“One of the immutable patterns of history is the rise and fall of great powers. Those that survive are the ones that adapt as the world changes.” – Stephen Kinzer, Award-winning journalist/author

One of the phrases I often say to CEOs and executives is “Stop playing office”.

You may imagine a kid sitting at her dad’s desk, pretending she is running a company, but this is no game.

Time after time, I’ve seen CEOs and executives believe the same story: That you do business by being in the office – buried in meetings, analyzing spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. That’s administering a business – not driving a business.

Get out, see your customers, talk to your employees, watch the competition in action.

I recently worked with a CEO whose business in another country was not performing well. After a series of lively debates, we agreed they would spend the next six weeks on the road, and at least half a day of most days, with their frontline people.

What they found was very different to what they thought should happen or had witnessed in a fly-by visit.

By being in the field – touching, feeling, listening and seeing – they realized a lot had changed from their original vision. There were many simple to basic to moderate things, that, once changed, made a notable impact on the performance of the business. It was clear that, and although their spreadsheets reflected their lack of expected performance, the time in the business showed them exactly why and how to fix the issues.

A Changing Business Landscape

During a recent visit to New York City with my daughter (such an amazing time!) I saw how quickly the world is changing. We visited three stores I’ve never heard of – and don’t exist in Canada – but this 14-year old knew exactly where she wanted to go.

She knew these brands intimately – through her friends in dance, and from YouTube and Instagram.

I was shocked that these stores seemed to be the busiest we visited in New York – full of teenaged girls, dragging their parents behind.

The first stop was , a place that sells raw cookie dough like others sell ice cream. (I had the original chocolate chip and it was amazing.) The girl beside us wore the identical backpack to my daughter that we had to hunt down at another store in New York. She also wore a necklace from Brandy Melville and I bet her makeup was Glossier, both of which were on our must-do list.

Glossier was packed inside, with a lineup of over 50 people on the sidewalk. They didn’t even have street-level frontage. A stairway led to a second-floor space humming with energy as young customers tried out an array of products. Orders are taken on an iPad and your bag arrives on a hanging conveyor belt system. My daughter had to stop at four different spots to get her picture taken – just like every other girl there who had seen the same photos on Instagram.

I enjoy a great retail experience and have worked with many retailers, but this was eye opening. Their business and marketing were delightful, and it was obvious why they were so successful with their young customers.

The world is changing, and if you want to be ahead of the curve – in any business – make sure you aren’t ‘playing office’ too much. Get out there to see how new entrepreneurs shape experiences their customers love. What’s happening on the front line is the best indicator.

The Challenge

  • When was the last time you and you team spent more than 30 minutes on the front line of your business – and, ideally, with your customers?
  • When did you and your team last spend time observing other innovative competitors?
  • When did you last go on your own field trip, to any innovator’s space that appeals to your customers? To places you wouldn’t normally go that appeal to young customers who are half or a third your age?