To be an expert you need to know many

I had the privilege of having a conversation with Shuang-Min Chang (SMC). What’s remarkable about her is her 15-year experience in the luxury brand industry. She lived in Europe, India and China before going back to her homeland Taiwan after her retirement. Currently she is a life coach. She helps executives chart their path or understand changes in their lives.

In the course of our conversation, I asked her thoughts on being a master or expert of something or being a Jack-of-all-trades. I asked her because I think this is one of a modern man’s dilemma where a society favors experts over generalists. This is evident in what is seen in media. I also tackled this thought and I wanted to know what she thinks about it. For her, who loves to do many things, she prefers a holistic approach and finds that one can be successful not by being great in one thing but greatness is a combination on many things. In other words, a manager can not be great if all he knows are technical matters but do not know how to communicate. I would like to put it this way: A master was once a student who explored many things to come to the one thing he is great at. I must say that I agree with her. Being social beings, we communicate ideas and ideas or knowledge can only be power if it can be used to influence and create something.

Another topic we tackled is the difference between eastern and western coaching philosophy. For her what matters is the person being coached. In her experience, someone heavily influenced by the west is easier to coach because they are more straightforward than someone influenced by east.

We also discussed about perspectives. For her, this pandemic created many positive events compared to how it is portrayed in media. She has gained more time for family, and she has since socialized better. I do feel the same. The pandemic gave people more time to think and discover themselves. Stopping made us look from outside the circle where we have always been.

It was an insightful 40 minutes of interview. My biggest takeaway that I can bring to business is that expertise or being known comes from knowing a lot and putting them all together to create what your are.

Serious about change

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An innovative company is one that challenges status quo and welcomes new ideas into its methods and processes. In the past few years, there has been an increase in training human capital in the topics of creativity, innovation and design in the hope of creating a new product. However, the failure to implement the outcome of the training can be traced to management who likes the idea of new but does not want to take risk in the implementation. Such company is in tug of war between change and tradition. It takes more than wanting the idea of change to drive change.

Creating an innovative company begins with the commitment to change and resources. Change carries more than the idea of shift. Creating paradigm shift requires plenty of energy because one is not only changing the culture of the company, it also changes the established habits of the people used to doing certain things previously. I know of a company who wishes to implement a simple after sales survey. All the necessary questions and survey were done, but even after 2 years, it is still in the upcoming project. This company is no small or medium company. This company employs hundreds of people. 

If you wonder why some learning programs do not work, it is not because the training is ineffective, it is the structure that has to be checked. There has to be a champion who needs to see to it that the desired outcome is coming to fruition.

Commitment and change requires a champion. Every company who wishes to drive change can only change its culture by changing its structure and having a champion committed to change is what is needed. This champion is someone who needs to have authority and solely focused on realizing change. That person may be a project manager but the key is that the person needs to be bestowed with authority and listened to by the management.

If you are thinking of bringing innovation to your company check if everyone is committed to change, there is ample resource to bring change and a champion the will drive the movement.

Think Like an Entrepreneur

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I love watching videos made by Great Big Story. I like it because they create extremely viral videos of objects and people we did not even know existed. They are viral because the stories are unique and entertaining. One I can’t forget is a video about an instrument used for horror movies and the man behind the game solitaire. Great Big Story reminds me of an entrepreneur who sees the 1% everyone misses and turns it into a cultural phenomenon.

It will be valuable for a company to have someone or a department who sees that 1%. Imagine if you have one, you will always have that innovative idea that can bring competitive advantage to your business.

Almost all who ate at Jollibee would buy another rice but it was Mang Inasal who was culture sensitive and offered unli-rice to Filipinos who are big rice eaters. After that, almost every business copied the unli-rice concept. In 1920’s Japan, Matsushita created a battery powered bike lamp that lasted 10x longer out of frustration with what was currently available then. To be able to see that 1% everyone misses, one must have a keen sense of how a culture is, its flaws, wants and needs, technology and information available at hand.

Can this keen sense of seeing potential be acquired? The answer is yes. I have college students who never saw themselves as entrepreneurs but were able to start a business of their own. I have another student who did not come from a family of entrepreneurs; this is relevant because almost everyone who chose entrepreneurship as a course comes from an entrepreneurial family. This student of mine really saw himself as a successful entrepreneur, he studied the lives of entrepreneurs and read a lot of books. In short, he worked to become one. He is one of my students who became a serial entrepreneur.

To be able to start training to sense potentials, one must think that entrepreneurial opportunities are made out of things put together (not necessarily add or take away. Jobs did not add anything with the first iphone or take away something, instead, he put touch screen and phone technology to come up with a minimalist phone) for the purpose of solving a problem. It may be a style of doing something applied to another discipline. I have a student who is into arts and she sells personalized portraits based on her own style of drawing, so that is putting her style into art. Jeff Bezos put together books and ecommerce. This was after he saw a data of a big growth of internet users. Going back to Mang Inasal, they put together culture and dining. This question maybe asked: what can I put together that will make sense to my target.

To think like an entrepreneur is to see opportunities as ideas put together to come up with a solution.

Value Proposition

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Value proposition is what you are offering to your prospective customers. I can be convenience, lower cost or service. It is also what differentiates you from your competitors.

How do you find your VP?

The VP mainly comes from what the competitor can’t offer or what their current customers do not get from them. By turning their weakness into a solution you can offer, then you come up with your VP or differentiation.

There are ways of finding their weakness: It can come from your personal experience or by asking their customers, through research. There are also those unspoken dissatisfaction, those things that dissatisfiers that customers are not aware off but can be sensed by the sensitive entrepreneur. This unspoken or unknown dissatisfaction are those that create the greatest value. Who would have thought that unlinrice from Mang Inasal will make them successful or the first Apple PC. Those behavior-changing products are beyond the current framework of innovation and academic entrepreneurship, which is only known to those who are sensitive enough to find and exploit them.

A Value proposition can be derived from a customer or one’s dissatisfaction as well as that unspoken dissatisfaction known only through the eyes of the sensitive entrepreneur.

Theory & Practice

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Basketball used to be my sport in my teenage years. I learned by dribbling and shooting and playing with friends; practice. Others I know, learned by joining scientific basketball camps, where basketball is taught using principles based on theories. I did join a camp, too, but only for a few sessions. This story reminds me of an event where I invited entrepreneur to talk in my class.

I once invited a friend to speak and share his experiences to my freshmen Entrepreneurial Management students. He talked about how he started his business, his challenges and how he was able to overcome them. In his last statement, he said that students need not study entrepreneurship to be able to start and operate their own business. I claim he is suggesting they can throw away theories and just learn along the way. In short, practice trial and error, just like how he and other entrepreneurs started and operated their business.

I understand his point of view that anyone can start and run a business without having to go to school. However, not all people operate that way, specially those who come from non-entrepreneurial families, who grew without a model in a business venture. It is true that there have been many founders who have successfully started and grew their business without going to business school, but it does not take away the fact that there is value in learning theories. Theories are as important as practice and they work as a unit.

Today, entrepreneurship has evolved from being defined as a form of trading business into a business that involves science, innovation, technology, data and investments. As such, the world of business has become complex and engaging in trial and error can deplete the resources fast that may lead to the demise of business. So learning business theories are important for the following reasons:

A good theory is a starting point. Imagine faced with a business concern and you do not know which decision to make. You may either choose any direction and proceed without thought, or base the actions on some theories related to the concern. Of course, success is not guaranteed but at least the action was based on something studied and experienced.

Explanation of the world from ones observation. Theory is an observation that has been tested and applied. It explains situations, events and possible outcomes from actions taken. Making decisions based on theories can help you predict the possible outcome.

Foundation of action. I read a magician whose foundation is philosophy. In one of his essays, he said that right theories precede right actions. In business, clarity of action is important and a good foundation of understanding theories can help in making quick actions.

Appreciation of business theories help create a foundation for intelligent decision making and action. Remember that one is not important than the other and theory and practice work best together.