• Learn to Teach. Teach to Learn

    by  • April 13, 2012 • Leadership, Life, Marketing, Strategy

    teachlearnWhen I retired, I thought I was through with business. And I was, until the social network came along and enticed me to blog. Like most bloggers, I write about what I know; that’s strategy, leadership and branding. My motive is nothing more than to share my experience with today’s business community in the hope they might put an old warrior’s advice to good use. To improve relevancy, I’ve had to familiarize myself with the new economy and the products and services that did not exist when I was CEO of coffee/confectioner, Jacobs Suchard. As a side benefit of this crash course in catch-up, I have learned more than I ever imagined. And although I am no longer engaged in commercial business, I am once again “thinking business” and enjoying the rush of discovering the ideas and innovations of today’s entrepreneurs.

    Nothing has been as illuminating as studying the ways and means of Apple. More recently, I delved into the business of “cult” energy drink brands, Red Bull and Monster, and I strongly advise anyone in consumer products or services to examine Red Bull’s strategies and culture. Do that and you can’t help but think differently about your own brand or business. The folks at Red Bull are the ultimate entrepreneurs; although you may be caught in the bureaucracy of an old economy organization, you cannot escape the fact that great ideas create change.

    Your idea can change a company. That idea can also change you; believe me, there is nothing like a business breakthrough to set the right foundation for the rest of your career. Take the time to look at other industries. You’ll be surprised what you can learn and how that information can affect your own business or industry. A trade show is a great place to start.

    15 months of blogging and here’s the most important things I’ve taught:

    1. Complexity in a company is a cancer. Keep it simple. Focus.
    2. Strategy has never been more important. With the pace of business and with so many options at a leader’s disposal, clarity of purpose is critical to differentiating you from the rest of the pack. Leverage it to get ahead. Remain focused on it to stay ahead.
    3. Creativity is the last great bargain in business. Institutionalize it within your modus operandi and mindset. This is difficult for big company people because they are part of a “spend your way out of it” culture. Creativity is the key to a small company’s success. With the emergence of social media, the leverage of creativity is immeasurable.
    4. Appreciate that culture is the strategy. Look at Apple – no question Apple would not be what it is today without Steve Jobs ‘vision and tenacity. But don’t over look the fact that Apple’s culture is innovative, competitive, focused, passionate and collaborative.
    5. Look to a future beyond the fiscal year. Develop strategies that define the future based on the actions
      you will take to achieve that vision.

    43 years in business and here’s the most important things I’ve learned:

    1. Life is a journey, not a destination. I didn’t get this until I left the corner office and began to discover interests beyond business. Don’t wait that long.
    2. One can successfully balance work life and home life. Hug your kids. They grow up faster than you can imagine. Sure, there are times where you’ll have to put in the long hours. But you can work smarter. That means more hours for your family and your out-of-work passions. Trust me; the business won’t suffer.
    3. Today’s business is more exciting than ever before. Okay, so there are roadblocks – government meddling, environmental challenges, cheap foreign production. But look at the opportunities – online marketing, social media, niche products and services, specialization, the list goes on.
    4. “Greed is good” is becoming “greed for good. Entrepreneurs invest where there is opportunity. Saving the planet is good business.  In the renewable energy market, global investment has increased from $33 billion in 2004 to $211 billion, 7 years later.
    5. The most important thing in business and life is to love what you do. This means following your passion. Mine was marketing. Now that I’m out of business, my passion is writing. One day I’ll find a publisher not afraid to take a chance on a grey-haired, rookie novelist.
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    Formerlife: Jacobs Suchard CEO (Kraft, Nabob), Strategy Consultant. Afterlife: Palgrave Macmillan Author, Historical Novelist, Business Journalist

    3 Responses to Learn to Teach. Teach to Learn

    1. April 16, 2012 at 6:14 am

      Thanks John for the pearls of wisdom about learning and teaching. You are right that there’s so much more to business than in the past. The one area that I find interesting is the de-emphasis in business – and life – of the competitive factor. Competition used to be seen as desirable, normal, sometimes a brutal fact of life, survival of the fittest, etc. This led to a lot of success stories, but also a lot of mistakes and damaged people. We know that competitiveness inside organizations leads to silo thinking.

      Today, I teach collaboration to mid-managers and talk about the move towards ‘enlightened self-interest’, i.e., looking after other’s interests and achieving your own at the same time.

      Still, I sometimes wonder if we’ve subordinated competitiveness too far. A scientist will tell you that competition fuels nature. Globally, competition grows (and slows) economies. I wonder if we need to re-frame competitiveness and give it a clearer place in teaching and learning. The best place is through strategy, but what about at the human level?

      • John
        April 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm

        Such an irony you bring up the de-emphasis of competitivity in business and life. I’ve written a blog on the subject, but taken the view that we need more, rather than less competitive spirit. And though I agree with you on the potential downsides, I believe the upsides are immeasurable under the right leadership and guidance. I plan on posting “The Power of an Enemy” sometime next week. I look forward to reading your views.

        • April 17, 2012 at 8:18 am

          Yes, it’ is an irony. I’m about to write a guest blog for a colleague on the topic of competitiveness in the realm of change (using the model I espouse, Solution Focus). Looking forward to your next post on the enemy!