The Art of Business: Steal This Idea
Stuck in the same old business rut? Looking for new ways to attract and retain clients? Ready to climb that next step up the professionalism ladder? All these are good reasons to engage in an exercise that large companies conduct regularly -- idea larceny.
Technically it's called "best practices benchmarking." Either way, it's a formalized method of identifying successful tactics and strategies used by other companies and (and this is an important "and") modifying them to best suit your needs. Simply put: Steal the best and leave the rest.
Obviously every time you talk shop with a colleague, you're engaging in casual best practices benchmarking. But you can make the process far more valuable by extending your benchmarking in three critical ways:
- Seeking ideas from companies outside of the creative world;
- Creating a methodology for gathering, analyzing and implementing ideas;
- Using benchmarking techniques to solve specific problems or opportunities, one at a time.
Corporations have used best practice benchmarking for the longest time and have realized billions in savings and revenues in all areas of business operations and sales. You can reap even greater rewards because you're so nimble. Benchmarking can help you:
- Avoid mistakes: Often you can learn more from mistakes than from successes. Let's say, for example, that you're intrigued with the idea of running local design seminars to attract new clients. Great idea, now what are the most critical errors during implementation? You may find that seminars, indeed, help attract new clients, but that if you don't make attendance confirmation calls the day before the seminar, attendance drops precipitously. Avoiding this one simple mistake can be the difference between success and failure.
- Save money. Everyone wants to reduce costs, and by benchmarking you may find lower-cost vendors and other easy ways to save money. But you may also come upon new ways of conducting business altogether by utilizing, for example, overseas subcontractors to help with much of the tedious work that takes up your time, or using workflow software that reduces the time wasted on version control and revision management.
- Improve performance: When you look for best practices outside your business, you are raising the bar of performance and setting new standards of excellence for yourself and those who work for you, if any. You are subtly saying that excellence is the standard.
- Reinvigorate your work. A single new idea often has the effect of invigorating other efforts and can help you climb out of those business ruts we all wallow in from time to time.
Steps for Best Practices
There are four components to best practice benchmarking: study, modification, implementation, and measurement. Companies fail when they give any one of these steps short shrift. To succeed, deploy this methodology or one similar to it:
- Look for one of two key metrics to measure. If you can't measure it, you'll never know how successful the fix has been.
- Find companies within the industry to survey but don't forget to survey companies outside the industry as well. Behemoths like Cisco and as well as that four-table vegetarian restaurant down the street are doing something right if they're thriving. Like you they have customers, break-even points, and advertising challenges. How are they handling these?
- Spend the time necessary to collect information on the successful, best practices of other companies. Most of the time phone calls will do, but also search the Web for case studies and articles. The key is to survey wide and dig deep. Prepare a list of questions and attack this step like a college research paper.
- Modify the best practice for your situation. Once you've uncovered an idea worth stealing, ask the all-important question: "how is their business different than mine and what must I alter to make the idea work for me?"
- Implement the process. Research is like whistling in the wind if you don't take the time to inaugurate and follow through on the good ideas you've uncovered.
- Measure, measure, measure. Use your metrics to coolly assess the results of your initiative.
- Tweak, tweak, tweak. Tweak your initiative until it sings. It's a rare idea that works isn't off key at the start.
Best practice benchmarking doesn't have to take months. Take the time to learn process and you'll be stealing ideas successfully for the rest of your larcenous life.
Read more by Eric J. Adams.