28 May 2006

Direction, careers and the model

A couple of semesters ago a very smart professor and ground breaking market strategist put business in the most simple and focused terms I had heard. It resonated with me and it is on my mind most of the time I am working or thinking about work. It goes like this, “really know the market, develop a strong strategy, and then, because you have done that well, bet the ranch.” My guess is this seems a bit to cowboy or reckless for some. But I think it is dead on. Risk taking is critical, but only after the homework has been done.

As I am talking to prospective employers and various company executives, I have been working on to simply explain what I want to do. I think visually, so developing a mental model was a pretty obvious step. I have shown it here and after some brief explanation… would invite critic and comment.

Take a look:  Mark's Model3

The three spheres are those I am most interested in. And I will go through them one at a time. First is the Market Intelligence. This involves knowing the demand, supply, distribution channel (economics), understanding your customers through dialog and research, and of course every bit of information you can gather about competitors. Second is the marketing and brand positioning. Last is a systematic process for developing innovation in your offerings. At the core of this is the company’s strategy. Some add value (Apple), others radically out source cost (Wal-Mart), and yet other work hard to do both (the golden goose). My passion is in adding value.

Curiously, all three of these require and can radically benefit from design thinking. Design at the thing or product level, the process level and at structuring an organization.

So, that brings me to what I want to do in my life. I have spent most of my career in the marketing end of things. I get the branding, marketing of features, benefits and outcomes. Much of this is focused on user experience and specifically the web. At the moment, most of the consulting work I do (and dig the hell out of) is the Market Intelligence component. Matt Mayfield, of IIT/ID and Motorola introduced me to some of their methodologies in a very short telephone conversation and it has never left my though process. Thanks, Matt! Researching the competition, learning about customer’s needs, wants, and activity structures fascinates me. I have a passion for building and maintaining that knowledge base. That is the core where companies need to look for opportunity – whether it is the next step in technology or an un-serviced customer willing to buy. When I am researching, much of the tools, processes and data compellation is the same, whether that gets purposed for brand positioning, user experience planning for a web site, or uncovering opportunities does not seem to vary my degree of interest. I think part of that is that I love to learn.

Although I have not been in the employ of a large aggressive firm, the development of teams and processes for innovation is an as yet untapped passion. Sometime soon though… I will be there. I guess that would (along the lines of Chief Innovation Officer) be career stage 3. Putting all of that together into a cohesive strategy with optimal execution is what’s left. The ability to straddle reliability and validity (embraced by me and borrowed from Roger Martin of Rotman) is something important. I do not know if my aspiration of eventually being a CEO and directing a company to greatness is too grand, but dreams are supposed to be large. And mine is.