Published on: December 4, 2012by Michael Sansolo
The single most important phrase business people need to learn from 2012 is "epistemic closure." As Kevin explained on MNB recently, epistemic closure is essentially the inability to accept any information that conflicts with what you already know or believe.
It’s a trait that’s deadly in politics, business or even writing a blog (more on that to come) because if we don’t allow ourselves to be challenged - and hopefully improve in the process - we atrophy and die. As an example, let me offer up two very different shopping trips my wife and I made in the past week. One trip was to a company waging an incredibly well publicized competitive battle and the other to a retailer with no challenges.
Motivated by the need for a specific piece of car audio equipment and curiosity on how to fight back against holiday “showrooming,” the window-shopping trend that may be fatal to some bricks-and-mortar retailers, we ventured out to Best Buy. We found a retailer truly fighting back.
Our local Best Buy is clearly on the front lines of the company’s competitive response. The lighting, signage and displays are vastly improved in the store. The front end is better if still a work in progress. Most of all, the associates have clearly gotten the message. If Best Buy has more people like Chris, the bright young man who helped us, the company has a chance. Chris was engaging, knowledgeable, pleasant and managed to sell without being pushy.
Certainly times still are tough at Best Buy, but thanks to the battle with Amazon.com, Best Buy may be better than ever. Competition, we know, can do that.
That contrasts vividly with the local sewing/knitting store frequented by my quilt-creating wife. I’m betting the sewing industry is having tough times (been to a quilting bee lately?) so it’s distressing to see what a terrible shopping experience that industry offers.
The problem is this: sewing machines are an essential part of quilting, yet it’s essentially a non-competitive market. Individual stores are regional sales locales for specific makers and that’s that. When my wife needs a part (as she did) for her Bernina machine, she can’t buy it on line, from Amazon or any place other than this one store.
With no competition, the store reeks of complacency. The displays, lighting and service levels all leave something to be desired. In fact, the highlight of this one store is the cacophony caused when barbells are dropped on the floor of the gym one flight up. The lack of competition certainly ensures a nice level of sales and profits, but (at least at this store) it also creates complacency. I’m betting that within a few years Amazon or another web purveyor will find a way to completely wipe out these mediocre stores.
That is unless the owners can shed their epistemic closure and find a way to do better.
Bloggers like me have to listen too and at times write that dreaded phrase: I was wrong.
Last week I wrote about the business lessons from Grinnell College’s basketball team in the wake of a record-setting scoring output by one player. The point I made was that the Grinnell coach demonstrated the importance of reinventing his team to make it successful on the court and in the stands. A couple of readers sent me notes questioning my point and I was prepared for the argument.
While Grinnell clearly ran up the score, the lesson was about differentiation. In addition, competition requires reaction and I felt Grinnell’s opponent could have countered the effort by slowing down the game and focusing on the designated scorer. Then I did some additional reading and my opinion changed; those readers were right and I was wrong.
Competition may be great, but the Grinnell game against Faith Baptist wasn’t about competition, student athletes or even a clever promotion. It was dishonest and both teams are to blame. Grinnell carefully selected the game as an opportunity for a record setting scoring burst and promoted it and played it as such. What’s worse, it seems Faith Baptist played along by ensuring in advance that the game wouldn’t count against its record and never once altering tactics to slow the scoring orgy.
It only took a little more research to learn that…something I should have done before last week’s column. Now, I still believe in my point that competitors need to constantly find new ways to succeed, but this game truly offered nothing worth copying, much as the sewing store with a monopoly offers nothing.
Instead I’d rather you think of Best Buy, a company under stress that at least is trying to find a new way to win. There’s no guarantee of success, but the effort is what bears watching.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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