“You should stick to your knitting” is a slightly odd phrase, particularly in an age when even the hipsters aren’t knitting (cue torrent of statistics proving that knitting has never been more popular). In a business sense, it usually means working out what you’re good at and sticking to it or in the business school parlance, defining your core competence.
It sounds like a great idea, but as with most things, the real world doesn’t work that way. Despite the common sense that you should stick to your knitting, there’s always pressure to move into fields that are ‘hot’ and generate investor interest.
Microsoft is a great example. Despite creating one of the greatest technology franchises in history with WINtel, they’ve always struggled with that whole internet thing. It never felt like their ‘knitting’. They just weren’t cool enough. Despite great effort, first with IE and then with Bing and a whole multitude of other products, they’ve always been on the back foot with the web, even though they’ve been quietly making piles of cash from SQL Server back ends, .NET web developments, Azure and the like.
Recent announcements show they they’re quietly withdrawing from businesses like programmatic display advertising and maps. Common sense suggests that Microsoft made a mistake in getting into these businesses (mainly through acquisition), but that overlooks the original clamour from investors to get into these areas when they were considered fast-growing and cool. Perhaps getting involved in these areas is a way of showing that you are willing to listen to investors, even if you think they’re a fad-driven bunch. Generating lots of cash from your core businesses and putting a slice of it into new areas isn’t exactly sticking to your knitting, but it does make for a quiet life.
Perhaps we should modify the saying, “stick to your knitting but don’t be afraid of a bit of embroidery on the side”. Or maybe not.
Start-ups are fashionable at the moment and the internet is awash with advice, some of it conflicting, on how to make your forthcoming venture as big as Google or Facebook.
It’s hard to find reliable sources of information – to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. One place to look for reliable and road-tested advice is the Canadian Innovation Centre. It’s a not-for-profit in (not surprisingly) Canada that has spent the last 35 years supporting entrepreneurs with new business ideas. They have a particularly useful page of tools for all stages of the journey. I especially like the “Eight Critical Factors for Success”.
As we all know, many ventures fail, and when you’re starting out, it’s difficult to combine the enthusiasm and energy you need to succeed with the clear headed thinking to fold bad ideas and focus and on what you need to succeed. The eight factors the CIC considers are: product features & benefits; market readiness; barriers to entry; likelihood of adoption; supply chain; market size; management experience and financial expectations. None of this is earth-shattering, but it’s presented in a way that makes you think.
The CIC appears to be a great idea – a way for Government to support new business creation without putting money in directly; having to choose winners and losers themselves. In the UK, with our financial services heritage, we have taken a more investment-led approach with Regional Growth Funds and the like. Given the somewhat lacklustre reputation of those initiatives, it might be time to look elsewhere for inspiration, to look at something like a UK CIC.
Tutorhub is in the news – or more specifically, The Daily Mirror. For obvious reasons, we’ll avoid the cheesy comments about how good we look in The Mirror, but it’s great to be talked about alongside the likes of Etsy and Amazon.
Tutorhub gets a mention as a great way to make money from home. The Mirror quite rightly points out that if you’re a teacher, tutor or have some expert knowledge to share, then Tutorhub should be on your radar. We’ve had a record number of students and tutors working together on the site during this busy period before the exams and the range of topics covered gets ever wider. The new video-based classroom, wide range of teaching tools and recorded lessons make Tutorhub the best there is for people looking to tutoring on any subject.
I’d imagine that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who did not believe in the scientific method. Since the late seventeenth century, this most powerful and yet simple of ideas has allowed us to harness our natural curiosity about the world around us to make unimaginable progress in simple steps: observe, hypothesise, predict, test.
If the scientific method was an Olympian, it would have more gold medals than anyone else, if it were a football team, it would be Real Madrid or Manchester United. So given it’s track record, why is it that it’s not applied more often outside of the world of well, science? Why don’t we use it more in politics or business? After all, it has a proven track record of making things better and if politics is about making our society better and business is a focus on producing better products and services, shouldn’t we be queueing up to apply it more broadly? But we don’t. And the reason we don’t is because the scientific method comes up against a remarkable adversary: human nature. Because the scientific method can be summarised another way: watch, plan, do. In a society where being busy equates to being important and where doing is valued over thinking, who wants to sit around watching and planning? If I watch and plan, I’ll be fired before I get to do. As a politician, I want to do, do, do. How else can we explain the endless re-organisation of the Health Service or of education.
The time taken to observe and then explain what’s going on look a lot like inactivity to the outside world, but with an election on our doorstep and an economy that does not seem to be producing enough good, well-paying jobs, my recommendation to both politicians and fellow business folk is simple. Time to do less. Time to watch and think more.