INTOUCH : How’s your peripheral vision?

It isn’t curiosity but the lack of it that can kill companies, according to visiting business author George Day. And as consultant to such corporations as GE, IBM, Marriott, Unilever and Boeing, the Professor of Marketing at Wharton Business School in Pennsylvania has the war stories to prove it.
Why did Enron’s Credit Union fail to sink with the mother ship? Why were the makers of ‘Barbie’ (Mattel) caught napping by the Bratz pack dolls? The answers (found in Day’s lectures and writings) have to do with how companies exercise their peripheral vision – ie the ability to detect, interpret and act on distant signals that represent opportunities or threats to their business.
“One of the things we found was that best practice companies – vigilant companies who see opportunities sooner – are led by people who are very networked and very curious. Because they’re inquisitive about what is really going on, they ask really good questions,” says Day.
Its particular style of vigilant leadership which fosters curiosity and can translate information into favourable competitive position. But, says Day, it’s present in only 20 percent of companies. Many of the others are led by CEOs who actually behave like COOs (chief operating officers) whose focus is primarily day-to-day operations and short-term goals.
“We’ve got to have that leadership to manage existing operations, core competences, making the numbers and keeping efficiencies… but that doesn’t deal with the periphery; building the organisation, getting ready for the next surprise – the [vigilant] CEO is much more focused out there.” They also tune up the company so messages from the periphery can be heard.
“Companies which were blindsided were invariably surprised, but there was someone in the organisation who knew about it. They saw that threat coming well ahead of senior management. But senior management didn’t know they knew, and senior management probably didn’t know they needed to know.” Day reckons New Zealand companies have an advantage in that they know they have to be adroit and adaptive.
“There is trend to what we call connected companies or networked companies – instead of trying to do everything yourself, you reach out for development partners, for manufacturing partners, marketing partners. I think that is trend that favours New Zealand companies – the key is to figure out how they build themselves into that ecosystem.” Day’s seven-step recipe for developing peripheral vision is outlined in Peripheral Vision: Detecting the weak signals that will make or break your company, by George Day and Paul Schoemaker or at knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu

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