In these days of hyper-change, 24 hour news cycles, sound bites that offer instant gratification it is important to remain curious, to dig deeper beneath the headlines to reveal the true story.

The ability to bring a curious mind every day to your projects is vital to stay one step ahead of the competition. If you are going to be a leader, to define your sector before it defines you, then you need to think outside the normal patterns. You need to get really smart at auditing the signals. It is no coincidence that IBM’s Daniels noted in the FT this week that IBM had spent $14Bn on software acquisitions and $2Bn on hiring and training consultants to build a business in analytics to help customers make better use of their data.

Examples to inspire a curious mind:

  1. When the Beatles arrived in the US in Feb 1964 why were they such a big success? – In 1960 they were a struggling high school band in Liverpool. Then they were invited to play the Hamburg strip club scene.
    During 1960 to 1962 it is estimated they played 270 nights in Hamburg on average 3 to 5 hours per night. By 1964 they had played live 1200 times, more than most bands in a lifetime. Add natural talent and a story emerges. (Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell)
  2. Paradox of expertise – Cynthia Barton Rabe a former innovation strategist at Intel explains that ” what we know limits what we can imagine”. A paradox of expertise occurs when deep knowledge of a domain, marketplace, product makes it harder to consider what-if strategies that challenge long-held assumptions. (Practically Radical, Bill Taylor)
  3. Today your web properties are under some level of scrutiny regarding their performance. From a distance it appears you are doing the correct stuff. You have content on your site but you are not getting the downloads, the click throughs, the sales leads. The quality of journalism in most companies is so low that your articles, collateral and white papers will never get attention in this massive content driven world. Producing high quality, timely content requires a radical change in the way most companies are structured.
  4. Why are sales down or not growing nearly fast enough? The most obvious answer is overlooked. Prospects don’t believe they have the problem  you claim to solve. If they don’t believe, you have a marketing communication problem. Landscaping prospects worlds to articulate their negative present is essential.
  5. Your leadership may be failing not because you are hesitant but because you are not listening, not engaging your staff. Execution of  a strategy needs belief and without it you will fail.
  6. Your strategy may be failing not because you are not trying hard enough but because you are trying too hard! You are trying to please too many disparate customer types. It’s too complicated. Strategy is about what you leave out.
  7. Your financial performance is below Budget but why? The answer starts in the numbers but it doesn’t end there. What is the story?  What policies and initiatives have failed? Start by understanding the two big drivers behind all financial variances – Volume and Yield – and you will uncover the policies that failed and that need to be improved. Sales volume & Sales Price, Salary bodies & salary money, marketing campaigns and marketing spend, raw material volume & cost, travel trips and cost per trip.
  8. Why do acquisitions fail so often? Overpriced, sure. Bad diversification, sure. But the most common reason from the research – a lack of postmortem review after the deal has completed, when the testosterone has receded, the deadlines are passed. We don’t take this opportunity to fine tune our craft.
    Those that do, produce far higher success rates.
  9. Taken from the New Yorker short story, Open Secrets, Malcolm Gladwell highlighted a key distinction – the difference between a puzzle and a mystery. Puzzles come to satisfying conclusions. Mysteries often don’t. A puzzle grows simpler with the addition of new information. A mystery often has too much information that is badly interpreted. Mysteries demand experience and insight. The prosecutor in the Enron case summed up his conclusions on the basis Enron was a puzzle. Wrong. It was a mystery. The facts were hidden often in footnotes.The problem was too much information not too little.
  10. Why were ING Direct USA so successful? They started in Sept 2000 and by 2005 had 3.5 million customers with $40Bn in deposits. They rejected the normal patterns of banking. No ATMs, no financial advisers, no minimum deposits, very simple products and every year they fired 3500 customers who didn’t play by the bank’s rules.

In a world of powerful search engines where answers to questions we pose seem so alluring we must resist the temptation to move too fast. Remain curious and agile and leverage your intellectual capital to outsmart the competition.

Please throw down some great examples of curious mind thinking!