Millions have read the famous management book: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Unfortunately, he passed away recently. I met Stephen in his early days; he was doing some consulting work with Procter & Gamble in the 1970’s. The favorite lesson from his work that really stuck with me over the years was: “begin with the end in mind.” Know where you are going before you start on the journey: simple but powerful.
My favorite example of a company leader who captures that mentality is Fujio Mitarai, Canon’s long time CEO. When digital photography was starting to emerge in the mid-1990’s, Canon formed a specific division to focus exclusively on that opportunity. Mitarai was very clear what the end looked like for each product line. For example, for the single lens reflex (SLR) camera segment, Mitarai vision was: Be at least parity to Nikon and Sony on every single feature of their SLR cameras and be superior on some important features. That continues to be the vision for Canon’s SLR cameras. The results have been spectacular. Seven of the top ten selling SLR camera models are from Canon.
Contrast that to the three high-flying technology IPO’s that are struggling so badly: Facebook, Zynga, and Groupon. Their current stock prices versus their recent IPO prices are down -45%, -65%, and -80% respectively. Why? Well, using Stephen Covey mentality, what does the end look like, and how unique or superior is it? For Facebook, the only unique feature seems to be the large number of users; that attribute didn’t have much staying power for MySpace! More importantly, how relevant are ads when you are simply checking in with friends? For Zynga, there are always much cooler digital games coming down the pike. For Groupon, there is always yet another scheme for placing coupons in people’s hands. In all three cases, where is the long term superiority or uniqueness?
Steven Cophey will be with us for a long time, given the power of his simple guidelines; such as “begin with the end in mind.” It’s a practice every leader should be following.