Skate to where the puck is going

Why not happen to something?

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Are you always responding to something that happens? Why not change things up a bit and you happen to something instead? Leaders initiate change. They don’t simply wait and react to outside events. They see patterns forming, trends in their markets and weaknesses in their companies, industry and competitors. Then, rather than wait for events to force their hand, they lead their organization out ahead of the trend. As Wayne Gretzky put it, “skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

Where is the puck going?

When I think of some of the excellent leaders I’ve worked with, this is one of the characteristics I noticed most. They were incredibly curious about what their customers were doing, and, more importantly, where the customer’s customer was going. They were willing to do the hard work of knowing what their customer needed even before they knew. And then, they were willing to risk the investment to develop the product or service in order to be prepared ahead of the market. Why? Because they knew that this was one of the ways that disruptive technology is developed and they were determined to disrupt rather than be disrupted.

How far down the food chain are you looking? With so called Big Data, we should be able to get a much better handle on where things are going. Yet I still see many folks assuming that the puck is staying still. Their business model is designed to deliver a certain product(s) or service(s) and they see no reason to be concerned. Except almost all of us have been blind-sided by a market shift, a new disruptive technology and/or a new way to market products (think internet.)

Who cares where the puck has been?

History is fun, and it is not a predictor of the future. There may be some fundamental things we can count on being relatively stable – human nature perhaps. Even that is not much help because technology is changing how we use our fundamental nature to interact with the environment. To continue with our analogy; if, during the game, I ruminate about where the puck has been and why, I’ll be awakened by the buzzer announcing that Gretzky has put it in the goal. After the game, we can review history (video) to cull out lessons to learn, mistakes made by the opponent and great moves to be celebrated. In business, we can do that from time-to-time as well. But using history to predict the future will always rear up and bite us in the seat of the pants.

What’s your forecast?

Instead of basing our forecast on history and sprinkling in a few new product SKUs, why not happen to something? Why not look at where the customer’s customer is going to be and make sure you have the product(s) and service(s) that your customer will need to be ready for their customer. And it doesn’t do any good to ask our customer where their customer is going. They are likely blinded by their own strengths and history. All we need to do is look at the trouble the US Automotive Manufacturers are in (still) to see this tendency in action. So that’s the question for you as a leader: “Will you wait for something to happen and be reactive or will you happen to something, being proactive?”