The Business of Transcending

If you believe that an idea has value for a given group of people (your target group) you are making a value judgment. That value judgment includes the notion that what those people do has some value. So, your idea adds value to the process that is already ongoing. It does not create value out of whole cloth. In other words, your idea should fit into a time line of value generation.

It is easy to forget this in a world where our institutions seem to be fixed and permanent. So, for example, when you go to work for McDonalds or Wall Mart, they tell you what is valuable and what you are supposed to do to fit into their value scheme. It is a done deal, not a time line of value generation.

And of course, it is an illusion. McDonalds may appear to have a “lock” on their customers, but they do not. Customers may — and they do — change preferences. And when they do, McDonalds cannot force them to keep coming back to their locations.

This opens the door for the last post in this thread – to discuss the business of transcending what we have now. The point business is NOT to produce more and more and more of what we have, but to learn how to live better in light of what is possible. This may seem odd, but it seems that way because we are just emerging from a rather odd period in history.

In the 20th century, western man discovered that using technology he could mass produce goods at ever lower cost. With costs down, people who did not earn all that much could suddenly buy much more. And they did. They were the new “middle class”. It was amazing. But there was a problem as well. You cannot keep driving costs down. At some point — unless something else changes —  profit margins get too thin. Companies become more vulnerable to slight changes in the cost of inputs. And one cost variable, of course, is labor cost. The system was balanced on a razor edge.

Mankind became, by and large, an “input” and we accepted that the market economy was too big for any individual to influence. More recently, we have begun to see that our thinking was too narrow. Technology, especially digital technology, changed and continues to change the way goods and services can be delivered. We have found numerous ways to reduce inefficiencies in markets and create possibilities for people who can learn how to do things in new ways.

In other words, we are moving beyond a fixed notion of ecology to one that assumes things change. This is what Prof. Gunther McGrath is talking about in her book “The End of Competitive Advantage“.  This is a starting point for all of us to re-think how we view our relationships. Here is the key question — how much do we learn from what we are doing?

The more we are learning, the more capacity we have to transcend where we are now. Ok. Time for a story. Check out the story of Bobby Fry’s restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania called Bar Marco. When you do, keep in mind how his business model facilitates faster learning. Bobby is a nice guy. He is also a smart guy. And you can be too!

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