By Len Monheit
Looking back at past events it’s often easy to point out the fatal flaws in strategy or decision making processes. What escaped participants at the time, either through data overload, or becoming too close to the problem or issue, becomes apparent when analyzed with a complete data set, a fresh approach, and adequate time instead of crisis of the moment. So this historical view is used to analyze, to criticize and presumably to learn. Historians for thousands of years have taught that we can understand the present and plan for the future, by studying the past, yet society has shown a remarkable tendency to repeat mistakes. Business too shows examples of companies not learning from either their own or others misjudgments and errors.
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Billions of dollars are spent each year on market research and competitive intelligence, one objective of which is to arm the organization with as much information about past and current events and trends to make the most educated decisions possible. With all this information available, where does the process come apart, since, as we know, it’s certainly not infallible? And what about the smaller organizations without the resources to access all this intelligence?
I spoke a few weeks ago in this column about decision making processes and perhaps should have included comments about the role of intuition and other intangible elements. Entrepreneurs specifically seem to have an uncanny ability to sift through data, often sparse, and make wise decisions, both in current terms and retrospectively. And on the other side, executives can have an army of researchers at hand with reams of data and consistently make the incorrect decisions, both in current terms and retrospectively. And of course there are less successful entrepreneurs and there are also organizations who make very effective use of intelligence and market research.
In an industry as entrepreneurially oriented as the natural and nutritional products industry, nowhere is the style variability more evident. Compounded by the ‘maverick’ approach of industry veterans, it makes for heated debate about almost every subject, ranging from business opportunities, to brand strategy to recruiting to channel management.
Yet there is no style that suits all situations. Somewhere a mix of approaches and techniques and a culture to support these must be created. And the knowledge sharing needs to transcend the individual organization. Events like the Newport Summit, last month’s Focus on the Future and the recently concluded Health Strategy Network North American Conference provide opportunities for idea sharing at high organizational level.
HSN for instance focused on four industry business cases and interactive discussion from conference participants. While the dialogue was facilitated, it was the attendees themselves that dissected the cases, critically examining the decision making and the results. And they learned from each other’s experiences and views and the entire room benefited, obviously some more than others. And for those cases dealing with past events and decisions, hindsight made it easier to find fault, but not necessarily to decide what to do differently.
The case study process is a novel approach to an industry event. It provides a sharing environment and with the increasing range of industry backgrounds, (food, supplements, large and small business, international background, position in value chain) the opportunity for participants to learn from each other is unparalleled.
But like anything else, when it really comes down to it, it’s really all about making more effective use of data that everyone else has, and achieving insights not obvious to the rest. Anything you can do as an executive or manager to expand your pool of resources, (and this includes network), is an asset.
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