Share

In Lab - Archive

17/07/2017
I-FACTOR, THE ENTREPRENEUR'S GENE - KEY SKILLS

The skills to compete?

The entrepreneur's DNA has many facets. Just as with the Darwinian evolution process, it is not the strongest entrepreneurs that will survive, but those who develop the ability to adapt to the surrounding environment. Among all these abilities, a very important role is played by specific skills or competence. The latter has the same root of the verb to compete. From the Latin cum-petere, asking-seeking together. To compete, you need the necessary skills, without them all one can do is “fight”. In order to appreciate the difference between the two terms, here is a small chart. 

Franco Marzo - Coaching e business development read " il blog di Franco Marzo" - www.smartmanagement.it

The skills to compete?

The entrepreneur's DNA has many facets. Just as with the Darwinian evolution process, it is not the strongest entrepreneurs that will survive, but those who develop the ability to adapt to the surrounding environment. Among all these abilities, a very important role is played by specific skills or competence. The latter has the same root of the verb to compete. From the Latin cum-petere, asking-seeking together. To compete, you need the necessary skills, without them all one can do is “fight”. In order to appreciate the difference between the two terms, here is a small chart.

Compete

Fight

Focuses on himself and the market

Focuses on the “enemy”

Establishes long term goals

Establishes short term goals

Researches

Fights

Runs

Pursues

Develops skills

Develops products

Develops partnerships

Creates “enemies”

Attracts passions

Attracts ambitions

Innovates

Copies

Leader

Follower

 

Skills are developed through a continuous interaction with the surrounding environment: materials, machines, processes, people, customers, territories. A continuous process in which the main role is played by the verb "do", but not a generalist "do". With skill we mean a particularly precious and specific ability. Most of us know how to cook some spaghetti, but very few of us can admit to have the skills of a chef. When our "doing" is publicly recognized by the market for its quality, then we become "competent", people with the necessary “skills to perform” the most difficult tasks.

 

 

The key skill

Key skills in this context, are “performing abilities” that make a difference, the ones that determine the success of a business. Sometimes they are not easy to detect because not many are even aware of having them. Often those who know more ignore how much they know. These skills mature over time, and interact with knowledge, technology, applications, style, design, and increasingly sophisticated needs.

For example, Ernesto Colnago knows how to build road bikes. The depth of his expertise dates back to when 13, lying on his true age (claiming to be 14) he used to weld the frames for Gloria bycicles (Milan). He subsequently started assembling  pedals, wheels, dumbbells, and then even compete on his own bicycles. When he had the opportunity to train with a champion of the stature of Fiorenzo Magni,  his "key skill" allowed him to solve a problem that had been afflicting Magni for some time. He understood that the his leg pain came from a pedal that was imperceptibly bent. He noticed the anomaly at a glance. He straightened it and this won him Magni’s trust and his call to the Giro d’Italia. That was the first step of a journey that has led him to build the most victorious racing bikes in the world: over 2200 trophies.

Francesco Casoli makes extractor hoods for domestic kitchens: "you learn more from someone who is up to his elbows in the production process , than from one who sits in his office all day looking at strategies, and doesn’t really know what Is happening ... when I come into the factory, from the vibration on the floor I can understand what is the rhythm of the presses shaping the steel, I can recall all the components of every products, from the first to the last little screw, and not I'm kidding" . Francesco Casoli (Elica spa) has spent most of his life in the factory. His expertise has deep roots and he is still working on it by spending much time with those “who do the work”.

Vainer Marchesini knows how to make vertical augers, an invention by Archimedes that Leonardo da Vinci used to carry water upwards.

 "My first patent was a vertical auger to load silos, it was 1973. Have you ever seen those tall funnel-shaped silos? How can you load them? It was very difficult and I managed to do it with an auger. I convinced a friend, a cheese-maker  to try it with his mixer. I placed a vertical auger and with a broom I started pushing the mix from below". He gets up and mimics the gesture, I look at him as he holds the broom and pushes with his foot. I ask him "so you started to push with the broom from the bottom?" - "Exactly, it was enough to create a pressure from the bottom and the mix started flowing smoothly! Without pressure the flow would never have started, simple isn’t it? But no one had thought of it". Today, the WAM Group, his company, has over 200 patents worldwide, many of which have to do with vertical augers.

 

 

Concentration                                                                            

Key skills are the result of "concentration". I do not like talking about "specialization" because far too often this leads to working with blinkers, moving on a far too limited area to ensure survival. "Concentration" refers to a business area, possibly with a high marginality. Where specialization focuses on the "solution", for example a product, “concentration” looks at the need, and this is constantly evolving. I can buy the most sophisticated equipment in the world, but if I do not know how my clients’ lifestyle evolves, I will run the risk of not satisfying them. In the automotive sector over the last 30 years, after sales service has witnessed a radical transformation as far as customers' needs. 50% of Milan’s residents are single, do you expect they will have the same needs as a family? And what about women who work? And weekly commuters arriving on Monday and departing on Friday? And the increasing number of older people? And the growing use of long term rental? Detecting these transformations before others do, means getting in the most rewarding niches of the market before them, with customers willing to pay more to see their minority needs satisfied. If you do what everyone else is doing your skills lose value and margins fall.

 

 

People are key skills                                     

"Concentration" is a strategic choice that involves the constant development of "key skills" and as these skills are not sold separately from those who own them, we are obviously talking about people. How can they be detected, how are they honed and how do you attract the right people?

While it is true that key skills are constantly evolving, the entrepreneur is one who knows how to see other people’s potential. There are some who are content with what they can do, while others want to go further. When you need to hire someone for a key role, do not trust questionnaires, talk to the candidates directly. Go and have a beer with them, bring them out to dinner, you will find things that no CV could ever reveal to you.

Training key skills means recognizing their value and strive for more. How many times, this week, have you noticed a colleague do something positive? You might remember his mistakes, but how many good things has he done that you not did not notice? Skills are “cultivated” like tomatoes in a garden. You cannot just prune the plant, if you pour a little water every day the fruits will be more abundant.

Attracting "key skills" is rather complex. Some think it is enough to pay, but that is not the case. Today, valuable people are less sensitive to money and more concerned with well-being, feelings, and lifestyle. A serene, honest, responsive, flexible working environment with prospects for professional growth and investment in training can help you attract the best. I have often witnessed how leading companies pay their employees less than their competitors.

 

 

A transversal key skill: selling                                                                                  

There are transversal "key skills" that can be used in any sector such as organizing, administering, managing, motivating people, or selling. "Selling is the necessary condition for any company, the rest just doesn’t count! (I-factor, Francesco Casoli). In the book I-Factor, besides Casoli there are many other examples of entrepreneurs who started in sales: Alberto Bombassei, Giorgio Minarelli, Marina Salamon, to mention the most famous. I have often wondered why. Sales require the kind of listening ability that understands what the customer really appreciates or needs. A direct contact with the customer is Paramount  in knowing the evolution of his / her needs. Time must be dedicated to sales, in order to seize the moment when the eyes of the client light up, the moment he/she decides to buy. Try to understand what information struck them most. Ask questions, find out what they value most. Do not assume that it is money. In my life I was fortunate enough to be a salesman for a while and I realized that money only counts when nothing else is more important. My experience taught me to try to sell any product I find in my work as a consultant. I do not normally pay too much attention to what I am told. Professional sellers are often  victims of psychological selection, the process that pushes them to repeat all the things that have worked and avoid, at the same time, repeating those that failed. Very human, but the world changes quickly and this approach will work only for a short time. The only topic that never changes is the price, and this could become a  trap.

 

 

An existential skill: smile

Selling is a transversal key skill that can be learned, but great commitment is needed. I recently discovered that the word sell can also be rendered vend, and comes from the Latin root Venus, yes the goddess of love. Selling is an act of love. If you do not like the product and the customer then refrain from selling. "Loving" a product means discovering its infinite secrets, even those you do not expect. Alberto Bombassei (Brembo) for example argues that a sharp looking brake unit works better than an ugly looking one. It may sound like a boutade, yet his brakes have won the Compasso D’Oro award (an Industrial Design Award) and are successful in Moto GP and Formula 1. Loving customers, on the other hand, may not be so easy. How do you love someone you know nothing about? My first great teacher had a smile like that of James Coburn. His first and only sales lesson lasted about 1 minute. He told me: "To sell you have to smile, smile! No one is happy to meet sad people. When customers meet you they must be happy to see you. " Everyone considers a  smile as a welcoming gesture, and it is true, but it can also reveal your personality, confidence, will and strength. Remember that a smile is the most elegant way to show your teeth! Smiling does not really cost anything and has the best ROI (return on investment) I've ever known. If you do not feel at your best smile at yourself in the mirror, the 12 muscles used in smiling will send to the brain a positive signal that the brain will then translate into a strong energy boost. Would you have ever imagined that smiling was a key transversal skill? Well now you know.

 

back to archive