Editor’s Note: This is a bit of a departure from our normal posts. I generally don’t let our contributors talk about their companies very much; the focus should be on a topic, not the company. Exceptions are when I am conducting an interview or offering commentary on news or press releases. I am making another exception here, because never before has a company approached me to share their experience in an “autobiographical” format related to a topic that I believe is of critical importance to the industry as a whole: innovation and business transformation.
My friend David Brudenell of pureprofile (whom I do work closely with in an advisory and business partner role) offered to write about his experience transforming their business to meet a changing marketplace. It’s hard to do that without talking a bit about the company itself, so in that context I think David did a good job walking the line between “promotional” and “disclosure”. The end result reads much more as sharing wisdom than anything else, and I applaud David for being willing to share the tips that have driven their business forward with our readers.
It’s good stuff and I think you’ll get a lot out of it.
By David Brudenell
Back in December, I had the privilege of being invited to participate in an “innovation round-table” hosted by GreenBook & NewMR as part of the Festival of NewMR Innovation Day. The key topic of discussion was ‘how a new company can innovate in Market Research’. I immediately thought of my experiences in the US launching pureprofile and the peaks and valleys that we traveled through on our American journey.
When preparing the presentation, I was surprised to realize that I was able to boil down my experience-share to a few simple, but very important areas of focus. We used these points launching not only a sample-provision service, but also a new, research-led CRM platform-as-a-service (PAAS) called Infinity.
After deeply calling on my meager creative skills, I threw together these areas of focus in a presentation that I titled ‘Disrupt: pureprofile’s 24 Months in the USA’. In addition to having some fun choosing images for the presentation, I was surprised at how deeply impactful the main points were to me. I got thinking how it’s easy to lose sight of these principals and that I should be continually applying them to our future business. After all, to get to many of them required investment and it seemed silly not to use this knowledge to continue ‘Future-proofing’ pureprofile’s business.
Following the presentation, I immediately started to expand my thinking on each of these points. I found the exercise to be not only helpful, but also enlightening. When pen met paper, I was able to see how to implement these even more deeply to the very different business of today.
I regularly catch-up with Lenny and I told him how the presentation had encouraged me to assess our current success in implementing these activities and push them more deeply into our operations. Ever the influencer, Lenny said that these expanded thoughts would be a welcome addition to the GreenBook Blog, so here I am writing this introduction today.
I hope you enjoy the first topic below.
Area of Innovation #1: VISION
Vision is a term that’s really misunderstood. When people think of visionaries, they think of people who had a clear view of what they wanted the world to be and moved toward it. These visionaries had ideas, momentum and most importantly purpose in their vision and in their resulting actions. In the business world, there are many people and companies who possess ideas, and sometimes momentum (see the story of Blackberry over the last 36 months), but lack purpose. As Paul Chan, the CEO of pureprofile (my boss) and the true architect of pureprofile’s vision would say: “Vision must have implementable ideas”. What Paul means is that many businesses are able to create a vision but this exists as only a business plan or PowerPoint presentation; it does not have the substance or purpose to spread roots throughout the company to change the world.
Now, by no means do I put pureprofile in a class of true, hardened companies with a perfect vision, but delivering on ours has been a core part of our culture for over a decade. To have a vision that has remained unchanged for this long (with a lot of hard knocks I might add) is relatively rare. I also believe it is testament to our success in new markets and the maniacal focus that we have on products and services that delight our clients.
Over the last decade, we have learned to break Vision into four applied operational areas to ensure that it has implementable ideas:
1. Applied Knowledge: Most importantly for the executive team, we invest in learning ourselves. We run a high-technology company at pureprofile that involves servers, software, cloud-based computing, design and a raft of other areas of practice. We also service a Market Research industry that has deep statistical and psychological foundations.
In all of these areas we make continual learning investments to understand the drivers for decision-making in these practice areas. For example, when designing a Big Data infrastructure and deciding whether to use Cloudera, Hadoop, Decooda or many of the other big data platforms, it is vital for us to know how a map-reduce works, and more importantly how selecting the right solution can assist in future-proofing our business. For us, applied knowledge means meaningful conversations, which means debate. This translates into a more definitive ability to implement on our vision.
The same goes for our clients in the Market Research industry. We make it our business (and our employee’s) to understand how statistics are used in practice. We do this because we’re experts at UX and scalability and knowing both may deliver better outcomes for our clients via better product design, scalability or simply a more thoughtful email to a client when making a recommendation on sample frames.
2. Operational Structures: To build the above learning framework you need to have designed operational structures that encourage people to learn. This doesn’t mean that you have to make every employee a ‘jack of all trades’. There are still areas of high-specialization at pureprofile. Rather, we have created team structures where even highly specialized database architects are encouraged to meet with clients and broadly learn sales and delivery functions. Today we have database architects speaking to clients (and enjoying it!). We can see too that these types of relationships are more profitable and last longer than traditional linear communication structures.
3. Team Inclusion: In a close link to the operational design that we employ, the driving force behind a business that empowers employees to speak to clients is encouragement and information sharing. We take a page out of the Rockefeller Habits as an aid in this encouragement. Every pureprofile office conducts a morning work-in-progress (WIP). All employees must share their activities, challenges and successes every day. This cross-pollination fuels interest in learning new things and encourages application of this knowledge to their practice areas and deepens conversations with clients.
4. Road Map: This one is pretty straight forward, but difficult to do. “Vision must have implementable ideas”. Breaking vision into activities across time is a true test of its stability.
You need to sub-divide your vision into basic business processes: Sales, Marketing, Prototypes (a unique pureprofile business process that I will discuss in a future post) Technology, Delivery and Finance. You then need to sequence these across time and add in revenue or expense triggers that continue the task-based cascade towards the goal.
Writing down what your destination looks like is the easy part. The difficult part is selecting the best traveling companions, empowering them to search out new information to get there faster by choosing the best paths and clearly understanding how much you need to spend to get there.