Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Why New Ideas Trigger a Competitive Advantage?

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Many effective leaders possess strong creative, innovative and entrepreneurial instincts. Their minds are always keenly open to new ideas, insights and possibilities, which triggers a strong competitive advantage. They have a sense of urgency, if not a bit of paranoia, about their competition. They are always looking back over their shoulders to ensure their competitors aren’t catching up with them. King Gillette (Gillette) was seeking a new disposable product, like the bottle caps he was selling before he developed the safety razor. Howard Schultz (Starbucks) saw the immediate possibilities for his future chain, when he first entered the first Starbucks, which he ultimately purchased. Ray Kroc (McDonald’s) had the same epiphany when he first saw the innovative restaurant designs created by the McDonald brothers.

Despite identifying and investigating new possibilities, nothing came easy. While everything starts with an idea, it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to evolve ideas into a profitable concept. Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn) observed, “Sometimes, the first step is the hardest – coming up with an idea. Such a concept should be like sitting on a pin – it should make you jump up and do something. I have had a great many ideas over the years. Some were good, others were great, and some I would prefer to forget about. The important thing is to take your best ideas and see them through. Not all of them are going to be winners, but remember, people who succeed may have been counted out many times before. They win because they refuse to give up.” [1]

Fred Smith (FedEx) explains the challenges many leaders experience when investigating and implementing new ideas. “The problem always comes in big companies, particularly ones that are extremely disciplined on the quantitative side, that most innovation doesn’t look like it makes much financial sense when you’re right in the middle of battle – it looks like you never should have done it. It’s only when it’s been done and it’s out there that everybody says, ‘Oh, but of course, that was easy.’ Then the money starts flowing in and you become a very big deal, and it all looks very logical.” [2]

Generating ideas is one thing. The implementation and execution of ideas is altogether another. Kroc had sold mixing machines for many years before he opened his first restaurant. He already possessed the knowledge of what successfully worked in the restaurant business. Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) looked for new ideas his entire life. “In his early career, he read an article about how two stores in Minnesota had gone to self-service, which nobody else was doing. Customers picked out their own stuff and checked out at the cash registers at the front of the store. So he rode the bus all night to visit the stores, liked what they were doing, and changed his store to self-service.” [3]

Montgomery Ward (Montgomery Ward) observed and investigated possibilities as a traveling salesman. “In tedious rounds of train trips to southern communities… listening to the complaints of the back-country proprietors and their rural customers, he conceived a new merchandising technique: direct mail sales to country people…

Ward shaped a plan to buy goods at low cost for cash. By eliminating intermediaries, with their markups and commissions, and drastically cutting selling costs, he could sell goods to people, however remote, at appealing prices. He then invited them to send their orders by mail and delivered the purchases to their nearest railroad station.” [4]

Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank (Home Depot) continually investigated new possibilities to continually change and transform their business. “On a regular basis, they embark on ‘road shows,’ during which they make unscheduled visits to Home Depot stores across the country. ‘Over the years, these road shows have changed the way we merchandise products, because Bernie and I re-learn our business firsthand from the people on the store floor… Associates know more about the products and what the customers are looking for than we do. It is a learning experience and an opportunity to change.’” [5]

[1] Wilson Kemmons, What Accounts for Success? (USA Today, September 1997)
[2] Federal Express’s Fred Smith (Inc. Magazine, October 1, 1986)
[3] Walton Sam, Made in America. A Money Book Summary (character-education.info)
[4] Kim Ann, Montgomery Ward. The World’s First Mail-Order Business (Illinois History, April 2000)
[5] Bernie Marcus & Arthur Blank. Do It Yourselfer’s Best Friends (Entrepreneur Magazine, October 10, 2008)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great. What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about the innovative thinking of the great American leaders through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

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