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Archive for March, 2013

Smarter Businesses Focus on the Intangibles

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Too many times I see small business hiding itself in a closed cupboard under a misconception that the hiding is effective protection. By that I mean they’re trying to hide their products and techniques. The simple fact is that a bar of soap is a bar of soap. Is a bar of soap.

What I mean to say is that anything tangible about your business can be stolen by a competitor. Your product can be reverse engineered, staff can be poached, processes can be copied. There isn’t much in the tangible realm that can’t be copied or stolen in short order once a determined entity puts you in their sites.

Competitors can also copy your technology, critical personnel, logo, uniforms and location. It’s all tangible, so it can all be copied or stolen.

In that sense, I find the idea of small businesses hiding in a dark cupboard counter-productive. There is no long-term competitive advantage to be had in a handful of easily copied pieces. It’s really a hand of fool’s sawdust.

The sustainable value in your small business isn’t directly in the product. You can change products or adapt your product line, especially if you’re small and strategically nimble. The real value isn’t in your manager, your chemist or your financial management. They can be replaced with a little hiccup even if the poached staff take away your secrets.

I’d suggest that in small business it’s even advantageous to see critical staff and skills move around the industry (cross-pollination of ideas). Silicon Valley is a great example of that cross-pollination in hyper-drive.

Your design, logo, uniforms, price, distribution and location can and probably will be copied or stolen, too. If you’re turning healthy profit from a market it’s the equivalent of dripping fresh blood over a coral reef. The predators want some of your action.

Small business needs to spend more time outside the cupboard working on those intangibles. Building relatioships. Fostering synergies between people and processes. Building brand equity.

Intangibles are what really provide long-term competitive advantage in business, not the fragrance profile of a soap, or a distribution channel. Focus on what can’t be copied or stolen by your competitors.

Old Film:: Bill Franklin, my Father & Peter

Friday, March 15th, 2013

I’m not certain who Bill Franklin was but I think for a while he may have lived with my grandparents in George Town, Tasmania. This photograph was scanned from a 6cm x 9cm film negative made by my grandmother Elvie Ruth Bonner (1901-1986). As my older brother Peter (nowdays better known as the CEO of Transend Networks Pty Ltd) is nine years older than me it’s a decent enough guess to put this photograph as being made somewhere in the very late 1950s. My father, Lionel Bruce Clark, is holding his first child, a boy.

Bill Franklin, my father & brother

Photographers Need to Stay on the F@%king Bus

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

As an amateur photographer I often see people berated for creating derivative photography that looks too much like their influences. It’s too Cartier-Bresson or a recreation of a particular Avedon. Or the general style is of the type shot by somebody famous.

Which I’ve always thought of as pretty rich criticism – the underlying assumption being that a photograph is invalid unless it’s worthy of hanging as an original idea in New York’s MOMA (Museum of Modern Art).

Anyway, listening to Jeff Curto’s Camera Position podcast this week – Stay on the bus – introduced me to a brilliant metaphor. Contemporary photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen likens the photographic journey to a bus. And he says the answer is to just stay on the fucking bus!

He says imagine you’re at Helsinki Bus Station and the bus order corresponds to the years that you’ve been a photographer. So at year 3 you jump onto bus number 3. Only, it becomes quickly apparent the work you thought was so brilliant and original has been done before. There’s already a Richard Avedon on board. So you get off the bus.

Two years later you get on bus number 5 and the same thing happens. Only this time there is already a Henri Cartier-Bresson on board and you get off the bus.

And again, at your tenth year, your fifteenth year, and your twentieth year you find the same thing happening. Somebody else has done what you thought was original. So you get off the bus and regroup to try to achieve something original.

OK I loosely retold that story. But it’s basically what you’ll hear on Jeff Curto’s podcast. The answer, says Arno, is to just stay on that fucking bus. Don’t get off just because someone has already done that before.

The reason is that after a while all of the buses from Helsinki Bus Station diverge. They might appear to travel in the same direction for a while but eventually you’ll split away from your influences into entirely new territory. Because you have your own ideas. You aren’t Cartier-Bresson or Avedon; you’re you.

Staying on the bus means you’ll get to that point. But getting off the bus every time you feel that you’re being derivative of your influences just means you don’t really get very far past the first few stops at the bus station.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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