Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Over the years I’ve had many managers work for me who’ve brought me all kinds of ideas about how to improve our business. One fellow in particular virtually lived on the internet always looking for new trends. He’d send me links to various websites of the latest ‘hot’ company in the hospitality industry. “This is the big growth area in our business”, he’d exclaim. “We should change our service style and product offering to take advantage of this new trend”. I always listened with a touch of amusement…if it’s already a ‘trend’ then we’re kind of late for the party, as they say. The trouble with following trends and mimicking industry leaders, in any business, is that you end up looking like everyone else. No thanks!
The only way to succeed when following trends is to ensure you’re significantly better than the companies ahead of you – you need to be a better operator, marketer and, most probably, deliver a different spin on services or product. The modus operandi of your company needs to be fanatically centered on exceeding customer expectations through excellence in delivery including an extraordinarily friendly service attitude at every level and constant attention to details. If you can do these things really well, then you may catch the trend-setters. But you better be damned good!
For me, the most enjoyable approach to business lies in the field of innovation. The secret to creating, and I emphasize the word ‘creating’, a business to last is to do something no one else has done (or, at least, not done well). This strategy requires a compelling vision. It requires details foresight -which is the ability to anticipate where society is heading. When the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky was asked why he was such a prolific scorer he answered, “I skate where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” That’s a pretty good prescription for successful entrepreneurs.
Many ground breaking leaders, in any field, rely more on intuition and ‘gut feel’ than science. Let’s face it, anyone can study an industry and determine what’s working, and who’s leading. That only requires plodding scientific methods. Everyone would be successful, if that’s all that is required. However, the more rewarding approach is more akin to art. Businesses in the vanguard create something new in the same way nineteenth century Impressionists changed painting. Through these few men, people saw a landscape in a new light – they created a different and more beautiful way of looking at the world. Business innovators do the same thing with products. “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” said computer scientist Alan Kay. This is the challenge for any business that strives to lead in its industry. An exciting strategy is to create something that people never knew they wanted –now that is in genius territory. If you’re wildly successful, you may be able to turn that ‘want’ into a ‘need’ and then you’re a market leader!
I also firmly believe that a crystal clear, inspired vision is the real secret to developing a strong culture in your company and the only way you’ll engender loyalty among your employees. If the company’s vision is setting a new authentic and meaningful business model this increases the odds that staff loyalty will grow, and it is they who will continually improve and transform the business. They will come to share your passion for what you do. Of course, this path is fraught with many challenges. Because it’s a new way of doing things, it may involve a lot of stumbles and misses along the way. The key is to cling to your vision and persevere. Don’t be overly critical of yourself or key employees when missteps occur. As Rumi once wrote, “If you’re irritated by every rub, how will you ever be polished?” Similarly, in the book “7 Habits of Highly Successful People”, management guru Stephen Covey advised readers to keep “the end in mind” as you work towards your goals. It is imperative. Be confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel…just hope it’s not a train coming towards you!
In the final analysis you must not show any hubris in your small accomplishments along the way or when you finally reach a more lasting success...and receive praise or public recognition. In other words, don’t get complacent! As Richard Branson says in his book “Like a Virgin”, “…keep moving and improving: laurels are nice but to rest on them is to risk losing your edge.” Things can change quickly and you need to be aware and ready with “Plan B”. True leaders never lose sight of their vision. They are usually nimble and change tactics as necessary but they always know where they’re going. This is what will differentiate leaders from their weaker competitors. By combining new business approaches to their industry (the art of creativity) with tried and true best practices (the science of operations) leaders will enhance the odds for success in the long run.
Just knowing consumers have endorsed your approach and products is, in itself, rewarding. It is the source of most of the pride I have in my accomplishments in the hospitality industry. Although it is the act of improving and trying new things that truly excites me, it is getting the up and coming employees in the company “on board” that consumes me the most. Becoming a BCorp1. has helped tremendously in differentiating my company, and it has given another important reason for people to join and stay with the company. We are now the largest BCorp restaurant group in the country!
I learned a long time ago that lasting success is a result of finding people that have a passion for what we do – this strategy has separated my company from our competitors. These employees (we call them “team members”) exemplify the cultural corner stones that got us our success in the first place. They are driven by, and aligned with, our vision and they are the source of new ideas and will forge the road to true innovation. Consumers can feel that commitment and they respond to it through their ongoing patronage.
“Leaders have no interest in proving themselves, but they have an abiding interest in expressing themselves” wrote Warren Bennis. Therein lies an important truth for any budding entrepreneur. And if the money follows? Well, there’s nothing wrong with that!
1 BCorps are striving to not only be the best in the world but they are also committed to be the best for the world. In my view, it is the most important new trend in business…ensuring real change in the capitalist system. Check out more on the “BCorp” movement on line.