By Robert Safian
Photos: Flickr user Alessio Jacona; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Let’s not waste any time. The simple solution that we’re all looking for: It doesn’t exist. Want your business to thrive like Amazon’s? Want to emulate Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg? Follow the road map of Nike or Warby Parker to build the next brand that matters? Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. What succeeded for them may not work for you. Too bad. Get over it.
One-size-fits-all strategies just aren’t effective in today’s age of flux (and maybe they never were). That’s one of the insightful messages in senior writer Austin Carr’s feature The Future of Retail in the Age of Amazon. It’s become common practice to refer to billion-dollar startups as “unicorns,” but there is no more one-of-a-kind business than Amazon: hard-driving, customer-focused, yet broadly directed, from books and groceries to entertainment, consumer electronics, and web services. Carr explains that competing with Amazon today–trying to beat it at its own game–is largely a fool’s errand. Instead, what increasingly defines retail success, and points the way toward the businesses of tomorrow, is a bespoke model, one that is crafted to deliver on a focused need, proposition, or brand essence.
That doesn’t mean that retailers–and the rest of us–can’t learn from Amazon’s example. But the real trick is applying those lessons in unique and personalized ways. Our Most Productive People package illuminates this concept. Not all of us can thrive on just a few hours of sleep per night, as Microsoft’s Dona Sarkar does. But we could all, on occasion, make use of her concept of “work sprints.” Similarly, we can apply the principles of “overpreparation” that Venus Williams credits with much of her on-court success. We may not choose to meditate like WeWork chief operating officer Jen Berrent, but her example might inspire us to find our own method for self-reflection.
All of the individuals and companies in this issue have tailored general practices to their own purposes. And that adaptability is what will be required more and more as we move into 2018. CEO Bernard Tyson of Kaiser Permanente talks about the importance of routine, while CEO Siggi Hilmarsson of Siggi’s Dairy emphasizes improvisation. Is one of them right and the other wrong? Hardly. Sophisticated businesses, and business leaders, increasingly recognize the limitations of fixed systems and approaches.
This can all be a little confusing and disconcerting. Didn’t we learn in school that there was one right answer? And if there isn’t one right answer, how do we know if we’re on the right course? Ah, how much easier it would be if real life followed the textbooks. As my father used to say to me, “Life is what happens when you were planning on something else.” Embracing that ambiguity and uncertainty–that is the one essential requirement for operating in a modern world. The more we do it, the better at it we become. Give it a try. I promise: It will open up doors that you never imagined.
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