Uber and Airbnb exemplify network-based models that grow at lightning speed. Robots have taken center stage, and innovation continues to drive the globe into an uncertain and unpaved future.
This has been a decade of innovation, and my company has had the privilege of speaking one-on-one with some of the most highly influential thought leaders in the world of technology and business. Here is a summary of their mind-blowing work and how businesses today can apply their strategies.
1. “Jobs to Be Done” theory: Clay Christensen
The “Jobs to Be Done” theory offers insight on how to practically and predictably innovate with certainty. Rather than playing a game of chance, businesses can discover why customers buy what they buy, and provide products and services that they know people want. Karen Dillon, a coauthor of Clay Christensen’s book Competing Against Luck, says the theory can be reduced down to a practical framework for implementing disruptive innovation.
The strategy: Customers don’t make decisions based on their demographic. They make choices based on the problems they have in their lives that they are struggling to solve. Businesses need to identify and understand those problems, then they can confidently deliver exactly what customers want.
2. Neuroscience-based leadership: Christine Comaford
Named one of the Top 50 Human Behavior Experts to Follow in 2017 by iMotions and a 2017 Global Employee Engagement Influencer, Christine Comaford helps leaders be the change they want to see in their teams. Her research and strategies provide insight on how to create more positive employee engagement and encourage alignment across teams, even during times of change.
Comaford asserts that people at work fall into one of two categories: surviving or thriving. When managers learn how to empower the individuals on their teams to tap into their internal creative and innovative resources, the company becomes more accountable, focused, and collaborative. These teams move from just surviving in an environment of fear to thriving in an energetic and passionate atmosphere. You can learn more about Comaford’s influential strategies in her book SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together.
The strategy: Become a better leader if you want a better team.
3. The customer-funded business: John Mullins
About three-quarters of venture-backed firms in the United States don’t return investors’ capital. While the venture-capital method is a very popular way to think about business growth, the reality is it usually doesn’t work. Some companies get lucky with venture-backed startups, but for a more certain approach to funding, entrepreneurs need look no further than their customers. Research shows, in fact, the vast majority of people building fast-growing companies fund them with their customers’ money, not with venture money.
John Mullins has researched the idea of customer-funded businesses extensively, presenting his findings in his book The Customer-Funded Business. He is an Associate Professor of Management Practice at the London Business School and a worldwide speaker and educator. He is also a regularly published author at Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review.
The Strategy: Entrepreneurs can start, grow, and finance their businesses with confidence by implementing a pay-in-advance or subscription-based payment model. With a customer-funded business, entrepreneurs and investors avoid the high rate-of-failure associated with venture-backed firms.
4. Service design thinking: Marc Stickdorn
Marc Stickdorn is a consultant and trainer for service design thinking. A pioneer of the concept, Stickdorn developed an early interest in service design thinking after experiencing failure with pipeline-driven product development. With the old pipeline model, businesses seek to drive innovation from the top down. Alternatively, service design thinking begins with an outward focus on the customer.
In our interview, he explained the key principles for implementing service design today. You can learn more about service design thinking and how it has evolved into the new and exciting field on Stickdorn’s website.
The Strategy: Innovative ideas begin with understanding the end user’s experience. Strategic innovation in a company starts there and informs the direction of development, research, design—everything. Here’s what doesn’t work: attempts to “innovate” starting from the top down, driven by internal business goals, translated into products that are forced on the end user.
5. Joining the membership economy: Robbie Baxter
Some experts call the membership economy one of the most disruptive shifts in business since the Industrial Revolution. Robbie Baxter began her journey understanding and coaching businesses about it during her early years working with Netflix.
She has since identified actionable, practical ways that companies can implement membership models, freemium pricing structures, and subscription-based formats to grow their customer base and market valuation.
The Strategy: Prioritize access over ownership, relationships over anonymous transactions, recurring revenue over one-time payments, and open communication with customers and among customers. Provide cost certainty so that customers know exactly how much they will pay and receive, no surprises.
6. Bio-inspired innovation: Jay Harman
Jay Harman is the CEO of PAX Scientific and author of The Shark’s Paintbrush. Harman is an advocate for biomimicry, the practice of looking to nature for insight on how to solve problems. Take, for example, the bumblebee. This insect has better aerodynamics than a Boeing 747. Imagine, also, what can be learned from tornadoes and blood vessels, which share the same structural design.
Among other benefits, biomimicry helps innovators find environmentally-friendly solutions to very complex problems. Futurists, engineers, and entrepreneurs are uncovering ways that humans can apply designs within nature to improve modern development.
The Strategy: Innovators can develop solutions to all sorts of current issues by reverse engineering problem-solving strategies found in nature.
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7. Making price irrelevant with customer service: John DiJulius
Best-selling author of three customer service books, John DiJulius is a pioneer in the customer service revolution. His work and research teach businesses how to make the customer experience their single biggest competitive advantage. DiJulius’s consultancy is behind the customer experience success that some of the world’s most recognized brands are known for, including Lexus, Starbucks, Nordstrom and The Ritz-Carlton.
How do you begin implementing an incredible customer service experience? It all comes down to training, the number-one factor in an employee’s ability to recognize and deliver world-class customer service.
The Strategy: Don’t compete in price wars; compete in experience wars. Make customer experience your number-one differentiator. In this way, you can become the trusted partner your client cannot live without, regardless of your prices.
8. Understanding the platform revolution: Sangeet Paul Choudary
Sangeet Paul Choudary is a student, scholar, and early pioneer of platform business models. His work has helped identify and define what drives platform business models, giving companies the understanding they need to evolve with the shift.
Platform businesses are built on open and networked infrastructures with governance entities deciding which kinds of stakeholders participate in the platform. According to Choudary, three major global trends have led to the platform revolution. These include connectivity and widespread internet access, distributed funding and production, and the rise of big data and machine learning.
You can learn more about platform businesses in Platform Revolution, a book coauthored by Choudary, Geoffrey G. Parker, and Marshall W. Van Alstyne.
The Strategy: Platform businesses are taking over the world’s economy. To survive the shift, businesses should adopt platform models, driving growth through multiple stakeholders, rather than just one company.
9. Customer Delight from the Ground Up: Patricia O’Connell and Tom Stewart
A former journalist, Patricia O’Connell began her journey in service design during the era of transition from print to digital news. Now a consultant on service design principles, O’Connell offers executives insight on how to create businesses that beat the competition.
Tom Stewart, coauthor with O’Connell of Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight, has long been an authority on intellectual capital and knowledge management. Together, O’Connell and Stewart have helped champion the concepts of service design for businesses of all sizes. Their point is simple: Businesses today cannot succeed by skating by on Band-Aid strategies for pleasing their customers. For truly long-lasting growth, businesses need to be designed for service from the ground up.
The Strategy: Design your business around service using the five principles of service design: 1) The customer is always right, provided that they are the right customer for you; 2) Don’t surprise and delight your customers, just delight them; 3) Heroism should not be required for good service; 4) Anywhere you play, you have to play well; 5) You’re never done.
10. The Future of Global Trends and Innovation: Daniel Burrus
Prediction is a powerful tool that has propelled many of today’s most successful modern companies into the future. Flash Foresight author Daniel Burrus is a forerunner in the field of predicting global trends and helping businesses leverage those insights for disruptive innovation.
Burrus’s work has influenced Google, Proctor & Gamble, IBM, and many other Fortune 500 firms. His “Anticipatory Organization Model” equips leaders with methods for identifying trends and developing transformative, preactive solutions to business problems.
The Strategy: Rise to the top by anticipating game-changing opportunities before the competition sees them. This means being pre-active to future, known events identified by studying hard and soft trends.