The WSJ recently reported that Apple is working on allowing its watches to detect car crashes and call 911 automatically. This builds on the “fall detection” that Apple touted a few years ago. It’s a fascinating shift in how we are approaching personal health — from reactive to proactive. Instead of hoping that someone is conscious enough to call for help, technology is trying to intervene preventively. Are you thinking of the same thing for your business?
Why You Need an Early Warning System
As inflation continues to creep up, economists are finding themselves in familiar debates. There was a wide range of predictions at the start of the pandemic that didn’t happen. The economy was going to go into recession. Unemployment would continue at high numbers for months or years. Inflation wouldn’t happen.
I wouldn’t want to be an economist at this moment. The historical track record of this academic field is relatively poor though I understand their challenges. Economists are working with limited KPIs. Numbers like unemployment and productivity take months, if not years, to play out. Worse of all, they are easily revised in the future.
That’s why economists are excited about the possibility of using more data to understand what is going on in the economy. Think of restaurant transactions, taxi rides, and other activity that predicts a “health economy.” If this works, the field might redeem itself from years of bad advice.
Are you thinking about how to use data to surface early warning signs for opportunities and problems in your business? Many of my clients are accustomed to waiting until something is a big deal before they realize it. It’s not just about issues like poor customer satisfaction or quality control. It’s also about discovering exciting opportunities like new markets or new customer segments.
Early “warning” signs can ensure that you stay innovative in rapidly changing industries. Like economies, you can’t wait years before you realize that something isn’t working. I have been telling clients that strategy can only look out 12 – 18 months at most. The same applies to these early warning systems. You need something that can tell you what is going right away.
How to Go From Being Reactive to Proactive
They say the best defense is a good offense. No one has proven this as well as Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI. The Patriots were down 21 -3 at halftime. It’s hard to come back from this kind of deficit in a regular game, let alone in a Superbowl. Yet, Tom Brady went out of the locker room and led his team to win 34 – 28 overtime.
Tom Brady and the Patriots focused on being proactive in the second half. You can’t win games by simply holding off the other team from scoring. You need to score your points. Businesses can also get caught up in a defensive mindset instead of trying to win games.
Many clients tell me that they are too busy reacting to think about the future. Every day is a walk through a series of fires and “unexpected” situations. Yet, outside of pandemics, there’s a limited number of possibilities in most situations.
For example, let’s imagine that your business has shipped a new order to a customer. In this situation, there are only three outcomes that could occur: the order is delivered on time, the order is delivered late, or the order isn’t delivered at all.
If you don’t have potential actions for each outcome, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. For example, there should be an automatic outreach for reviews and future orders if the order is on time. If the order is late, you can check in with the customer for any support. If the order isn’t delivered, you can explore sending a replacement package in a timely fashion.
Teams can get thrown off by negative situations like an order not being delivered, but it wasn’t an “unexpected” outcome. It was a logical possibility that could be prevented and dealt with in a calm and relaxed manner. Stop being reactive by understanding what could happen and preparing for it.
Building an Opportunity Notification System
Random innovations litter corporate histories. Airbnb, Post It Notes, Dupont Paint, and others. You don’t have to wait for randomness to strike for innovation to take place. You can build your Apple-inspired notification system for critical situations.
You want to look at four key areas
- Unexpected successes
- Unexpected failure
- Changes in demographics e.g., unexpected demographics
- Unusual big customers e.g., big accounts
When I say a “system,” I’m not referring to something that is completely automated and backed by the most advanced AI algorithms. Instead, it can be as simple as a report. The point is that someone in your team should have a way of surfacing interesting data points and sharing them in an easily digestible format.
You could have a weekly report that goes out every Monday, or perhaps you have a weekly meeting to discuss opportunities. Having good data helps, but it’s not a prerequisite.
I once talked to a cancer charity foundation about “whale” donors — people who donate a significant amount of money. From their perspective, they are random, but I think there were things that they could do to get better at sighting them. Creating a profile of whales, tracking this data in their CRM, and then creating a report that shows all the “potential whales” is the start of proactivity.
We all need help doing the things that are difficult but important. Having a watch that can call for help in a critical moment is a game-changer for health. Having the same thing for your business is how your raise the bar and innovate.