Edition 62 – Relevance Deprivation Syndrome

Do you remember Gareth Evans? He was the Foreign Minister in the Keating Government up until John Howard’s crushing electoral victory in 1996. He didn’t cope well after the 1998 election, which Labor again lost. On election night, Evans decided that another term in opposition would be tortuous and famously coined the phrase Relevance Deprivation Syndrome. In other words, no matter how good he thought he was, no one cared and, for the most part, he was on his own. As far as dummy spits go, it was a Top 10 effort.

So, what’s the connection with family business I hear you ask? Well, I see a lot of Relevance Deprivation Syndrome occurring when I walk inside family businesses. Businesses that had a great past, built great products or provided a great service, that have failed to evolve over the years. Some of it is to do with what I have termed The Crisis of Boredom – generally, but not always, middle aged male business owners who simply get bored with their businesses. However, it is more than that. Much more.

Here’s some examples that I have seen over the years of businesses and business owners that have experienced Relevance Deprivation Syndrome:

  1. Lamenting – the engineer who pined for the good old days of manufacturing in Australia, and continued to do the same thing, for a lower price, hoping the world may return back to its old ways. It won’t!
  2. Evolution – the business that offered a great service and generated good profits in the early days, which didn’t evolve its service and, as a result, saw its business model turn from high end to commodity in a short period of time. They never realised how good they had it until they no longer did.
  3. Lost Opportunity – the business that had at its feet the opportunity to branch out into an entirely new and exciting part of its industry, just that the owner was too damned lazy to do anything about it. A lost cause – personally and for the business!
  4. Not backing yourself – the smart business owner that had great ideas about developing a new product which could change the face of the food industry, but wouldn’t back themselves. They scared themselves into doing nothing!
  5. False dawns – those business owners that consider new opportunities, go down the road of putting a plan of attack together, only to fall back into their old ways of doing business. Over promise and under deliver.

All of us have, at some stage, experienced some of these aspects to our business life. It’s whether or not we learn from those experiences that determines who sprints to the finish line first versus those that don’t even leave the starting blocks.

With that in mind, here are some lessons from what I have done myself to evolve my own business, and what I have seen from others.

  1. Get far away – leave the comfort of home, hop on a plane and head overseas to see what is happening in your industry in another country. You may well find new opportunities, or previously unconsidered threats.
  2. Find new friends – start hanging out with new people, challenge yourself to have conversations with them and find out what they are doing in their lives, business and otherwise. It stimulates the brain.
  3. Engage in new learning – it might be an online course, an overseas conference or an MBA. If you are learning, you are growing and you are considering new opportunities for your business.
  4. Read new material – if you are always reading the Daily Telegraph and reading nothing else, bin it. Try a book about a business leader or subscribe to a new news or information feed.
  5. Try something new – I know of people that are learning new languages in their 40’s. Others are taking up martial arts. It’s all about extending the greatest muscle we have all been blessed with.

This Week’s Tip

What are you doing in your family business to remain relevant in a changing world?

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