“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”– Benjamin Franklin
I have been travelling over the last few weeks, including a business trip to Toronto, which is where I started my career in the 1980s as a young electrical engineer. The city seems to be booming right now as many industries, from finance to real estate are doing well, and the region is somewhat sheltered by the downturn in the oil and gas markets.
My few days in the city reminded me of my first trip to Toronto in the fall of 1986. I had graduated with my engineering degree in May of 1986 from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and had enjoyed a few months off in Vancouver to take in the sights of the world famous Expo 86. As the summer wound down, my job hunting activities in Vancouver ramped up, but the career choices for a newly graduated engineer in Vancouver were slim. After a number of disappointing rejections, I finally received a job offer but it started at a ‘training salary’ of $1,000 per month, which was a modest sum even back then.
It was during a particularly low point that a family friend mentioned to me that if I wanted to be successful I needed to “hunt at the watering hole”. While not a hunter, I got the analogy immediately and decided that if I was to launch my career, I needed to go where all the action was and throw myself in the middle of it. In Canada, the business centre of the action was and still remains Toronto. So on a Monday I purchased a one-way ticket to fly to Toronto that Friday, and within two weeks of arriving had landed a job with The Ford Motor Company. It was a great start to my career and the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the course of my career, I periodically needed to remind myself to ‘hunt at the watering hole’ or to ‘go where the action is and throw myself in the middle of it’. My recent trip back to Toronto was another good reminder. It is a good reminder for you as well, from both a career and business perspective. I am not suggesting moving to Toronto, however, that may be a good option for some businesses or people. What I am suggesting is to remind yourself that the purpose of your business is to creatively develop products and solutions that help the most number of people solve problems, and then charge them for it. You can do that best where the action is hottest and your customer are concentrated!
Use these three steps to make it happen:
Strategy: As the world changes, the best way to service that large number of people with a valuable product or service changes over time, as the market needs change. This requires a constant readjustment of the business strategy to ensure you are moving towards the action, and not becoming stagnant so the action moves away from you. The action is your feedback mechanism.
Value Proposition: This approach requires you, the business leader, to become truthful with your value proposition, so you do not become overly enamoured with your existing products and services, rather you listen to what the market really wants and provide it.
Scale: Being in the centre of the action is the best way to achieve scale (growth) and critical mass (risk mitigation) since a business is generally able to secure more customers at a lower cost. The action could be an online marketplace or physical. Either way, the idea is to focus on where your customers congregate and then mix with them so you understand their buying patterns and detect changes more rapidly.
Be thoughtful and serious about your business, and ask yourself if you are truly focused on where the action is. If the answer is no, be honest with yourself and correct the situation immediately. Tamp down pride, particularly when money is at stake. It takes courage to admit you are wrong, and then leadership to fix it. As Ann Landers famously said, “Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.”
Eamonn has a B. Eng. (Electrical) from Lakehead University, MBA (Finance) from University of Toronto, and has completed Executive Education at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He lives in Vancouver, Canada. Follow him on twitter @EamonnPercy