Dinner conversation at our home has always been lively, and we especially love the time we spend laying bricks. We talk about the future, and we talk about it in very specific terms. We share big dreams, ideas, and plans, and then we break them down into building blocks—bricks—that we’ll need to lay in order to succeed.
It doesn’t matter if the goal is to earn permission to buy a new pet, to go to law school, to book a house on the seashore for a few weeks, or to move across the country, bricks must be laid. The discussions that we had when the kids were very young had changed dramatically by the time they were teenagers, and now that they are adults the brick-laying conversations take place on an entirely different level. But here we are, still talking as a family, still relevant to one another across all these miles and years.
This is true for business as well. If you want to remain relevant and viable for the future, you must lay bricks now. Which bricks? Well, those depend on your conversations about the future.
I was recently interviewed for an up-coming article in this magazine about how to prepare for Generation Z, the current generation ages two to 20. It was a terrific question, and difficult to answer. The majority of this generation won’t be serious jewelry buyers for another 10 to 15 years. It’s hard to anticipate what the world will be like in another decade. But we do know one thing: It will be different.
Think about the fluidity with which today’s children and teenagers go from one technology to the next. They can pick up any smartphone and figure out quickly how to use it. They can log into any computer device and figure out what they want to do with it. They know how to make the DVR record, the Netflix behave, and how to reset the wireless router in mom’s office. They have never known life without technology, so they approach technology the way an accomplished cook approaches a kitchen—with confidence and awareness. They don’t think about it—or stress over it—they just use it.
Now think about how you approach technology in your business. Look around you. If you’re like most people, you probably have a pretty current smartphone. But how old is your computer? How often do you explore new software to make your job more efficient? Are you using cloud services or still trying to figure out where the cloud is? Do you and your staff use technology to make you more communicative, more efficient, and more relevant to your customers? Is social media just an extension of your break room, or are you using it for serious marketing insight?
The most important bricks you can lay right now to be prepared for the future of your business are organizational and technology bricks. As I said, we don’t know what the world will be like in a decade, but we know it will be different. We know it will be faster. So fast, that only the companies that have excellent customer insight and awareness, that can quickly move the right inventory, that can jump on marketing opportunities and exploit them, that have excellent control over their cash flow will remain viable. The next two generations of buyers won’t waste any time on businesses that don’t get them.
So how do you lay bricks now for that faster, leaner future? You start building an infrastructure for your business that will flex and grow with time. Microsoft just announced that it will not produce another version of Windows. Instead, they will incrementally improve and constantly release updates to the current Windows system. Why? Because that’s the only way they can move fast enough to keep up with consumer expectations.
If you’re making up the wheel every time you hire a new employee, put a hiring infrastructure in place. Set up a system for advertising, interviewing, hiring, and training new employees. If you spend time dealing with defective finished goods, implement a quality system that will root out quality problems at the source. If you recognize that your employees have an uneven understanding or representation of your brand, codify your brand so every person who encounters it will see the same thing. If you have the wrong inventory, too much inventory, or not enough cash for the right inventory, you need an inventory management system. If you’re marketing and not getting the results you want, work on marketing strategy.
And what does all this have to do with technology? There are technology tools that can help you with every single operational need, from inventory management to social media. Everything I described in the previous paragraph has a technology counterpart. But if you’re not constantly thinking about ways to improve your business, if you’re not exploring the ways that technology can assist you, you risk falling further and further behind. You don’t need to be fully automated to be relevant to the future, but you must understand the technology world well enough to make sensible choices about it.
If you decide you need to lose 50 lbs before your vacation—and your vacation is only four weeks away—you won’t be successful. Likewise, if you start trying to figure out how to be relevant to tomorrow’s generations of buyers once they have become old enough to be your buyers, you won’t be successful. But if you work hard at becoming lean, integrated, responsive, and relevant now, if you master these skills in the next few years, then you can maintain them. Like Microsoft, you can incrementally improve from that point, making adjustments on a constant basis. As new technologies, trends, and toys come out, you will have the insight you need to decide which to use, which to pass on, and which to watch.