Knowing to Doing

I commercialise technologies. I help companies take their product or service to market, and this starts with defining the why, how and what. It is about taking an honest look at the viability of the tech and what markets – thinking laterally and balancing that against the company needs to prioritise what we take to what market.

This sounds simple and theoretically obvious. Though what I’ve sometimes found is that this first step hasn’t actually been thought about and resources are not working on the priorities. They are working on what they think is right from a product not necessarily a customer focus. So once this exercise is done which is mostly about a mindset shift, an honest one at that, which can hurt. You then have to switch from knowing to doing.

From the numerous companies I’ve worked with and mentoring I’ve done I am constantly asked, when you get to the root of it, to sell. This surprises me everytime I come across it – that the basic tenant of a business is not being done, not being done in the right way or requires an external consultant to make it happen. If you set up a lemonade stand once the stall is made, lemons squeezed and the change box set-aside you sit on the pavement and sell. Without that final stage all the thinking and knowing (which is essential to setting up to sell in the first place) is irrelevant.

The challenge of moving to doing is that people are still working on the knowing, deliberating over nuances. You can end up in the knowing loop for years and ultimately come out with a detailed thesis but no business. Is it fear of failure, is it taking the leap, is it the fear of rejection or is it the fear that you’ve got it wrong or your tech isn’t all that? Either way, this enacted barrier (which is only perceived) to me explains a lot of the failure rates you see when a business is crossing the chasm/valley of death.

So what is the solution to shifting from knowing to doing? From my experience there are three key tenets:

  • Be clear when to stop working on the knowing: Simply this comes from a clear vision (why) with a team confident in the how and prioritised opportunities (what). In reality this comes from clear leadership who make the decision to start selling (doing) and take the accountability for it.
  • Enable the team: This is beyond the why, how and what to giving clear roles, targets and the autonomy and support from leadership to get on with it. Again this comes back to leadership.
  • Just do it: To bring up the Nike tagline, it is about doing it. That means moving from the comfort of a desk or hiding behind a rationale document to picking up the phone, going to the conference, go to the front-line in the shop.

In businesses throughout time, you hear about the ones that do. Take Anita Roddick and the Body Shop. She had a clear vision (why), she worked out how (shop on the South Coast of England) and the what (25 products). Then she started doing, one of the most memorable stories I remember from meeting her, was the way she spread the scent of her products all the way down the street to attract customers. The big differentiation between her and many others is that she went and did, ultimately selling the business for £652m in 2006.

The time to know and the shift to doing is key, as good as the start-up’s Powerpoint pitch is, or how detailed the strategy of the corporate division, it is the doing which needs the same level of effort to realise true business results. This is not new, but a call to recognise that today too much hiding goes on, fingers pointed, fear of stepping into the raw reality of selling is stopping some great ideas from being brought to life.

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