If we are honest with each other, we’ve been too incestuous.

What I mean is PHCP distributors typically hang with other PHCP distributors. Electrical distributors usually can be found with electrical distributors. And fastener distributors can be found with…you guessed it, other fastener distributors. 

This all makes perfect sense. Over the years relationships have been developed, knowledge has been shared and it’s quite comfortable to surround ourselves with others who are fighting the same battles.

The problem is, they have fought the same battles — not necessarily the new battles that we’ll need to confront in the not too distant future. Please don’t get me wrong, we need to continue to tap industry-specific insight as we continue to manage for today. But we also need a wider variety of insight to succeed tomorrow.

The ability to peer into the future and to craft the vision required to create a sustainable and relevant business can be catalyzed by getting away from what and who we know.

In doing research for my new book, I uncovered the statistic that more than 70% of distributors believe the pace of change is too slow in their businesses and the incestuous nature of all businesses is one reason. 

Let’s take a look at two strategies aimed at breaking this cycle.


Get uncomfortable

New solutions, tomorrow’s relevant value propositions and innovative business models will be pioneered by those distributors who are ready to step — make that — leap outside their comfort zone.

When you look at the pace of change coming at our businesses from all directions, it’s becoming more imperative than ever to explore the unknown — to get uncomfortable.

Advancing technologies is just one area that will challenge our legacy thinking – the thinking we hold dear within our own business and throughout our
close-knit industry. We must be prepared to explore the yet unanswered. Diving deep into the unknown as to how new technologies will impact our value propositions and business models will cause a great deal of discomfort. Just scratching the surface of technologies:

Internet of things:What happens to current value propositions and required skill sets when the data coming from those products we sell becomes more valuable than the product itself?

Crowdsourcing:In an environment where affordable platforms allow for the genius of those we’ve never met to collide with other passionate individuals to create new innovative and disruptive solutions, how will this change the definition of partnering between distributor and manufacturer?

Flows of information:In an environment when stocks of information (think the knowledge customers relied upon yesterday that resided within your catalogs and the heads of your sales team) are replaced by flows of knowledge (ubiquitous access to all knowledge 24/7 from anywhere in the world), how will we need to be interacting with our suppliers, customers and our customers’ customers?


Commit to ‘Lift and Shift’

Steve Jobs once said: “It comes down to exposing yourself to the best that humans have done. And then try to bring those things in to what you are doing.” Note, Jobs did not say, “It comes down to exposing yourself to the best that other distributors have done.” And he certainly didn’t say, “The best that other distributors in your line of trade have done.”

As distributors we need to become more open to talk across lines of trades and more importantly, completely new industries. I believe down to my soul that the disruptive challenges confronting distributors won’t be solved and the transformative opportunities in front of distributors won’t be seized by simply talking to, studying and hanging out with other distributors.

We must “Lift and Shift,”that is we must expose ourselves and the leaders within our organization to ideas, insights, inspiration, knowledge, tools and practices from outside our business. We then must filter the ideas and then lift those ideas that can transform our business and shift them into what we do.


What can you do?

When you’re ready to get uncomfortable and begin to “Lift and Shift” the best humans have done, here are three tactical actions you can take immediately:

·         Ask your team to explore the concept of being too narrowly focused on your own industry. Is there a need to get out of distribution? To look outside your line of trade for new ideas? Have each leader within your organization identify conferences, innovation summits, books, networking opportunities and other sources of new ideas from outside the industry that you will look to “Lift and Shift.”

·         As examples, check out one of the 1900-plus Ted Talk videos at
www.ted.com/talks and/or one of the 45 UnleashWD videos at http://tinyurl.com/kcysjlh that inspires you to think different. Ask a team of leaders in your business to study the same video and discuss its contents and its relevance to the future of your business.

·         Select one nontraditional event to attend this year. For every technology readying to disrupt businesses, there is at least one event where subject matter experts share their expertise.

I don’t know about you, but I am in awe of the opportunities in front of us. To seize these opportunities we must obliterate legacy thinking, and the quickest way I know of doing so is to open our eyes and ears to ideas that most in our industry are too comfortable to explore.

Go forth!Get uncomfortable and “Lift and Shift.”