Embrace new technologies to beat your competition

Sept. 12, 2017
Most of us like to keep doing things the same way. We use the same tools, the same materials and the same strategies year after year after year until we are made to change, either by competitive pressures or some other type of economic crisis.

Here’s an interesting statistic: J.C. Penney opened his first department store in 1902 in Wyoming. The JCPenney Corp. had more than 90 years of growth and successful experience in retail marketing before another upstart called Amazon came along in 1994. In 1997, Amazon stock was selling for $1.74 per share. JCPenney stock was being traded for $64.88 per share.

Today, JCPenney stock is selling for $3.93 per share. Amazon? It’s stock is selling for just around $1,000 per share.

In 20 years, Amazon succeeded in undoing 90 years of head-start growth and marketing knowledge at JCPenney. All of this success revolved around a new piece of breakthrough technology called the Internet, along with some very clever marketing strategies.

Technology. It has powerful potential for change.

New technologies = new opportunities. Sometimes   

The world is inundated with new technology today. My family bought our first TV when I was nine. You actually had to get up out of your chair, walk all the way across the living room, and turn a dial to get one of the four black-and-white channels that were then available (until 11:00 p.m., when all the channels went off the air).

Today, I can turn on one of 300 high-definition, color channels on my TV from Peru (from an app on my mobile phone, which is sending a signal to a satellite in space and returning it to my TV). Or I can just watch the TV program on my phone in Peru. And, at the same time, I can turn on the oven and the lawn sprinkler, while checking to see where the cat threw up. All from Peru.

Now, to be honest, I don’t get to Peru often, but the potential is there. New technology can sometimes create new opportunities. And you can use some of these technologies to beat your competition.

But here’s the problem. Most of us like to keep doing things the same way. We use the same tools, the same materials and the same strategies year after year after year until we are made to change, either by competitive pressures or some other type of economic crisis.

But our lack of enterprise is not the entire problem. All of us have known or heard of people who actually did embrace some new type of technology, only to see it blow up in their faces.

So, you can be an early adopter and lose your shirt. Or you can be a late adopter and lose your customer. Is there a third way where we can keep both shirt and customer? Obviously, there is. But how does one minimize the risk and maximize the opportunities?

Mind mapping  

To answer this, I first want to introduce a very powerful tool, called “mind mapping,” to help you visually organize concepts and ideas, such as the ones we are talking about here. You can either draw it by hand or use a piece of software that allows you to take various random thoughts about a particular topic and put them into a cohesive and visually organized map. This will help guide you in processing an idea into production or in considering all parts of a topic.

Essentially, it’s like brainstorming on steroids. These mind maps can be as simple or as complicated as you want. And you can continue to build on a mind map as new ideas pop into your head.

Figure 1 just below is a hand-drawn mind map about tennis. (Although, for the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would play tennis to begin with: No matter how good you get, you can never beat a wall.)

Some of the mind-mapping software programs are free, and some of these free programs are quite good. But the pay-for-use programs come with features that are remarkable and can take you from concept to production — complete with Gantt Charts and timeline completion dates and task assignments.

The one that I have been using for more than 15 years is called MindManager by Mindjet. MindManager 2017 is now available. Do a YouTube search to explore the powerful features of this program.

Figure 2 just below shows a mind map I created to help visualize some of the concepts I will need to think through if I am going to import new technologies into my business.

It took me 10 minutes to make the mind map, and I can go back to it and expand on it or change it as often as I like. Using this type of tool will help facilitate new-technology discovery and implementation as I assess risk — particularly the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. It provides a framework for decision-making that is measureable and objective.

As I use this tool as a launching platform, further thoughts about new technologies come to mind. First is the dual-natured beast of innovation itself. Sometimes, there is a wrong way to do a right thing, and sometimes there is a right way to do a wrong thing.

·      I can have the right technology, but use it the wrong way. Result — loss of business. Or…

·      I can have the wrong technology and use it the right way. Unfortunately, no one cares. Or…

·      If I have the right technology, but the customer won’t buy it, what good is it? Result — loss of investment.

The key to successful implementation of new technology is to do the homework. No shortcuts, but thorough, complete homework.

Not only does this homework involve considerations for you, but also for your employees, if you have any. Your workers may not embrace new technology, which can affect productivity and morale. Successful change comes from making workers part of the change process itself. Make it early in the process, not later. And ask for their input.

Consider the customer, the employees, the investment, the risk, the timing and the rewards — to name a few of the considerations.

Never just assume  

Making assumptions about a technology, rather doing than your homework, is like using a magic eight ball to make decisions. You might just as well consult a medium. This is particularly true if you happen to be the type of person who sees some new piece of technology and jumps right on the bandwagon. In your mind, this is a no-brainer, as you say to yourself: “Well, Columbus took a chance, and look how good he did!”

Impulsiveness is not the same as being an early adopter. The latter takes the time to do her homework; she just finished it before you did. Impulsiveness is just making the decision without any of the homework.

But there are technologies out there that can and will drive your business plan and improve your bottom line.

I remember the first time I ever saw PEX pipe installed, in this case, to handle potable plumbing in an apartment building. I had 14 negative thoughts about it before I finally came to a positive one. Then I got a call to fix a blocked PEX pipe in that same building. I opened up the wall and found a section of pipe that was frozen, because they forgot to insulate.

There, before my eyes, was a lemon-sized bulge in the pipe of frozen water. I took a heat gun to it: No soldering, just a heat gun. The freeze broke away and the water started to flow without so much as a drop spilled. Had that been copper, it would have split and then flooded the apartment as well as the apartment below. I have been a believer ever since.

Copper was a new technology at one time. And galvanized pipe was a new technology before that. It’s just an evolution of materials with the same purpose: trying to move water quickly and efficiently from one place to another.

So, those are a few of my thoughts on technology. I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject or any other ideas you might have. Feel free to contact me at [email protected].

Steve Swanson is the national trainer at Uponor Academy. He actively welcomes reader comments and can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

Steve Swanson

Steve Swanson is the customer trainer at Uponor Academy. He actively welcomes reader comments and can be reached at [email protected].

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