The Siren Call of the Next Best Thing

The Siren Call of the Next Best ThingAgility, Intrapreneurship, Sustainability, Crowdfunding, Artificial intelligence. Have you been hearing these terms a lot this year?  Is your organization in active process of pivoting (another trendy word) to these new best means to gain competitive advantage?

These ideas, of course, are not the full laundry list of the new and better ways of conducting your business. Depending on which business article you read, you’ll find that the gurus have hundreds of takes on the most important new things to adopt in your business.

There’s legitimate reason to be on the lookout for trends that can either torpedo your business or provide opportunities to become better. We all have learned the lessons of companies who became dinosaurs because they didn’t recognize that prevailing direction impacted their seemingly unassailable products and services.

But there’s also good reason to give serious due diligence to new trends before jumping on the bandwagon. Let’s examine some of the key questions you should consider before taking a big plunge.

Is the new trend really just a new word?  Sometimes the trendy ideas are really just a reincarnation of good business practice that you (and others) may have allowed to fade into the background of your consciousness as an organization. Should we be ‘agile’ and ‘innovative’ and ‘thought leaders’?  Absolutely!  But examine closely  whether you need to build a new lexicon, hire consultants, and build out capability. Chances are you may be able to simply pay greater attention to a set of values and norms and performance expectations that are already on your books in order to achieve your goals.

Is the investment worth the bragging rights?  Sometimes your reputation depends on being part of the club of adherents to a new trend. But at other times, investors and customers may be ho-hum about your claims to being with it.  Sustainability is more important for a company whose products wind up in landfills than for a company writing insurance policies. Social media presence is more important for distinguishing  consumer products than for advertising a nonprofit’s services. What you want to achieve through the adoption of a new trend should drive how much you want to invest in it.

Does the trend offer significant advantage?  As soon as the ‘new’ becomes trendy, it’s no longer a distinct advantage. You may need to nod to it to remain competitive, but what real value does it offer to you to aggressively build your capacity in this area?  Determine your exposure without adopting the trend, and the likely added value if you do. Then decide how much attention to pay to it.

How committed are you willing to be?  Company budgets are littered with short term investments in trendy ideas, whether product ideas or ways of doing business. The whole ‘quality movement’ provides a good example of enormous initial investment by companies, but in many cases, no sustained attention to it. Consider whether you really believe enough in the value of the trend to stick to it for the long haul.

Is everyone on board?  Little divides believers from nonbelievers better than a trendy idea. Often there is a powerful adherent (a CEO for example) pushing the idea, with lots of closeted skepticism. Sometimes top management is on board while the employees who have to carry it out are scoffing at the naïveté of their bosses. Take the time to be sure that the next best thing really has a chance of being successfully implemented before taking it on.

Is the new trend becoming a thing of the past?  Finally, recognize that trends have life cycles. Even when they are serious trends that are game-changers, the next new thing is waiting in the wings to oust the current darling. Before you decide to commit your energy and resources to a trend, take a moment to ask yourself what might be ready to upstage the current one.

Poet Audre Lord says, “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.”  Before going after the bright shiny new object, take a moment to be sure what you’re aiming for is really something new and worthy of your efforts. Is there a chance all you need to do is re-emphasize what you already know and do, just in a different way?  The siren call of business book authors may cause more drift than direction.


Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant

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