Kevin Gaskell PhotoOn our recent North Pole expedition we knew that the competition would include intense cold, moving ice sheets and hungry polar bears, so we prepared for all of those challenges. The unexpected competitor was the one which eventually caused us the biggest concern – the killer whale that would come through the ice in anticipation of a fleece wrapped hot meal on skis!

Back at work half my time is spent working closely with new and fresh young companies.  Straight out of business incubators these exciting businesses identify a new market niche, rush in with an innovative proposition – often employing fresh technology or an application of social media – try out new ideas, make mistakes, try another idea, learn quickly and begin to grow rapidly.

I get enormous satisfaction from investing in them and supporting their management.  My challenge with these entrepreneurial organisations is to get them to prepare for all the challenges ahead.  I know that they will be fast on their feet when the unexpected occurs, but in some situations they need to examine the situation in more depth before leaping into action.  Being unprepared for the occasional ‘hungry polar bear’ could be fatal!

The other half of my time I am advising large, established companies on corporate challenges.  Whether it’s how to react to and deal with the reality of losing customers to new entrant challengers or how to deal with transformational technology being exploited by innovative competitors, my challenge is often to get them to be creative and nimble if they are to protect their future.

They must examine the market from every angle and recognise that their new challengers will not only be the polar bears and the competitors that they expect, but maybe a new organisation with a different approach.  No matter how well prepared you think you are,  you must think well outside the box when it comes to anticipating threats – or you end up as lunch for an opportunist killer whale.

Working with companies at the opposite ends of the business spectrum may seem like a contradiction, but I think the two can learn from each other.  New businesses need to learn from the structure and systems that larger, established enterprises operate.  And even the leaders of the most successful and established businesses must ensure that they encourage innovation and new idea generation. They must also make sure that they nurture the positive and energetic culture which allows that creativity to make a meaningful difference to the business.

Does your business have the best of both? Well prepared and planned for success, able to deal with hungry polar bears?  A fresh, energetic and creative business culture on the lookout for killer whales?

KG - Blog photo - JUL 2013