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1776 and Your Business

By Rick Vohrer, TCV Growth Director -

It has been almost 250 years (247 to be exact) since what is now the United States of America declared independence from Great Britain. Thirteen individual colonies with thirteen separate but sometimes related agendas decided to act as one. What are the lessons to be learned for your business?

Here was the reality of their situation. England was their primary supply chain. They were up against the greatest empire at the time, with the strongest military and a navy that controlled the seas. Roughly only a third of the people living in the colonies wanted independence. Another third was fiercely loyal to Great Britain and the rest were happy with the status quo, or at least were not interested in rocking the boat. They were surviving.

But there was a fire in the belly of the third that wanted independence. They were not content to merely survive. They desired to thrive. How did they do it? They took risks. They used unconventional strategies, made unconventional decisions, and implemented them in unconventional ways. They used procedures and techniques their opponents did not.

For example, the upstart rebels did not march in straight lines as used in European-style warfare. They would hide behind trees and take pot shots at the British when they could. They would target officers. This was considered unsportsmanlike in European style warfare. And despite early and frequent battle losses, the Colonists stayed true to the overall goal, inventing solutions as they went along. They learned to use the benefit of surprise. George Washington used this strategy in the battle of Trenton. The Colonists confronted the British when the British did not expect an attack.

Innovation and thinking out of the box became the new norm. American gunsmiths tweaked the way rifles were made, developed "the American rifle" which was more accurate and shot a longer distance than the British rifles and smooth bores. This development gave the Americans the ability to shoot officers from a distance. While the practice was unconventional, it removed leadership from the battlefield. And the British military did not allow decentralized decision making. This technology shift created an advantage for the Americans.

Do you seeing what was happening then, ways to use these lessons in your business? Technology, software, and apps proliferate today. How can you use them to take on the Gorillas challenging your business? You're faced with enormous competition. They can move at lightning speed, might be international, and likely have more resources than you. You can find that depressing or a challenge to overcome. You have learned that sometimes things just don't go the way you want or initially plan. So, what's a scrappy, unconventional business mind like you to do today?

Americans took a risk, found ways to use superior technology and unconventional strategies. Likewise, your success will come from a combination of elements rather than one single tool or technique. Find out what the competition is doing and then do something different. Find out what others are doing –– then don't do it.

In every situation, someone or some entity will have an advantage, if only in certain areas. Identify the areas where you have an advantage. Then exploit the heck out of them. Consider both what you can do that your competition can't AND what they can't do as easily because you can make decisions and move faster? You are a smart lean business and can make decisions faster than a bloated bureaucracy. Use that ability to make decisions fast and outguess your competition. This is a strong advantage.

Examine the resources you have. Thinking out of the box is a BIG resource. Deploy your resources carefully. It may not require developing new technology. Sometimes finding an innovative way to recycle an old process or using existing equipment that can do something the rest of the users are not using it for can be a breakthrough… and for little to no cost. Use your out of the box thinking and strategies to give you a competitive advantage.

Finally, since I’m sure you network, be creative here as well. Think about alliances that you have and build strategic relationships. This is also a lesson from the Revolution. Ben Franklin found ways to achieve the goals of others that they couldn't achieve on their own. He used this strategy in his negotiations with King Louis XVI in France.

Expect to not be in the majority. Expect the “Tories” in your circles of influence to advise against this. There will even be those who think your path to be suicidal for your business. But there will be those few advisors who have the fire in their belly, passion for excellence and willingness to take calculated risks and who can embrace and support you through the challenges. Now go get busy planning to take on and conquer the Gorilla. Happy to discuss this further -


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