Look Right!

Steve Polo

“Life is one big road with lots of signs. Wake Up and Live!” -Bob Marley

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

A number of years ago I was travelling to London quite frequently.  My typical trip had me leaving Washington on Tuesday night, arriving in London Wednesday morning, working all day Wednesday, and flying home Thursday morning – pretty grueling! And they say travel is glamorous!

On one of my trips I was too tired to make it through a whole work day and asked to leave the meeting an hour or so early.  As the meeting was close to my hotel, I began my walk back for a short rest before the evening meetings began.

As I approached an intersection, something in a store window caught my eye.  I turned to look for a moment, then stepped into the intersection and – WHAM!

I got hit by a van!!!!

The impact knocked me fifteen feet or so, but incredulously, left me still standing upright.  As I stood assessing whether I was hurt or not, the driver of the van rolled down his window and asked in his best working-class accent:

Driver: “Are ya allright?” *heavy British accent*
Me: (dazed) “I,I,I… guess……are you alright?” (clearly, I’m not thinking that well!)
Driver:  “Well, whatcha doin’?!”*
Me: (unbelievably)  “I’m an American”
Driver:  “Oh”* (his tone suggested that ‘so you’re an idiot’ needed to follow this comment)
Driver: “Are you sure you’re allright?”* ……….
Driver again: (to insure my health) “Well, go and have a spot of tea”

And off he drove.

As I looked down at my feet, I saw it: A sign. In large yellow letters on a black background that said:


And of course, I missed it, and got hit by a van.

So here’s the point of my story – what signs in our business world – competition, opportunities, change, customers, value, innovation –  are we missing?  What signs are we missing that will tell us the ‘van’ is coming around the corner that will crash into our business, our success, our people, our ability to compete?  How do we keep our eyes open?

I’m sure these are not all the answers, but here’s a list to think about:

  1. Hire young people (and listen to them) – if you don’t have any, get some. – they see differently and look for different things.  Plus, they’re closer to the ‘new’ (and they have better eyesight!).
  2. Hire design thinkers – they see patterns and connections the rest of us don’t – hidden and non-obvious signs are tougher to see and can cause just as much damage!
  3. Build an innovation network – or join a group like Vistage, Renaissance Executive Forums or the like, to talk about what’s next.
  4. Ask your customers – we’re getting ready to schedule one of our Customer Value Proposition Summits.  They see different signs too.  (By the way, if you do ask – they’ll come, and NONE of your competition will have done this!).
  5. Live in the now – look for what’s really happening, not just what happened in the past.
  6. Look to the next – try to inhabit the future – not just the future 15 minutes from now, but as far out as you can imagine.

OK, I’m sure there are more ways to ‘see the signs’, but the important thing is to start looking!

Looking both ways,

Steve Polo

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