SME? – Uncertainty Rocks

We love answers. We pay consultants lots of money to provide them, and spend over £8bn a year buying some form of self help books in search of them.

When things were less volatile, when the Industrial Economy still ruled, this was valid. Today, in what Khurshed Dehunagra terms the “Connection Economy” looking for answers comes a distant second to looking for questions. Volatility and Uncertainty suits newcomers, who are less burdened by, and invested in legacy attitudes and systems than established businesses.

SME can experiment, pilot, pivot, improvise, change tack as they learn. They can outmanoeuvre their bigger brethren – and the things that held them back, from finance to talent, are fading.

The one condition to take advantage of this? Stop aping the big companies, don’t benchmark, develop your own unique standpoint. Learn to understand risk. Embrace uncertainty.

For the readers amongst you, some recent titles that I rate you might want to learn from:

Not Knowing

Flawed but Willing


Have a great weekend.

Frog Soup

I find it fascinating what seems to happen in plain sight, but that we let pass by. We know why – working under pressure, our ability to create heuristics – rules of thumb – to ease our workload means we concentrate on the most pressing issues. They allow us to be more efficient. At the same time, our biases – many hard wired – mean that we misinterpret many of the “out of the ordinary” things that do make it to our attention. The result is that, like the apocryphal experiment of boiling frogs, we don’t notice until it’s mostly too late, and we end up with a “Black Swan” event. Obvious in hindsight, totally unexpected at the time it happens.

Two pieces of information arrived in my inbox this morning that have a degree of froggy quality.

The first was one of Boston Consulting Group’s excellent summaries. It’s main article relates to their survey on the most innovative firms of 2014, and the issues facing many executives that they feel their teams are not up to it.


The second was one included the latest CIPD “Employee Outlook”– this one included the infographic shown here. It concerns the nature of our engagement with work – or more accurately, the lack of it. The question it triggered was when two thirds of employees are ambivalent, or worse regarding their work, how do we expect to harness their potential to drive the innovation and original thinking on which progress tomorrow depends, and maybe worse, when we know that our business today depends on how we make people feel, what message goes out to our clients?. I have clients who froth at the mouth over waste rates in single digits, and spend millions on process efficiency – but who let these figures go by them almost without comment. I think that’s just odd.

With the work I do with clients, there is clear evidence that the most powerful unit of differentiation is motivated small teams. On this basis, SME (small businesses) and MSB (medium sized) have a distinct advantage – mostly, they are at an early stage in their growth cycle, they all know each other, and the politics are less developed than in their large company brethren. Their traditional disadvantages – communication, access to knowledge and training, and even access to capital – are being eroded through social networks, online learning, and initiatives like “Kickstarter”.

Larger clients also have powerful small teams. Sometimes they are aware of them, sometimes not. One Games company I know has a team of dedicated, almost obsessive designers and coders who are dedicated to what they do. The interesting thing is, only a few of them work for the company; the rest are friends, suppliers, and others who form a strong, but informal development ecosystem. I find myself wondering what would happen if this team found a backer…….

We are all part of systems like these, which offer the possibility of breakthrough ideas. They rarely match our business structures or organization charts, but unless we recognize them, and learn how to work with them, I suspect we will find ourselves becoming frog soup.

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