In 2001 Jim Collins wrote a business management classic ‘Good to Great’. It’s since been reprinted numerous times.
‘Greatness’, according to Collins, is ‘financial performance several multiples better than the market average over a sustained period’. Twelve years on, four million copies sold surely indicates the value of his judgement.
Trouble is, he is wrong – he wasn’t wrong then, but he is now.
The internet revolution has resulted in access to an endless supply of information and entertainment. And this is available on a multiple of platforms, which each succeeding generation is (apparently) able to absorb separately or simultaneously.
Whiling away the hours googling, tweeting and poking is a daily activity for most nowadays and there is no point in being judgemental about it – it is a sign of the technologically advanced times in which we live. As a ‘veteran’ I’ve seen the shift between generations: mine, my children and now my grandchildren. At least superficially, each new generation adapts effortlessly to the new environment and makes the last generation feel out-of-date.
But too often we assess this on the basis of customers’ habits – the reality is that business now works on exactly the same lines. There is the same attention deficit syndrome among clients as there is among children. So what do clients want now? Do they want a fantastic, high-quality job produced painstakingly across many months? Far from it.
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They want the job to be fast, economical and to a good standard – but it doesn’t need to be great. And if fast and cheap is the priority, it’s kind of difficult for the work to be great. So you think I’m cynical? Well, take a look at the top tweets of the week or ask yourself why the procurement department is so powerful in many companies.
Life in the fast lane is now a compulsory attitude. In a world where the answers to everything are just one click away, people don’t have time for great anymore. Whether Jim Collins would revise the title of his bestselling book for a 2013 audience is debatable. Maybe there is a yet undiscovered way of producing ‘great’ in a fast, economical way. But for now, ‘good enough’ will always be the benchmark.
Don’t expect many clients to admit to this but this is the way it is now. There is no point in getting precious: if you want scale, deliver exactly what the market wants or slowly go broke. Alternatively, be a high-end niche player. The choice is yours.
Chris Ingram can be found tweeting on @ChrisIngramBiz.