Seeing The Road Ahead

It is so much easier to lead a business where many heads are coming together to plot its future. That, of course, assumes that all those heads are working together and not fighting against each other. But businesses that can see the road ahead and can muster commitment and unison are rare. Rare because few leaders seed their business with the elements that create what I have come to call ‘the self-inventing’ company.


Active Knowledge Question:

Where is the focus in your business, on what happened yesterday, what is being managed today or where the business might move to in the future?


Looking Ahead

A self-inventing company discovers, creates and defines its future. It exists for a purpose founded in a meaningful customer need and continually evolves, reinvents and steps out in the expression of that purpose. It does this to meet emerging customer needs and often seeds these customer needs through imagination and genius. It creates its own tomorrow and that of its customers.

If you have ever undertaken a defensive or assertive driving course, you will quickly learn that you achieve the safest and most efficient drive by keeping your head up and seeing what is ahead of you. You do not allow your focus to drop to the corner you are taking, you look through that corner and make your entry and exit at the correct angle, so it is a smooth run through that corner.

Knowing where you are going and being able to see the road ahead makes an enormous difference. And in business, it is no different. If you can’t see the road ahead, if you are always focused on the challenges of the day, or even worse, looking in the rear vision mirror, then you will be all over the place.

You are conscious of the past and build on it, you manage the challenges of the day effectively, and you have a clear view of where you are going and what is ahead. Such an approach will provide the most efficient and effective journey.

Customers of Today

In business, we compete around the value we are able to deliver against our customers’ needs. That value, of course, is determined by the customers, not by us. It is not reflected in our product or our service, but in the value (benefit) they believe they have gained by using our product/service against that of one of our competitors.

Our goal in business should be to outcompete all others in our chosen marketplace not by matching or copying their offerings but by delivering a value that speaks directly into our customers’ needs better than anyone else could ever offer. That will require us to leverage our unique strengths to the forefront whilst holding an intimate understanding of our customers’ needs.

The competitive posture of your business reflects how you have decided to compete. It reflects how you have defined your chosen marketplace, whom you believe you are competing against and what strengths you possess that will allow you to outcompete all others. Your competitive posture is your dynamic positioning in your marketplace.

Many businesses do not have a competitive posture. Instead, they mirror what competitors are doing and seek to match or maybe do better than others. These businesses are followers and not leaders in their marketplace and will always look to their competitors to set their future.

Customers of Tomorrow

No business will survive on its customers of yesterday; those customers must be retained, become customers for today and, importantly, tomorrow. And the customers for tomorrow must be an expanding and evolving community.

Naturally, in our ever-changing world, the needs of our customers will evolve as they grow in their lives and as all the things that are changing in our world impact them as customers, their needs and their expectations.

Our customers of tomorrow are the road ahead, and as a business, that is where our eyes must be firmly planted so that everything we do today will ensure a smooth journey to that future.

So, practically how do you keep your eyes on the road ahead when it comes to your customers emerging and evolving needs? There are several actions that will support your ability to focus:

  • Clearly define the boundaries of your chosen marketplace, so you know who your intended customers are.
  • Develop your customer persona, so you know as intimately as possible the world that they occupy and their needs.
  • Be clear on your competitive posture, so you know what winning value you intend to deliver and how you intend to deliver that value.
  • Identify those agents of change that are likely to influence and impact the above points – boundaries, persona, needs, posture and delivery.
  • Monitor and explore these agents with a view to clearly see how the road ahead is or may change.

This approach is saying loud and clear, we as a business are here for our customers of today but are firmly committed to their future needs and our customers of tomorrow. This is the first step in becoming a self-inventing company as you have now committed your business to craft its own future and not to follow others and to do this by seeing and defining your future customers and their needs.

You are no longer following a market; you are now in the business of creating and defining that market, which others will try to catch up to.

The Self-Inventing Company

Our ability to compete rests in the strength of our competitive engine. That engine sets the floor and ceiling to our competitiveness and performance. If you want to strengthen the competitive fitness of your business, you must strengthen and align all the elements of your competitive engine.

It is this engine that will enable your business to create the ecosystem that will enable and lead it to be a self-inventing company.

To restate: A self-inventing company discovers, creates and defines its future. It exists for a purpose founded in a meaningful customer need and continually evolves, reinvents and steps out in the expression of that purpose. It does this to meet emerging customer needs and often seeds these customers’ needs through imagination and genius. It creates its own tomorrow and that of its customers.

What are the elements of the competitive engine that enables businesses to become self-inventing? Think of this way, to be self-inventing I need to be motivated, creative, imaginative, connected with a purpose, free to experiment, active in my thinking and discussion, always looking ahead and not having to look over my shoulder, encouraged, recognised and rewarded for my efforts. And led by people who live this way.

The elements of the competitive engine are the agents that will bring all of the above to life. A business that focuses on its competitive engine has a:

  • Righteous purpose that seeds a motive that inspires contribution and commitment.
  • Team of worthy leaders who lift up others and encourage them to contribute the best they have to offer.
  • Vision that serves as a quest that convicts people to join in.
  • Crafted culture that supports individuals to make a difference and holds everyone accountable to the purpose for which the business exists.
  • Customer-centric approach that places the customer, their needs and value at the centre of all decisions.
  • Capability that is invested in and compounded on and which continues to improve the value delivered to customers and is matched to their needs for tomorrow.
  • Competitive posture drawn from your customer focus and capability that will allow you to deliver a winning value.
  • Reward structure that recognises, encourages and rewards people for their contribution.
  • Program to remove all barriers that stop people within a business from being their best, for example, bureaucracy, self-interest and politics.


The choice is yours. You can create a business that is equipped to see the road ahead. It is always looking to the future and crafting that future. A self-inventing company is one that has been given permission and enabled to be focused on their customers’ needs and to keep an eye on how they are evolving in the future. And continually reinvent itself so that it is always relevant and outcompeting its competitors. 

An entirely new level of performance.

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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel