The efficiency debacle

I’m continually fascinated by how much companies ignore context. And the irony of that of course is that this is happening at the very time when we have more access to information than ever before.

Ask many companies what they are doing and they will happily tell you. Ask them what they are doing to be more competitive and the answer you get back rarely makes mention of those competitors and why a brand’s actions will stand them apart.

It’s easier to act than to distinctualise.

And that’s because actions feel like something is happening. Managers monitor their operational improvements, and believe they are future-proofing the business, maybe even outperforming their competitors. But just as quickly as they are improving their actions and becoming more efficient, their competitors are doing the same. In equally splendid isolation.

So there’s this strange dichotomy of awareness. Everyone knows how to keep up. But not how to overtake.

Continuous improvement is now a hygiene factor in so many industries. Everyone is acting to stay steady with those around them. They are all improving the same way, without particular regard for what their competitors are doing, and yet each believes that their improvements must be best and therefore that their improvements will somehow win.

The problem with “conventional wisdom” is that the better you are at acting on it, the more like everyone else you become.

Telcos used to just have to worry about phone lines. Not any more. Now they all have to deal with technological upheaval and convergence at an alarming rate.It takes huge energy just to stay in the game. But everybody’s doing it. Everybody’s got their actions together. And now they’re …

Interchangeable. For all this work, all this energy, all this time, money and upheaval, most consumers see telcos as being as good as one another. A no risk swap.

Telcos haven’t helped the situation. They’ve been so busy being busy that they’ve lost the art of engaging their customers. Many of them have lost sight of the customer completely. People have been reduced to billing units. Airlines have done the same thing. People have become load factors. Insurance companies too have lost it. They’ve reduced people to policies. Banks have turned people into accounts. When you’re so busy doing, it’s easy to take your eye off the real reasons you exist.

The more these unthinking actions happen, of course, the more the company’s real value to the consumer recedes. Little wonder then that customers churn and market share declines. Faced with these threats, companies take more action. They respond by dropping prices and peddling faster to try and stay where they were. They do more. And so does everyone else.

And the faster they go, the faster they need to go. Speed necessitates actions, but they are actions predicated on no time to think. Everyone’s peddling madly, but in reality, in the words of art collector and sage Jim Barr, “the wheel’s still spinning, but the hamster’s dead”.

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