If Day One of this year’s AmeriQuest Symposium was focused on passion, the focus of Day Two is on getting companies to think outside the box, for success and for security.
Whether you’re talking about coming up with new ideas or developing new strategies to protect your data, the second day of the Symposium offered incredible insights. The day opened with international cybersecurity expert, Keren Elazari, who focused on the alarming change in hacker targets. It’s no longer about hacking secrets…it’s about hacking things. Identity theft is certainly alarming and, for anyone who has experienced it, incredibly disruptive. However, in most cases, it’s not life-threatening. Today’s hackers are attempting to, and sometimes succeeding in hacking into medical devices, automobiles, airplanes, business processes, and more. So how do companies combat that threat? Elazari stated that “We’re all on the front line. The hackers are in control; but we can adapt and work with them.” She offers the examples of Facebook, Tesla, Ford, and other companies who, in fact, invite hackers to hack them; offering a “bug bounty” when they succeed. These companies realize that it’s better to have the hackers on your side; to find out the problems in your systems before others do. Elazari emphatically suggests that companies have a cybersecurity strategy in place that goes beyond the basics, and that companies have someone in the company who thinks like the hackers do. Hackers are thinking outside the traditional box of hacking secrets; you need to do the same.
The next speaker, Paul Alofs, author of Passion Capital and President and CEO of the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, actually hearkened back to the first day’s focus: passion. But the companies and personalities he mentioned all used that passion as a way of thinking outside the box. He gave Pixar as the perfect example of how passion can lead to re-invention. Pixar’s founder, John Lassiter, had been a Disney animator who wanted to create a new type of animation, but Disney demurred and Lassiter founded Pixar…and as they say, “the rest is history.” According to Alofs, ‘passion capital,’ as opposed to human capital or intellectual capital, is built on seven building blocks and behaviors: Creed, Culture, Courage, Brand, Resources, Strategy, and Persistence. First you have to be able to elucidate a powerful statement of belief….a creed that you live by. This creed that focuses on passion goes well beyond the traditional company mission statement and affects everything your company does and stands for. When it comes to building a company culture, Alofs offers eight rules: hire the right people; hire slow and fire fast; communicate and listen; tend to the weeds (face and handle your problems quickly); work hard and play hard; be ambitious; celebrate differences; create a space that’s conducive to adhering to the creed; and take the long view. Just thinking about the next quarter or next year instead of five or ten years out doesn’t really allow ‘passion capital’ to percolate and grow.
Did you ever try to create an ‘elevator speech’ for your product or service? It’s probably one of the most difficult tasks; that’s why the Symposium invited Chris Westfall, U. S. Elevator Pitch Champion to speak. Westfall’s overall message is that you have to make your message matter. And you do that by not making the focus of the message you, your company, or your product, but rather how those things are relevant to the audience you’re facing, whether that’s an individual or a group. Those messages need to be substantive, or as Westfall states, “don’t confuse slogans with solutions.” Consumers, whether in a B2B or B2C situation, are so much more informed and have such easy access to competitors’ information that you need to really make it clear why your company is different. And in this fast-paced digital world, you need to do so quickly. According to Westfall, the conversation (because it needs to be a conversation, not a soliloquy) needs to be changed based on whom you’re addressing. As he says, “ask yourself what matters most to your most important person; who do you want to influence the most,” and shape the message accordingly. Westfall then listed the four qualities every message should possess; it should be surprising, unexpected, innovative, and counter-intuitive. You need to create engagement, and thinking outside that proverbial pitch box will certainly do that.
Finally, the Symposium concluded with Doug Stephens, founder of Retail Prophet and author of The Retail Revival: Re-Imagining Business for the New Age of Consumerism. Considered one of the world’s foremost retail industry futurists, Stephens’ work has influenced many of the world’s best-known retailers, agencies, and brands including Walmart, Home Depot, Disney, BMW, Citibank, eBay, and Intel. His presentation to the Symposium attendees, “The Road to Remarkable,” which focused on the disruption going on in business today, used the Netflix/Blockbuster story to illustrate how companies who are truly open to innovation are more likely to succeed than those that resist change. Thinking outside the box himself, Stephens didn’t consider what innovative companies do that make them so successful; instead he focused on what they don’t do and imparted that to his audience. These successful companies don’t innovate with the wrong people, and they don’t ask for innovation and risk-taking and then only reward compliance and success. Innovative companies don’t discourage bad ideas because they know that a great idea is a good idea that may seem like a bad idea. That may sound like a paradox, but it’s actually true as illustrated by his examples: eBay and airbnb. Innovative companies don’t innovate only when they want to; they’re constantly innovating. Innovative companies don’t innovate vertically, they’re always searching out new avenues to expand their reach. Innovative success stories don’t aim for the ‘middle;’ they constantly strive to stand out in the marketplace (you can get gas anywhere…Exxon, Shell, BP; but you can only get an iPhone from Apple.) And finally, innovative companies don’t start with what they sell. As Stephens notes, we live in a world of one-click satisfaction; people don’t need to know what you sell, they know that already. They need to know why you sell. That’s why Chipotle’s business is climbing while McDonald’s continue to drop.
What’s clear from all of these speakers is that the phrase, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” may not be true in today’s business world. If you don’t think outside the box, you may get trapped inside of it.