Greg’s strategy was really fairly simple: To create a unique perspective by becoming part of the African watering hole. Literally. He sat, submerged in water, daily for eight months, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to capture a picture of those lions taking a drink. gregdutoit25_co_1309427561Finally, that day came and Greg had his shot. Meet Greg du Toit. Greg’s an eighth generation South African and a wildlife photographer. Last year, Greg began a journey to capture photos of lions drinking from the watering hole. Not so tough, right? But, as Greg learned, it turned out to be a very difficult proposition filled with unpredictability and danger.

But wait, what does this have to do with demand and running a profitable business? Plenty. In fact, I see four key lessons in Greg’s story for organizations as you think about demand and how products/services flow in and out of your company through your performance chain.

  1. Get a crystal clear picture of your marketplace. What did Greg do to get a better view of his “market” (i.e., watering hole)? He sat neck-deep in the middle of the watering hole for eight months. I’m not suggesting you go quite that far, but you do need to understand your market—inside out. Who are your customers? Your competitors? What are the market conditions? What factors cause them to change? It all rolls into a clearer understanding of the landscape around you. Without that clarity, you’ll feel a little bit like you’re only seeing a small part of the opportunity.
  2. Demand isn’t always simple to define. Despite what experts say, demand just isn’t an exact science. Just like Greg experienced in the wild, customers (animals, in this case) can be unhappy, unpredictable and tough to satisfy. The marketplace can be “smelly” and “dirty,” just like the watering hole. And competitors can and will introduce new products and services and mess up all your plans. This is the demand of the real world. And it’s fickle and unfriendly. My point? Plan for all this variability when mapping out your performance chain. Don’t over-rely on all the numbers, charts and graphs you’ve culled together. Sure, you want to do your research. But also make sure you factor in potential variables and challenges along the way (and be realistic) including ways to capitalize on the unexpected.
  3. See the whole—mine the meaningful. Back to the watering hole for a minute. Greg saw the “whole”—the entire landscape around the watering hole—everyday from his frog’s eye view. He saw “customers” (animals) come and go for different reasons. He noticed changes in behavior—and how they were impacted by the environment each day. He was patient, and bided his time. And in the end, he got the shot he was after along with many he hadn’t or would never have been able to plan. In business, this means resisting the urge to act and solve problems in your performance chain too quickly. Instead, step back and take a more holistic view of your performance chain to get a clear, full view. Then, mine the actions you think will be the most meaningful and will allow you to get your performance on a better path.
  4. View your performance chain horizontally—not functionally. A performance chain, at its most basic level, is just a system of moving pieces. Demand flows in, through and out. It flows through work zones and processes. And, in the end, it’s intertwined with your customer experience to either make you money—or cost you money.  We all hope for the former, obviously! Back to Greg and the watering hole for a moment. As Greg was up to his chin in muddy water, he was always looking across his performance chain – from the moment the thirsty animals arrived until photographs captured the incredible sites. Greg was always looking at the whole. And then, mining the meaningful as the unique moments occurred. Your business should do the same. Look horizontally across your performance chain—not at individual departments and functions. Focusing too narrowly on one functional area or the other creates separations and disconnects in value creation, and very likely the big wins will be missed. In the end when too compartmentalized, you might even lose sight of demand altogether.

If you’d like to read more about Greg’s story and how his lessons might inform your business — I hope you’ll check out my new book, ROAR: Strengthening business performance through speed, predictability, flexibility, and leverage, scheduled for official release on March 15.