Why do some leaders win and some lose in tough times?

In these recessionary times there are leaders who always meet their numbers, do more with less, and despite this crazy economy are able to compete and come out on top. There are a few key reasons why the big winners are consistently successful, and its worth knowing how the big winners do it.

I’ve been studying these people, Advantage-Makers, for decades, and have figured out that they do it by asking a few simple questions that no one else asks.  I’ve began the discussion of questions in the previous blog, let’s take it another step forward.

The first question for Advantage-Makers is that they question the givens.

For example, FedEx CEO Fred Smith’s, hub and spoke system questioned the routine of how packages should be transported. How did he think that sending packages in the middle of the night to Tennessee and then distributing to the rest of the country would work? It earned him a “C” grade in his graduate school class. The professor never consulted for him. But FedEx is guaranteed overnight delivery and as we know a huge success.

Any of you play golf? Jack Nicklaus, renown golf legend, was asked to design a golf course for the Caymen Islands. One catch. The Island is too small for standard golf courses. He didn’t ask golfers to change there swing, the given he questioned was the ball. He changed the ball so it wouldn’t travel as far. Just the opposite of what was expected. Maybe they just yell 2 when they hit it awry. Never the less, they play golf on the Caymen Islands.

Which brings us to the next question. George Prince, CEO of Synectics, an innovation firm, asked,  “What is the anomaly here?” That is, what is unexpected that seems to be pushing forth. This attention to what isn’t expected has earned the company millions and produced millions more for their clientele including many in the Fortune 500.

A national Science foundation code breaker and scientist, asks,

“What am I not supposed to notice here?” As we talked at a restaurant he pointed to a series of ceiling chandeliers that were hanging above us. He described his thought process beginning with the notion, “What is attempting to distract my attention.” He pointed out that the chandeliers were attached about 30 feet above, and we weren’t supposed to notice how high the real ceiling was. Our attention was drawn to the light fixture and light, not the ceiling height. If most patrons had looked at the ceiling the restaurant would not have much clientele.

My friend and colleague, George Silverman, Word-of-Mouth Marketer, asks, “What is obvious that is missing here?” It is his contention that in this information-overloaded marketplace, the product with the easiest decision path tends to win.  He works with companies to make their customers decisions easier.  His question, “What is obvious that is missing here?” leads him to systematically eliminate the most important bottlenecks and provide customers with exactly what they need when they need it.

My advantage-making question is, “How am I taking this ‘situation’ and making it what it could be? It drives counterintuitive solutions that have generated millions of dollars of profitability, created advantages that to others don’t even appear to exist and consistently enabled leaders and their teams to compete more effectively than others and gain credibility others lack. The key is to look for possibility, and shift your vantage point, rather than follow the expected procedure.

Other advantage-Makers have asked, “What is the real driving force, the leverage in this situation? By using this question the path of least resistance was found in a major negotiation that had been overlooked.

Once you ask the question you sort for answers, if you are doing it right the usual answers will be background while foreground will be the new unexpected solution. Just as Fred Smith’s hub and spoke delivery system and JacK Nicklaus’s golf ball for the Cayman Island sized golf course demonstrated. Real world unexpected advantages.

The difference between the managers who survive and those who fail is their ability to create advantages every day with employees, customers and vendors. 
60% of daily advantage opportunities are overlooked and missed by struggling managers, who, surprisingly, seldom ask, “What else should I do?”, or “What am I missing”.

Are you providing the daily advantages to employees, customers and vendors that are that are hidden in plain sight? If not, you might want to start paying attention to both what is given, the anomalies and then questioning the givens.