Staying Ahead of the game: Turn your ideas into competitive advantage
Given the ever increasingly competitive environments in which we transact as individuals or business, proactively identifying great opportunities and turning those ideas into competitive advantage is critical to survive and thrive in the career and business terrain for the longterm. Transforming these ideas into implementable high-impact actions depends on a number of critical factors. Let's explore nuggets to stay ahead of the competition.....
Every once in a while we see individuals and businesses that seem to be picture-ready and prepared in a supposed new field while everyone is still scrambling to find their feet. The final picture which everyone reckons with often required a lot of pre-work to recognize the potential value proposition when no one thought anything of them. The foresight and advance preparation make such individuals and entities the 'go-to-persons' when the ideas finally hit the limelight and becomes the buzz-word of the day. On the flip side, it is also not uncommon to find individuals who pro-actively identified ground-breaking ideas but were unable to gain the right momentum and thus left scrambling without any benefits for the foreknowledge when such ideas become success spinners for others. A great idea with a poor implementation plan or without appropriate synergies may at best remain a great idea and more likely judged a poor or premature idea due to the bad execution. To stay ahead of the game, gain and maintain competitive advantage, it is important to recognize imminent change when it is still noiseless and to position to ride the waves graciously, such that by the time everyone else is recognizing the change you are already riding the wave of the change and leading the pack. Lets explore 5 key steps on how to achieve this.
...A great idea with a poor implementation plan or without appropriate synergies may at best remain a great idea and more likely judged a poor or premature idea due to the bad execution.....
1. Identify the idea
Recognizing change or a transformational idea is a critical first step that many people find challenging. While these insights are sometimes hidden in plain sight, it requires unique skills and approaches to effectively piece it all together ahead of others. You need to always think ‘next step‘ and systematically too. Key questions must be asked at all times. What is working well and how might we improve that? What is not working well and why fundamentally is it not? What is the context in which the individual or business exists? What dynamics in the surrounding context might suggest that there is a wave in the making? What is a hot topic in similar fields that appear to be sparking interest? It‘s often muted that a lot of innovations come from a translation of an existing idea in one field to another to solve a seemingly different but fundamentally similar problem. So, a transformational idea may come from answering the questions - What is going great in another industry / location that could potentially address some pain points in your context? What enablers are required?
An example is with the recent proliferation of e-commerce and platform concepts that connect users to service providers in different industries and businesses in the civilized cities of developing countries such as Nigeria. Some of the contextual factors driving this include increasing income levels, higher time commitments, need for easier solutions, lower interests in Do-It-Yourself activities , and potentially more exposures to developed nations where such practices are already established. Some companies have benefitted from translating the platform ideas to other industries to address specific local needs. Ultimately, you must understand and familiarize yourself with the fundamentals and leverage system thinking to identify the ideas that will translate to competitive advantage.
.....a lot of innovations come from a translation of an existing idea in one field to another to solve a seemingly different but fundamentally similar problem......
2. Recognize the key players / stakeholders
Who are the key players? Identify the beneficiaries of the idea, work output or solution whose opinions are critical for successful adoption. What would likely be their concerns? What can you do today to be better prepared for their concerns tomorrow? This could involve research into the risks and benefits ranges for the solution that provide intelligent responses to their questions and gives better appreciation for upsides and downsides of implementing the idea. Who could be a potential sponsor? Aligning with such sponsors very early on may make the task of convincing others easier. Who may be affected somewhat negatively by the outcome of this idea? Do you have an alternative to soften the impact and gain their acceptance? What is your strategy for aligning the various key stakeholders? It is important to understand the trade-offs to be made to manage conflicting stakeholder needs without compromising the core values of the idea. Understanding the key players helps to make the concept and idea implementation strategy robust upfront and prevents you from being blind-sided to potential barriers mid-way through implementation where changes are costly with minimal opportunities to redeem an idea flop.
.....Who could be a potential sponsor? Aligning with such sponsors very early on may make the task of convincing others easier....
3. Characterize the idea benefits
A lot of ideas are crushed at their inception, not because they were not great but more from an inability of the idea proponent to succinctly describe the benefits to the key stakeholders and decision makers. So, key questions that must be answered upfront in putting together the 'elevator speech' for the idea include: What (in one sentence or short paragraph) is the idea?. To......(do what)... By...... Using .............? What's the Unique selling point? How does this differ from the plethora of options already available? Why are we doing what we are doing? What does it potentially make better or address? What pain point or opportunities does it resonate with in the minds of those that matter to the success of the idea? What is the true definition of value to stakeholders and how does this idea/concept/solution align with how they measure value? Are there things that need to be beefed up in the idea definition? Ultimately, it must be clear in your mind and on paper what is in it for you but more importantly very clear in few words "What is in it for the stakeholders, decision makers and all parties that are key to success".
What's the Unique selling point? How does this differ from the plethora of options already available?
4. Beef up your credibility
Every once in a while, a young vibrant entrepreneur walks into a room to pitch an excellent idea with great potentials to investors and / or approvers. Just as they are bought in on the idea, there is a nagging doubt in their minds as to "Why should we trust this young or seemingly inexperienced individual with this implementation with so much at stake". In simple language they are saying "Who are you and why should we listen to you?". This also plays out in office conversations and team meetings where an individual gives a suggestion and no one seems to listen and then almost immediately someone else frames the exact idea with some business or technical jargons and heads are nodding across the room in appreciation of the great idea while the initial contributor is stunned by the outcome.
Turning your ideas into competitive advantage by getting acceptance in the first place often requires credibility, which according to the dictionary is "the quality of being trusted and believed in". So ask yourself - Why should they listen to you? Are there qualifications that you should be adding to your skills collection? Are there synergies that may help you to be heard in the right circles? Who are the current go-to-people, potentially in same or related fields, whose opinions may help and who are aligned with the idea? Are you partnering with the right resources? Are you using the right language and terminologies that your key audience can connect with? As part of preparations you must be able to answer the following: What alliances must I build to give my work the right credibility in future? What extra work must I do today to lay the foundation, build the right fluency to be the go-to person when the idea hits the limelight? You must also Identify your enablers and synergy opportunities by answering - What focus initiative(s) can this work align with, enable or spotlight to get buy in? People may be amenable to use your methods if there is some sort of correlation to their zones of familiarity.
Turning your ideas into competitive advantage by getting acceptance in the first place often requires credibility.........
5. Do your homework to mature the idea into concepts and actionable steps.
Finally, it is important to translate the ideas into, at least, the first semblance of what an implementation would look like in what is called a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in product development parlance. Define what the final product, service, solution would look like with relatable examples. This will definitely transform as the idea matures, however you must recognize that people often like to relate to workable steps. Only few people can relate to abstract ideas and more importantly, if you are struggling to mature the ideas yourself, then how do you get someone else to bet on it. It is even harder to convince people when the idea is disruptive and there is no frame of reference. You can leverage go-bys from other fields or industries but you must bring it home to the local context. You must do the work, as people are able to recognize fluff with just a little digging. Doing the work also enhances your credibility as you are able to answer with confidence when questions are put forth on detailed aspects of the idea or implementation plan. As you mature the idea into the first shell, ask yourself - What context should I be capturing about the decisions that are being made today that will help in future to tell the story better or that may need to be revisited if there are changes in the context? Document your assumptions and continue to retest as the idea matures and receives input from key stakeholders. Also as the idea is being matured into a concrete concept, opportunities for enhancements become apparent that increase the confidence level in the overall concept.
.....Only few people can relate to abstract ideas and more importantly, if you are struggling to mature the ideas yourself, then how do you get someone else to bet on it......
Bringing it all together
Staying ahead of the game involves recognizing the change or ideas while others are still oblivious to the brewing wave and preparing appropriately, leveraging the right resources to gain competitive advantage from the transformational idea when the wave is in full swing. John Maxwell says in one of his "Minute with Maxwell" series that ideas must be backed with appropriate structure, so you must do the work to transform the ideas and concepts into award winning solutions.
Lastly, you must apply grit during the process as you walk the journey ahead of the pack. Celebrate your wins and embrace the interim setbacks as an opportunity to improve the final outcome when all the preparations will culminate in the picture-ready moment when the curtains are drawn with your ideas in the limelight.
Wishing you a transformational journey ahead,