Today I read Philip Auerswald's piece To Innovate, Play with Pieces Off the Game Board at The Harvard Business review blog. The theme is that if you want to innovate and disrupt an industry, you have to act differently, because the power players that already exist have a lock on the rules they play by. Therefore these are: Rules - Made to be Broken - so I wondered how much we like breaking rules as a small company. - Are we doing it enough ?
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...
( poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning 1806-1861 )
Equally I wonder who else is "breaking rules" to get business advantage or disrupt a commercial space, because these are people that are interesting.
It should be obvious, but breaking the rules does not mean anything underhand or unethical, but game-changing. There are some big industries we deal with, for example energy utilities and construction, and they are not squeaky clean through and through - but we aim to be !
So I count 6 business rules we break (which is per the title less than seven) maybe you can suggest more ...
1) Startups hack code, spend long intense sessions together to eat pizza and drink coffee and break for "foosball".
Well we are based in UK, Switzerland, Germany and have five staff members, so we get together when we can, but we teamed up because we were the best we could find in our various niches. There is a market for bright people in any big city and particularly Silicon Valley, New York, London, Berlin, but we didn't want a bunch of bright people - we wanted a team. Sure when we are bigger we may need an office, but we think a distributed model gives space to think, exposes us to different markets and cultures and regulatory frameworks, and creates strength in diversity.
2) We should excel in a specific business domain
Conventional wisdom is that you cannot compete in different disciplines simultaneously as a small company. We disagree ! Our clients live in market silos where they excel. Utility providers provide Energy, Facility Managers look after buildings, Control companies make electronics. In common there is a theme, they all compete on price for the provision of a commodity service or product, whether the deliverable is a kilowatt of electricity, a maintenance engineer, or a box of electronics none advertise a better kW, a better boilerman or a better universal device, because these things are necessarily market derived.
It is notable that all are delivered to buildings, and all relate to the efficiency of operation of that building. We note that by deploying them more effectively, and being free to step outside traditional boundaries we can achieve more for less resources. We help with energy, building services and controls, but we get them to "play better together" in the context of the client. A commodity provider delivers a service like water through a hose, and it's either water, or its "not what we do", we don't sell water - we put out fires !
3) We should first conquer our home market.
Well if planet earth is our home market we would agree. But we are or have taken and analyzed data from, banks in Hong-Kong, castles in England, old peoples homes near the Rhine, universities in Switzerland, business schools in the US - The laws of physics seem to be the same wherever we go !
4) You need clear guidelines regarding staff terms and conditions
Guide yourself - Work when you feel you can contribute most, and while you feel fresh. Prioritize carefully, take holidays as you need them. It is not macho to need to work an eighty hour week (but it happens), it is not cool to slope of and go skiing when the powder is great (but it happens).
5) The client is always right
Nope - our job is to help, and saying you are right is not always helpful. A client may want us to do different things where we have some competence - but if other clients want us to do things we are great at - they take priority. So saying no is a very important way in which we maximize our contribution to our clients. (This does not mean we cannot introduce someone who can help).
6) Protect your Intellectual Property
Our intellectual property walks out of the door when it is done for the day, and yes we seek to protect it . But our methods , which are ahead of the market, and our strategies that save our clients money are the things that we share - Why ? because sharing is how we learn and we want to be best at learning.
So these are some of the ways we decide to take the freedom to be different - Do you do different too ? Why not add to our list of suggestions ...