Category: blog

Business Development is Not Sales!

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Knowing the difference will make a difference for your business.

I am amazed by how often these two terms are used interchangeably, where the former is often used as a fancier term for the latter. Often, when I talk to those responsible for Business Development and the activities they are involved in, it turns out they are really talking about Sales. Conversely, when I talk to those responsible for Sales and who are good at it, turns out they put a lot more emphasis on Business Development activities.

Business Development and Sales are two distinctly different activities, and in today’s rapidly evolving business environment we would do well by knowing the difference. I would even venture to say that a well-developed understanding of Business Development, and an ability to do it well, is decidedly more important in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace. A focus on Business Development will give you a new perspective on your firm’s purpose and its future growth and direction. Business Development is concerned with the future of your business.

So, what’s the difference between Sales and Business Development?

Sales is generally well-understood. It involves the transfer of title or ownership of a product or service from seller to buyer at an agreed-to price. Simply put, Sales is about generating transactions. On the other hand, there does not appear to be a universally accepted definition of Business Development.

Most attempts at a definition suggest that Business Development covers a range of activities and that it is somehow related to value creation. It entails tasks and processes to develop and implement growth opportunities within and between organizations. It is also suggested that Business Development has a unique role in the innovation process, and that it is inherently collaborative and integrative in nature. Ultimately, Business Development is about generating qualified leads for a product or service offering.

Which is more important?

Sales is generally well-understood. It involves the transfer of title or ownership of a product or service from seller to buyer at an agreed-to price. Simply put, Sales is about generating transactions. On the other hand, there does not appear to be a universally accepted definition of Business Development.

It is not a question of one being better, more important or more desirable than the other. They are in fact complementary activities. The approach to Business Development and Sales tends to come from very different, yet complementary and reconcilable orientations. However, where you should place emphasis will depend on what is a higher priority within your organization at a given point in time. If you have clear market validation for your offering and are consistently closing a high proportion of prospects, then allocating more attention to Business Development to prospect for leads should be your number one priority. If you have more leads than you can deal with, then your focus should be on closing more Sales.

If your tendency is to be purely sales-driven, then you are not investing in your future, and it is less likely that you will turn prospects into clients. This is because you have not invested effort into understanding their needs and wants – this is fundamental to Business Development. If, on the other hand, your orientation is pure Business Development, then chances are that it will be difficult to acquire new clients. You need a good balance of the two orientations.

Growth starts with the Business Development mindset, and it is no coincidence that rainmakers have this as a dominant trait – they build authentic relationships with clients; they have empathy and listen to understand their clients’ needs; they provide what clients want and need; they are able to show clients the value of what they will receive; they are able to bring clients to the point of transaction; and they remind clients of the value they are receiving.

How does Business Development and Sales work together?

Knowing the difference between Business Development and Sales is helpful since it will spur better understanding, coordination and collaboration between the two functions within your business. Depending on your organization, it may even be beneficial to separate these two functions while ensuring they collaborate effectively. Business Development should focus time, effort and energy on building relationships with qualified leads to the point that they can be handed off to Sales to become happy customers.

It is easy to see that very different skillsets and talents are needed to perform well in either of these two different, yet complementary functions. Those who can imagine future possibilities; are constantly in search of new knowledge and information; can build diverse networks; and know how to attract and maintain partnerships, do well in business development. Those who are highly persuasive; make the Sales process as simple as possible; and know how to engage customers in an authentic way, do well in Sales. Employees should naturally “fall into” the roles that come naturally for them according to their own talents and interests.

It is important to stress that the entire process of researching, prospecting and qualifying to closing is a team effort. It therefore makes no sense to set targets and incentivize Sales when the client acquisition process is a whole-organization endeavour – this may well encourage behavior that is not in the best interest of the company. After all, acquisition of a new client is a team win and should be celebrated as such!

WHAT, now; HOW, then.

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What to do, not how to do is the central question for leaders

In these rapidly changing times brought on by digitalization, deciding “what to do” is ever more important than determining “how to do” it. And, deciding “what not to do” is perhaps most important of all.

In my conversations with executives, there is always the eagerness to learn how I can help them to get more clients, to grow the business, to make it more efficient, innovative and agile,…. to improve business performance.

These are all perfectly reasonable business outcomes. We all want greater success, and quickly. But then the discussion very quickly jumps to “how will you do that” for us? It is the wrong question and expectation.

You see, the starting point must always be to first determine the objectives that will help you achieve the business outcomes you want. It is first and foremost about getting focused on those few, but very important things what will make the biggest difference for your business – “the what”. How this will be achieved is secondary and always contingent upon objectives.

As the saying goes, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there,” and this is nowhere. “What to do” is the central question to productivity and effectiveness – to getting to where you need to go.

The journey to your destination requires you to make judgements and assumptions about the market and your firm. It is like assessing the terrain and state of your car before you venture out on your journey.

In other words, questions like: What does the market – and specifically, the consumer – really want and value?

Importantly, this should to some extent be anticipative – oftentimes the customer does not really know what he wants, at least not yet. This may not always be self-evident, and requires adopting a mindset of inquiry and design-thinking in an iterative approach.

It was not until Steve Jobs discovered and articulated what the consumer valued most was simplicity and ease-of-use of a PC that things really turned around for Apple, thereby defining an entirely new market.

From this initial point of inquiry comes a second: What should be the firm’s role in this new reality? Why does it exist? In other words, what should be its mission?

Mission statements can and do change over time in order to stay relevant and impactful. A clear sense of mission is essential for employees to believe in their company, its purpose and the value it is meant to create for the benefit of society.

Tesla’s mission statement – “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy” – hits the mark.

And finally, what competencies and capabilities must continue to be developed and invested in, in order to deliver on the mission and be competitive in the marketplace?

At its core, what sets the company apart? What is it known for to do really well, and how can it become even better?

Nike’s core competencies exist in their effective marketing strategies and innovative product design, two elements that provide much value to consumers. These competencies are not easily imitated and are leveraged to a wide variety of products and markets.

Determining the “what” for the business is not easy, especially when one is in the thick of things, managing the business – the daily grind. It requires one to step back from the day-to-day, to reflect, to question, to ponder, to debate, to test,….

It requires one to (temporarily) jump off the merry-go-round, adopt a “from the outside in” perspective, and formulate your assumptions and hypotheses before jumping back on.

Importantly – society, markets, consumers, technology change all the time, and at an increasingly accelerating pace. This means that your assumptions must continually be tested and validated, and change over time, or they risk becoming obsolete and invalid to the detriment of the firm.

Having a thinking partner can be immensely valuable in this process – to question your assumptions and test your hypotheses. To help you crystallize “what to do” and “what not to do.” It is the critical first step before determining “how to do”. When you know where you are going, how to get there is a relatively straightforward task.

Throughout my career, I have protected and enhanced corporate reputations, saved or avoided millions for the organisations I’ve worked for and billions for the industries I’ve represented, and driven growth and profitability. All this was achieved by having a clear vision and setting objectives that support the business results we wanted.

If you need a thinking partner to help you determine what you need to do, get in touch with me.

To Disrupt or be Disrupted – that is the Question

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Nanyang Business School of Singapore
1st Place Winner – John Molson MBA International Case Competition

“Connect. Innovate. Grow.” in an Age of Rapid Change and Disruption

Last week I again had the honor to serve as a lead judge to the John Molson MBA International Case Competition, organized by the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University.

It brings to Montreal students from business schools all over the world – from Canada, the US, Europe and places as far away as Australia, South Africa and Singapore (Nanyang Business School was this year’s winner!)

I’ve been doing this for the last 13 years and it is always a great start to the new year – it gets your brain cells working again after the restful holiday break! And, it is certainly energizing to see and hear from young people grappling with today’s business issues and challenges.

Disruption was the theme of this year’s competition and had the tagline “Innovate. Connect. Compete.”, not dissimilar to my own “Connect. Innovate. Grow.”

It demonstrates that connections, innovation, competition and growth are top of mind for everyone in business – both young and old(-er) – in view of the rapid and accelerating pace of change driven on by digitalization, AI, IoT, and many other disruptive technologies and business models.

So, how can you not only survive but thrive in today’s rapidly evolving business environment?

There are no quick and easy answers, but I’ve been giving this a lot of thought in my discussions with clients, business leaders, academics, policy-makers and other consultants.

I’ve come up with a Business Builder Growth Framework℠ – not quite the “theory of everything”, but perhaps helpful for developing your strategy for growth in these rapidly changing times.

The framework can serve as a blueprint for building your value creation engine – get its 6 essential elements right and it can turbocharge your growth. Read more about it in my next blog post – stay tuned!

Keep Moving to Stay Relevant

Read Time: < 1 minuteDo you remember when you first learned how to ride a bike? I do….

I was almost 10 years old and most of my friends were already pros on the 2-wheeler. I did not have a bike with training wheels (long story) and kept falling over and hurting myself. It was a painful experience and I was afraid to keep trying.

Until one day my aunt insisted I give it another try. She gave me a hard push and told me to pedal hard. I did, and I kept moving!

It was a most exhilarating feeling. I was going faster than I had ever gone before. Wind in my face, passing people by, and going further than I had ever gone. Seeing new and unfamiliar places.

I was experiencing freedom and independence.

I even discovered that to slow down and stop without falling over, all I had to do was put out my two feet on the pavement until I came to a halt. I had mastered riding a bike in that one afternoon.

Now, I did fall on occasion, but that was because I broke the cardinal rule – pedal fast!

And so it is in life and in business. We must keep pedaling and moving.

In a rapidly changing world we must continually adapt and innovate to stay relevant.

We must engage in a continuous cycle of experimentation, learn from our successes and failures, and apply new-found knowledge and insight to the next round of innovation, and do so with speed.

From this comes stability and resiliance.

Albert Einstein had it right when he said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Indeed, if you stand still, you will fall over and hurt yourself.

The 5 Trends Shaping the Future of Aviation

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What Are You Doing to Remain Relevant?

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.” Those were the words of Jeff Bezos during Amazon’s all-hands meeting held last year in response to the question what Day 2 would look like. He continued with what he felt were some of the essentials for Day 1 defense, on how to fend off Day 2.

Among these essentials was the eager adoption of external trends – “These big trends affecting our world are not hard to spot,…. If you won’t or can’t embrace them quickly – or if you fight them – you will probably be fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind,” said Bezos. I absolutely agree, and I like the aviation analogy!

For those not familiar with aviation terms used as business jargon, a tailwind is a wind that blows in the direction of travel and increases an aircraft’s in-flight speed and reduces the time required to reach its destination. Thus, in business a “tailwind” refers to a situation or condition that will ramp up top-line or bottom-line growth, preferably both.

Every organisation – both large and small, public or private, for profit or not-for-profit – should be aware of today’s big trends that can become tailwinds to a more prosperous future.

As you read the following top five trends that are shaping the future of aviation, ask yourself some profound and important questions: “How can these trends impact our business? What capabilities do we need to build to exploit them and continue to delight our customers? How can they take our business to that next level of performance and value creation?”

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning goes mainstream

AI is quickly becoming a mainstream obsession that will affect every industry. In aviation, algorithms are learning to predict aircraft delays, giving airports and airlines a better chance at avoiding them.

Airlines like EasyJet and Emirates are using AI to redesign the ticketing process and improve the in-flight experience to cater to customer expectations.

But the real promise is in the cockpit, where AI autopilots could help manage the complex airline operation and even respond to emergencies as they arise in the cockpit.

For the moment, AI is augmented intelligence, i.e. man plus machine, where AI augments human performance. Instead of replacing productive workers, the use of AI technology will be pervasive – from piloting an aircraft, to aircraft maintenance and air traffic control, and to training and simulation – and is being used to amplify human performance.

The introduction of AI will be subtle but it’s taking hold as the pressures to improve performance continues to grow.

Ask yourself :

How can we exploit AI to enhance the performance of people?

How can we delight our customers with new insights this technology can give us?

Automation achieves dramatic growth

Automation, driven by data analytics, AI and advanced hardware, is set to disrupt work as we know it. We’re automating traditional jobs out of existence on a regular basis.

In the automotive industry, autonomous vehicles are fast-becoming a reality, and it will be a game changer for the trucking industry where it is forecast that there simply won’t be enough drivers.

Similarly, with the forecast pilot shortage, it is not hard to imagine that remotely-piloted commercial aircraft – first for cargo, followed by passenger aircraft – will take to the sky. And, while still some years off, as AI and further automation takes hold, we will eventually see a transition from remotely-piloted aircraft to fully autonomous aircraft, capable of self-separation and flying the most efficient flight trajectories.

The air traffic management function will therefore also see a major change, with increased use of AI and automation driving out the traditional function of the air traffic controller and heralding in the air traffic manager responsible for monitoring the efficiency of traffic flows.

Ask yourself :

What jobs in our organisation are ready to be automated out of existence?

What skills and capabilities do we need to build, and what does this mean for our training and development programs?

Experience management is the new quality management

Brought on by digital mobile technology and the online economy, customers today want companies to provide a consistently wonderful experience from beginning to end. And, if the experience meets expectations, customers will be willing to spend more.

We’ve seen this with Apple, Nike, Starbucks and other brands that have created a following and an entire ecosystem to support the customer experience.

There is no reason not to expect the same will happen in air transport where offerings are marketed that uniquely cater to the traveller’s needs and desires. Customers are looking for travel companies that fit with who they are and what they value. They want to work with companies that support the values, causes and ideals they support.

Quality is a given, and this is not something companies will be rewarded or recognized for. Quality is expected, and it’ll be an afterthought.

This shift in consumer expectations will require a whole new approach to customer engagement, and some airlines have only recently started to explore how this can be achieved.

Ask yourself :

What type of experience would our customers value most?

What would have them coming back for more, and evolve into a following?

Blockchain everything

While Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have received a lot of public attention lately, it is the underlying technology that is truly revolutionary and will disrupt several industries as well as government services.

In essence, blockchain is a different way to process transactions or records that does not require intermediation. Put simply, blockchain is a ledger of digital events that can be shared and trusted without the need for central authority.

Importantly, the blockchain resides in the cloud and isn’t located on only one computer, but on many computers, and every computer is directly in contact with all other computers in the blockchain network. Due to this constant synchronisation, it is tamper-proof and establishes trust in a transaction. This allows the transfer of anything of value between two parties without the need of an intermediary.

Blockchain is emerging in healthcare as well as financial tech.

In air transport, the technology can be the basis for virtual or digital passports that store biometrics in the form of a single secure token on a mobile or wearable device of the passport holder.

Further potential usage would be in baggage tracking, cargo manifests, aircraft history and maintenance records, aircraft spare parts logistics and a lot more.

Ask yourself:

What transactions can be simplified and made more secure using blockchain technology?

How can it affect our supply chain and what ecosystems must be built?

IoT to friendlier skies

As the costs of Internet-connected sensors and networking equipment continue to fall, IoT (Internet of Things) technologies will continue to play a bigger role in efforts to make aviation more efficient and improve the passenger experience.

While aircraft components such as engines have been providing real-time IoT data on everything from performance to required maintenance for some time, other industry players are increasingly finding new ways to deploy and use IoT technologies.

Airports are deploying interconnected sensor networks and data hubs to track and understand passenger flows and behaviour in the airport terminal to drive retail revenues, reduce connection times or improve the boarding process. And on the airport premises, airlines and airports are using IoT technologies to locate and keep track of their equipment.

Ask yourself :

Which activities can we learn more from through increased or improved monitoring?

Which of our processes can be improved or made more efficient if we had more data?

Keeping abreast of the trends affecting our world is of strategic importance and requires that you revisit your core assumptions on a regular basis. I observe that far too many executives devote their time to managing the day-to-day operation, and not nearly enough time to strategic and innovative thinking. Are you devoting equal time and energy to both?

Business resilience is about adapting quickly to trends and technological disruption as much as it is about maintaining and safeguarding the business operation. In the end, it is all about staying relevant, by continually and perpetually innovating and creating business value. How can today’s trends become tailwinds for you and your business?

P.S. Jeff Bezos’ 2016 letter to shareholders can be found here. I look forward to reading his 2017 letter, expected in the coming month.

Cost-cut Yourself to Prosperity

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Cost reduction as a strategy for rapid growth

During my career, I have saved millions of dollars for the organisations I’ve worked for and helped avoid billions of dollars for the industry I’ve represented. Cost reduction and cost containment is the name of the game in the air transport industry. Over the course of the last 60 years, the airlines have not been able to make an adequate return on the cost of capital employed, with profit margins being less than 1% on average over the period. Net profit margins of close to 5% in recent years are truly exceptional, and are the result of strong demand, improved efficiency and reduced interest payments. But operating margins are being squeezed again by rising fuel, labor and infrastructure expenses, and thus cost management will continue to play a crucial strategic role. And herein lies a useful lesson for any industry and any business.

Last week I spoke of price simplification, whereby you dramatically reduce the price of the product or service by making its delivery simpler, thereby reducing its cost. This can be achieved in one of two ways, through both product redesign and business process redesign. Through product redesign you can reduce the product or service offering to its bare essentials and nothing else. Think of Southwest Airlines, and other low-cost carriers that offer no complimentary food or drink, no reserved seating, no lounges, and no free baggage handling. You can also reduce the variety on offer, as in the case of an airline reducing multiple class travel to a single class, as the low-cost airlines have done. For a product, think of the simple Swatch that provides the basic function of telling time, but not much else that more complicated and luxurious watches do.

Once the product has been simplified, its cost of delivery can be further reduced through business process redesign, for a simple and standardized product can be produced more easily and efficiently through automation and mass production. In the process, an entirely new mass market can be created through an accelerator effect that can cut the price of the product or service by half or more. The classic example is that of the Ford Model T, which was designed in such a way that it could be easily mass produced on the production line. It became the affordable car for the masses. The most successful low-cost airlines have simplified and standardized their product and redesigned their business processes to such an extent that traditional carriers have had a hard time to compete.

During my days with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, while in the midst of yet another cost reduction initiative, I was told by those who questioned such draconian practice, “you cannot cost-cut yourself to prosperity.” At the time, I felt there was some truth in that. Today, I couldn’t disagree more! A sure way to prosperity and profitable growth is to cut costs – dramatically – for it has been proven that radical price reduction will lead to an exponential growth in demand and the creation of a new market.

The Beauty of Simplicity

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And what it can mean for your business or organisation

Last week I wrote about the difference between the complicated and the complex, and its implications for your approach to introducing change, which requires leadership more than it does management skill. However, the implications are even more profound than this.

In an increasingly complex world punctuated by rapid and disruptive change, organizations must become more flexible, agile and nimble, and let go of centralized hierarchical command-and-control styles of management. Individual behaviors and decisions in reaction to the unpredictable are rather more important than executive strategies and organisational plans that rely on predictability to be effective. Individual leadership and self-organization suddenly become more important than management control. Encouraging conflict and change become necessary – even to the extent of testing the stability of the organisation – in order to cultivate a culture of creativity and innovation.

But there is a problem. If organisations in today’s world are to operate at the edge of chaos, how can they maintain a balance between flexibility and stability to avoid from failing? Without clear plans and directives, how can individuals in organizations make decisions in today’s information-saturated and rapidly-changing business environment? By determining what’s important and what’s not. By freeing yourself from complexity and committing to simplicity.

Simplicity – the art of reducing the complex to its simple essence – can give you the power to get stuff done, to be more effective, to be more efficient, and ultimately, to create more value. Many books have been written about this, in fields as diverse as theology and spirituality, to psychology, ecology and biology, design and architecture, communication and politics, as well as business theory and strategy. In business, it has been observed that those companies that are most successful, are not only market leaders, but have also embraced the principle of simplicity. However, achieving simplicity is not easy. As Steve Jobs once observed, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

As identified by Richard Koch in his book entitled Simplify and co-authored with Greg Lockwood, there are two ways simplification can be achieved – through price simplification or through proposition simplification. With price simplification, you are dramatically reducing the price of the product or service by making its delivery simpler, thereby reducing its cost. Think of Southwest Airlines or Ryanair – one class travel with no frills, a fleet comprised of one aircraft-type, service to secondary airports, and direct selling to customers. Think of Henry Ford and the Model T. Think of McDonald’s and fast food. Think of IKEA and functional inexpensive furniture. Think of Inditex of the Zara brand and fast fashion….

With proposition simplification, you are providing a product or service that is simple, easy to use and intuitive, and generally appealing, which can create an entirely new market and ecosystem. Think of Apple and its iMac, iPhone, iPod, iPad, and more recently the iWatch. Think of Amazon that pioneered on-line book sales for a more convenient consumer experience, which was enhanced by book reviews and suggestions and easy “1-click” payment. It has gone on to create a massive on-line marketplace that allows other sellers to participate and now offers a wide range of products for sale.

This is the power of simplicity in business – making the complex more simple, and creating value and new markets. By working smarter, not harder, by creating more flexible and adaptive organizations, and by creating more compelling experiences for consumers, companies can find new paths to growth and prosperity.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

The Difference between the “Complicated” and the “Complex”

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And its implications for your approach to introducing change

What’s the difference between sending a rocket into space and getting children to succeed in school? What’s the difference between a surgeon extracting a brain tumour and judge and jury deciding guilt or innocence for a person accused of murder? Answers: sending a rocket into space and surgeons extracting brain tumours are complicated tasks, while getting children to succeed in school and the criminal justice system to function properly are complex activities.

Complicated activities like rocket launchings and brain surgery require engineer-designed blueprints, step-by-step algorithms and procedures, well-trained staff, computer software and special equipment. A complicated system assumes expert and rational leaders, top-down planning, smooth implementation of policies and procedures, and a clock-like organisation of tasks to be performed.

Complicated systems operate in standardised ways and everything is done to improve performance and reduce uncertainty and mistakes. The emphasis is on process and procedure, command and control. This is much like what happens in the cockpit when flying an airplane. Yet, even those sophisticated systems fail from time to time when an anomaly enters the picture, such as smoke in the cockpit that led to the fatal crash of Swissair 111 off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1998.

Complex systems like education and criminal justice, however, involve interactions between numerous players of varied expertise, independence and inter-dependence. They are rather unpredictable and uncontrollable, and can produce surprises, primarily due to the participation of and interaction between people.

Complex systems are constantly evolving and adaptive. Blueprints, technical experts, strategic plans and managers simply are inadequate to get complex systems to operate effectively. Think of the interface between front-line airline staff and their customers – the passenger. Often when dealing with complex situations such as flight delays, these require good judgement and leadership on the part of customer-facing staff, as opposed to following strict operating procedures. One only needs to be reminded of the incident when a passenger was dragged off a United Airline flight in April.

The practical implications of this distinction between the complicated and the complex is that the approach to dealing with situations and change needs to be different. Those who run complicated systems can introduce change by laying out a detailed design of what is to be changed, step-by-step procedures to implement the change and overcome employee resistance, and reduce variation in performance once the change is implemented. It is a highly rational, mechanical approach that can be managed, much like a machine.

However, this will hardly work for those who inhabit complex systems where conflict and unplanned changes occur all the time. Imposing procedures from complicated organisations onto complex systems are bound to fail. Working in a complex system means adapting to changes, dealing with conflicts, and constant learning. Introducing reform requires leadership. Management is about control; leadership is about change.

Most organisations exhibit both complicated and complex environments – just think of airline operations, a highly complicated activity, versus sales and marketing and customer service, which are highly complex activities. Employees, and particularly those at more senior levels, must be able to recognise the environment in which they are interacting and adjust their style accordingly – to that of the manager or that of the leader, and often it is a subtle combination of both.

Lessons from the Demise of a Venerable Pâtisserie

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Anyone who has been to Montreal will know it to be the gastronomic capital of Canada, if not North America. Of course, many other cities have their fine eateries, but Montreal boasts a great variety and diversity in establishments, from expensive Michelin-starred gourmet and nouvelle cuisine restaurants, to bistro-bars, coffee and pastry shops, bagel shops, and international cuisine the world over – Italian, Portuguese, Spanish tapas, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, not to mention the Irish and British pubs sprinkled throughout.

It is a fiercely competitive food scene, with celebrity chefs and restaurateurs vying for your palate, and there is therefore tremendous churn, with establishments folding and new ones popping up on a regular basis. Yet, there are those venerable establishments that have survived for decades. So, it came as a shock to many Montrealers when Pâtisserie de Cascogne closed its doors today after 60 years in the business.

Founded in 1957 by Francis Cabanes and his wife Lucie, who had emigrated from France, de Gascogne was Montreal’s preeminent pâtisserie whose reputation was well-known, especially during its heyday in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Renowned as a classic French pâtisserie, de Gascogne was the place to go to order a cake for that special occasion like a wedding or birthday, and during the Christmas season for a Bûche de Noël.

However, something was amiss the last decade or so. Certainly, les Montréalais have become more health conscious, opting for less fattening and sweet foods. Then came new competitors like Au Pain Doré and Première Moisson that specialised in bread, but also offered cakes and pastries at lower prices. And, countless other innovative pâtisseries and chocolateries sprang up in the city, offering their own specialities for which they became renowned. Comparatively, de Cascogne was expensive and had lost its edge. Most significantly, its sales staff had become rather snooty and aloof, a sure sign that it had rested on its laurels far too long. And herein lies some lessons for any business:

  1. Always remain on the cutting edge of innovation;
  2. Always remain close to your clients; and
  3. Always serve your clients well.

My Top Reads of 2017

Read Time: 7 minutes

As 2017 draws to a close, I reflected on some of the books I’ve read that offered new insights and perspectives on life and career. Here are the 10 must-reads I believe have the potential to transform your life and take your business to the next level.

  1. Principles: Life and Work, by Ray Dalio – September 19, 2017

In 1975, Ray Dalio founded an investment firm, Bridgewater Associates, out of his two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Forty years later, Bridgewater has made more money for its clients than any other hedge fund in history. Along the way, Dalio discovered a set of unique principles that have led to Bridgewater’s exceptionally effective culture, which he describes as “an idea meritocracy that strives to achieve meaningful work and meaningful relationships through radical transparency.” It is these principles – and not anything special about Dalio – that he believes are the reason behind his success. The book’s practical lessons, which are built around his cornerstones of “radical truth” and “radical transparency,” include the most effective ways for individuals and organizations to make decisions, approach challenges, and build strong teams. Principles offers a clear, straightforward approach to decision-making that Dalio believes anyone can apply, no matter what they’re seeking to achieve.

  1. Superconnect: Harnessing the Power of Networks and the Strength of Weak Links, by Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood – August 2, 2011

What’s so special about the rich and famous? Unusually successful people often think they’ve done well because of their talent or luck – or simple grit and hard work. But individual characteristics matter far less than the social connections we exploit. And counterintuitively, it’s our weak links — your neighbour’s landscaper or that ad agency guy you happened to meet at your sister’s birthday party last year — that matter most of all. Drawing on research from the fields of sociology, mathematics, and physics, internationally bestselling author and entrepreneur Richard Koch and his co-author Greg Lockwood show how networks impact our everyday lives. Rich with entertaining anecdotes and written in Richard Koch’s trademark conversational style, Superconnect reveals the hidden patterns behind everyday events. Most importantly, it shows how any of us can increase the chances of happy outcomes in our own lives, careers, or businesses.

  1. Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, by Paul Zak – January 27, 2017

For decades, alarms have sounded about declining employee engagement. Yet companies continue to struggle with toxic cultures, and the low productivity and unhappiness that go with them. Why is ‘culture’ so difficult to change and improve? What makes so many good employees check out? Neuroscientist Paul Zak shows that innate brain functions hold the answers, and it all boils down to trust. When someone shows you trust, a feel-good jolt of oxytocin surges through your brain and triggers you to reciprocate. This simple mechanism creates a perpetual trust-building cycle, which is-the key to changing stubborn workplace patterns. Drawing on his original research, Zak teases out science-backed insights for building high-trust organizations. Whereas employee engagement programs and monetary rewards are merely Band-Aid solutions, Trust Factor opens a window on how brain chemicals affect behavior, why trust gets squashed, and ways to consciously stimulate it by celebrating effort, sharing information, promoting ownership, and more.

  1. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, by Simon Sinek – May 23, 2017

Imagine a world where almost everyone wakes up inspired to go to work, feels trusted and valued during the day, then returns home feeling fulfilled. This is not a crazy, idealized notion. Today, in many successful organizations, great leaders create environments in which people naturally work together to do remarkable things. In his work with organizations around the world, Simon Sinek noticed that some teams trust each other so deeply that they would literally put their lives on the line for each other. Other teams, no matter what incentives are offered, are doomed to infighting, fragmentation and failure. Why? The answer became clear during a conversation with a Marine Corps general. “Officers eat last,” he said. Great leaders sacrifice their own comfort – even their own survival – for the good of those in their care. From the author and motivational speaker who brought us the bestseller “Start With Why”, Sinek illustrates his ideas with fascinating true stories that range from the military to big business, from government to investment banking.

  1. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE, by Phil Knight – April 26, 2016

In this candid and riveting memoir, Phil Knight – the man behind the swoosh – shares the inside story of his company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands. In 1962, fresh out of business school and determined to start his own business, Phil Knight borrowed $50 from his father and created a company with a simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost athletic shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his car, Knight grossed $8,000 his first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In his book, Knight details the many risks and daunting setbacks that stood between him and his dream, and recalls the formative relationships with his first partners and employees, a ragtag group of misfits and seekers who harnessed the power of a shared mission and a deep belief in the spirit of sport. In an age of start-ups, Nike is the ne plus ultra of all start-ups, and the swoosh has become a revolutionary, globe-spanning icon, one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable symbols in the world today. It also brought back memories of my own years as a high school track athlete and cross-country runner.

  1. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant – February 7, 2017

In Originals, Adam Grant addresses the challenge of improving the world, from the perspective of becoming original: choosing to champion novel ideas and values that go against the grain, battle conformity, and buck outdated traditions. Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent. The take-away is a set of ground-breaking insights about rejecting conformity and improving the status quo.

  1. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz – March 4, 2014

Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, offers essential advice on building and running a start-up — some practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems business schools do not cover. While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies. This book is invaluable for veteran entrepreneurs as well as those aspiring to their own new ventures.

  1. The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell – January 7, 2002

The initial inspiration for Gladwell’s first book came from the sudden drop of crime in New York City, in which he sought to explain similar phenomena through the lens of epidemiology. While a reporter for The Washington Post, Gladwell covered the AIDS epidemic and took notice that epidemiologists had a “strikingly different way of looking at the world”. The term “tipping point” comes from the moment in an epidemic when the virus reaches critical mass and begins to spread at a much higher rate. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold – or tips – and spreads like wildfire, and it has changed the way people think about selling products and disseminating ideas.

  1. Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers – January 15, 2008

Presence is an intimate look at the nature of transformational change – how it arises, and the fresh possibilities it offers a world dangerously out of balance. The book introduces the idea of “presence” – a concept borrowed from the natural world that the whole is entirely present in any of its parts – to the worlds of business, education, government, and leadership. Too often, the authors found, we remain stuck in old patterns of seeing and acting. By encouraging deeper levels of learning, we can create an awareness of the larger whole, leading to actions that can help to shape its evolution and our future. The book goes on to define the capabilities that underlie our ability to see, sense, and realize new possibilities – in ourselves, in our institutions and organizations, and in society itself. Presence is both revolutionary in its exploration and hopeful in its message.

  1. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari – October 31, 2017

From the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind comes an extraordinary new book that explores the future of the human species. Over the past century humankind has managed to do the impossible and rein in famine, plague, and war. This may seem hard to accept, but famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. What then will replace famine, plague, and war at the top of the human agenda? As the self-made gods of planet earth, what destinies will we set for ourselves, and which quests will we undertake? The book explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century – from overcoming death to creating artificial life. And, it asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus (the human God.)