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On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights

On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights

by Andi Simon


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Corporate culture and culture change have become the pressing issues of our time. The fast pace of change is attacking companies of all sizes. Leaders are facing the challenges of adapting their organizations to generational changes, the uncertainties of new technologies, shifting client behaviors, and the realization that supply is often stronger than demand. And now, there is the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic recession, and civil unrest. People are struggling to create their “new normal.”

People just hate to change. They are willfully blind to what is happening all around them. They know that the future is, indeed, coming soon, if not today, and change they must.

Andi Simon is a corporate anthropologist who has empowered thousands of business leaders to see their companies with fresh eyes, identify their next big ideas, and—most importantly—turn innovative solutions into executable change. In her groundbreaking book, On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, Andi presents her unique methods for harnessing innovation and revitalizing business growth. Taking readers on a journey through seven case studies, Andi shares how she helped these businesses discover new and profitable growth opportunities by exploring the untapped resources that were right in front of them.

Businesses, not-for-profits, and entrepreneurs are paying close attention. They frequently talk about the need to innovate and change as if these are the sweeping secret sauce to solve all their business problems. However, they often don't know where to start or how to expand beyond creative brainstorming to strategically identify and act upon new business opportunities. In this book, Andi will take the reader through the theory, methods, and tools of corporate anthropology to see how this new perspective can help a stalled company see possibilities with fresh eyes to re-ignite their growth.

From a medical center facing multiple years in the red to a rural university battling decreasing enrollment to an equipment manufacturer whose award-winning product just wasn't selling—the stories of these seven companies struggling to innovate and grow provide invigorating testimony to the power of corporate anthropology.

Whether searching for a way to revitalize a business or to expand a successful company into new and profitable directions, the strategies outlined in On the Brink will give readers the fresh approach they need to achieve meaningful business breakthroughs.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626342804
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 07/05/2016
Pages: 184
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Dr. Andrea Simon, author of On The Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights is a corporate anthropologist who specializes in working with the leadership of organizations that need or want to change. 

Her company, Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), applies the theories, methods, and tools of corporate anthropology and ethnographic research to businesses and not-for-profit organizations. Dr. Simon formed SAMC to help companies and organizations adapt to changing times. Her proprietary ChangeMap™ process enables companies to envision a future and then ''reverse plan'' to ensure that the vision is achievable.

Dr. Simon is a trained practitioner in Blue Ocean Strategy® and since 2007, has given over 400 CEO workshops and speeches on the topic and consulted with a wide range of clients to help them redesign their strategies, implement business change, and open new markets. The 7 case studies profiling her work with a focus on hospital marketing, healthcare marketing, Blue Ocean Strategy® and Innovation Games™ are included in On The Brink. 

She has appeared on Good Morning America and has been interviewed for The Washington Post, Business Week, ABC Good Morning America, Bloomberg News, the Los Angeles Times, Entrepreneur, Inc Magazine, The Daily News, John Wiley Press, and Forbes, and has been a contributor for Forbes, Fierce Health, and The Huffington Post.

Andi’s highly successful podcast, “On the Brink with Andi Simon,” has a global audience for thought leaders, authors, C-suite executives, and entrepreneurs, all of whom share their ideas about how to take you and your company to new heights.

A widely engaged speaker, she has conducted workshops and speeches for Vistage International, TEC, and The Executive Council, and has presented keynote speeches and workshops nationally & globally. Past engagements include the Inside Public Accounting, The Family Firm Institute, IACC, ABIT, Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development, and the Forum for Healthcare Marketing, among others.

She and her husband, Andrew Simon, have launched the Simon Initiative for Entrepreneurship at the Skandalaris Center at Washington University in St. Louis. The mission of the initiative is to help entrepreneurs — particularly women, underserved minorities, and people of diverse backgrounds — to achieve entrepreneurial success through access to the capital, mentors, and resources necessary to take an idea from observation to innovation. 

Learn more about Corporate Anthropologist Dr. Andi Simon, her work with innovation consulting & On The Brink at www.andisimon.com and her company at www.simonassociates.net. Her podcast can be found at www.andisimon.com/podcast.

Read an Excerpt

On the Brink

A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights

By Andi Simon

Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2016 Andrea Simon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62634-280-4



WHEN SIMON ASSOCIATES Management Consultants were introduced to TELERx Marketing Inc. ("TELERx") in 2008, Linda Schellenger had just become the president of that subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, New Jersey, USA. The company was a leading contact center outsourcer specializing in customer care for the consumer package goods and health-care industries. It had experienced a period of limited growth and had lost three requests for proposals.

Schellenger and her management team were perplexed by changes transforming the customer care industry and how to best tackle them to regain their leadership position. She was looking for a fresh approach to take TELERx to the next stage in its business. With revenues at about ninety million dollars, there seemed to be a broad scope of opportunities, albeit with an abundance of competitors. What could they do to energize clients, add innovative services, and generate new revenue streams?

Founded in 1980, TELERx had begun with innovative marketing techniques that harnessed the cost-effectiveness of telephones to deliver critical communications to clients' customers: doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. Over the next fifteen years it had expanded into the compliance arena and then was able to leverage its experience and expertise to other industries. In 1994, TELERx became a wholly owned, independent subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, New Jersey, USA.

To probe what had stalled the company's growth, we began by spending time with their call center staff, listening to calls coming into TELERx and learning about what issues they weren't able to resolve for the inbound callers. As we listened, we began to wonder about the caller profiles. Were they older or younger? Were they calling with common problems or unique ones?

Much of what jumped out at us was unexpected: Most of the callers were over the age of fifty. They used to write inquiry letters but had switched to the telephone. Younger people, however, didn't use the telephone to obtain information. Gen Y and even many Gen Xers were relying on text messaging and online solutions. Younger people were turning to corporate websites, online forums, or texts to friends and family to find answers. Clients hadn't paid much attention to this demographic shift.

We could see that emerging trends were going to impact the customer care experience: Blogging and Facebook were opening up strong new avenues to engage with customers. The question was: Should TELERx be driving its clients' business or waiting for the clients to ask for these solutions? Could it shift the clients' focus and offer service options that could build engagement and reduce problems or simplify solutions?

We worked with the team on broader strategy, beginning with a two-day retreat. The goal was to help them see what the company was investing in and how that investment compared with the competition in the industry.

What the team saw was a commoditized industry where price was becoming the key driver of choice. Since TELERx was a higher-priced service provider that believed in a comparable higher quality for its US-based telephone centers, it was going to be hard to demonstrate better value to prospective clients who were being driven to lower-cost solutions abroad. And for those who felt it was easier to control the costs and the quality of in-house call centers, the value of an outsourced solution was going to be a challenge.

The team could see how the business was being challenged, but it still was not sure where to go to differentiate it, refocus it, or grow it.

So the next step was to send them out exploring to better understand how people were thinking about customer care. They concentrated on four areas:

* Some called on prospective clients who had not outsourced their customer care services to TELERx. The idea was to let the prospects talk about what they were doing, find out where their problems or unmet needs might be, and listen to the stories they were telling about how their current solutions were working — or weren't.

* Others went to major companies that had a relationship with Merck — customers, noncustomers, and pharmaceutical companies.

* Still others attended conferences and spent time at colleges to see what younger people were actually doing to solve their customer care challenges.

* Finally, some team members talked to current clients to see what they were doing, what they needed, and what they might be missing.

What did the team learn?

First, the companies that had not selected TELERx to manage their customer care services had, by and large, kept their customer care solutions inside. These firms had decided to continue to provide an 800 number for their internal call center solutions. It wasn't a matter of selecting one outsourced solution over another. It was about how they thought they should best offer customer care to their customers — from inside or outside.

What could TELERx offer companies who wanted to keep their solutions inside?

TELERx was an expert in telephone customer care centers but was not selling that expertise as something another company could leverage or learn from. And its excellent technology and system support could possibly become revenue streams for companies that didn't want to outsource customer care but did need expertise and systems experience.

Second, the team found out that major companies were consolidating customer care centers after acquisitions or were beginning to look at customer care in a broader context — online solutions, for example. Others were rethinking customer care solutions as revenue opportunities instead of expenses.

Could TELERx help lead those transformations? What value could it offer in innovative ways?

Third, the research among younger generations who had grown up digital offered some really big ideas. What mix of channels were people using? A typical website even in 2008 had an 800 number along with chat capabilities, frequently asked questions, a link to social media, such as a Facebook page, and a forum. People were also going to sites to find out about drugs, how to take and use them properly, their contraindications, and so forth.

How could TELERx offer the expertise to help people manage their care and help drug companies ensure better compliance and safe use?

Finally, current clients presented the most perplexing questions. One team member pointed out that TELERx was collecting data that their clients were not currently accessing. Could TELERx turn that data into information and insights that it could sell back to the clients? Could TELERx become a source of expertise by finding trends and helping their clients respond to them?

In response to these findings, the TELERx team began to expand their vision beyond telephone call center solutions, as they realized the scope of potential revenue and growth opportunities. The solutions were there waiting for them, but the big ideas had come from the process of exploration, from listening to their prospects and clients talk about their needs — both met and unmet — and from sharing the information in a systematic manner.

In addition, it was a time of team building where everyone from the telephone operators to the senior leadership could see how their insights could help frame the strategic direction of the company. Realizing that those calling into the center were older adults was an aha! moment that led us to look at how younger people behaved. And seeing what they were doing led us to think about what TELERx could do for its customers today.

Why Are We So Blind?

Why was it that Schellenger and her team couldn't see the opportunities by themselves? For that matter, why do most of us miss what's right in front of us? The answer can be summed up in a famous lecture given by Russell Herman Conwell, an American Baptist minister best remembered as the founder and first president of Temple University in Philadelphia in the 1880s. Conwell's stirring lecture, called "Acres of Diamonds," begins with an ancient Persian tale of a wealthy but dissatisfied farmer who sells his farm and travels the world in search of a diamond mine. The farmer's search is fruitless, and he dies many years later in poverty. Meanwhile, the man who buys the farmer's land finds a shiny black rock in the stream that runs through the property. The rock is a diamond, and, as the new owner discovers, the farm is littered with the gems. The once-disparaged property becomes one of the most lucrative diamond mines in the world and its jewels decorate the crowns of monarchs.

The moral of the story? If the Persian farmer had bothered to explore his own holdings, he would have found acres of diamonds — instead of wretchedness, poverty, and death.

Conwell goes on to give several other examples of men who can't see the riches that are in front of their noses. Through his stories of wealth-seekers and their failures, Conwell hammers home his point: For virtually any business, the opportunities you are looking for are very possibly right in your own backyard. "I care not what your profession or occupation in life may be," said Conwell. "I care not whether you are a lawyer, a doctor, a housekeeper, teacher, or whatever else, the principle is precisely the same. We must know what the world needs first and then invest ourselves to supply that need, and success is almost certain."

In my own work as a corporate anthropologist, it never ceases to amaze me how many business leaders fail to recognize that they're sitting on acres of diamonds of unmet needs or obvious future opportunities. It's not that these executives are bad managers or inept. It's just that they can't seem to see what is right in front of them.

So where are these gems? Maybe they're buried in customers' emails asking for services they're not sure the company provides. Or they're unnoticed at a business's call center where operators tell inquirers, "No, we don't make that." Often great ideas come from employees who see better ways to do things but can't seem to find a champion who will give their ideas a chance. Why is that? The company's collective brain and its culture are getting in the way.

The Problem Lies in the Brain

The first question is: Why don't we see something? The answer is the brain simply puts up obstacles.

Two of my favorite quotes capture the challenge neatly: Marcel Proust said, "The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes, in seeing the universe with the eyes of another, of hundreds of others, in seeing the hundreds of universes that each of them sees."

Similarly, Anaïs Nin wrote in Seduction of the Minotaur that the problem is that "we don't see the world as it is; we see the world as we are."

They got it: It is all about our brain.

Now that the neurosciences are finally able to look at how the brain works by using functional MRIs, what we are learning confirms some of our earlier assumptions and contradicts or turns others upside down. We now know that we are born with a brain full of potential. Then, as we grow up, we form perceptual mind maps and stories in our brain that help craft our reality. Once those stories and mind maps are in place, we tend to see the world through that lens, no matter what new information comes in. We sort what is going on around us — including those business opportunities and unmet needs — and only recognize those that fit our perceptions and stories.

Our limited vision and perceptual bias have everything to do with why we see such a constrained reality. As humans we happily hate to change. We simply cannot see the unfamiliar, because our brains are always trying to fit what we see and hear into what we think should be there. Not only that — the brain actually creates a chemical reaction when it is learning something new. It normally uses a whopping twenty-five percent of the body's energy; when we're trying to learn something new, it has to work extra hard, expending even more energy.

Haven't you experienced this? When tackling a new computer program, say, or learning a foreign language, or producing a new product, you have to concentrate really hard until the unfamiliar becomes a well-established habit. Until then, your brain literally creates chemical pain that says, "Please stop all that new work. It hurts." Hence, rather than enjoying the challenges that come with the unknown or the untried, we fight change. To be sure, our brains are elastic and can, in fact, change and adapt, but it's not a smooth, easy, or comfortable process. It takes a lot of work.

Returning to business examples, when companies stall, the people running them have to work really hard to alter old thought and action patterns in their quest for renewed success. The question is: How do they (or you) overcome that resistance to see, feel, and think in new ways so that their acres of diamonds are not disregarded or destroyed?

As anthropologists, we suggest you give your brain a hand. Your brain is going to fight you. So you need a willingness to embrace change, to listen with different ears, and to see with new eyes — even if it's painful. Often that means a taking a good look at a company's culture.

It Is All About Culture

Ever since the time of cavemen, people have formed cultures, which are a shared set of core values, beliefs, and behaviors. It's part of what makes us human. Companies have cultures too, whether they know it or not, because companies are made up of people. A company's culture is an amalgam of its core values, beliefs, and behaviors that pertain to the business and the way it is conducted. Employees live out that culture every day. People join or remain in companies where they feel most comfortable, and they eventually develop habits that make their work go as smoothly as possible.

Anthropologists and others working in corporate settings realized quite early that cultures can help a company match the challenges of a competitive environment or cause a mismatch that threatens a company's viability. These cultures don't just happen. They have to be intentional, designed with an understanding of how those values, beliefs, and behaviors — along with the symbols and rituals that support them — fit specific business challenges.

Yet, of course, times change. The demographics of employees change, too. Employees grow up and become comfortable in their roles and the way things are. When corporate cultures have to evolve, communicating that fact to those who work in the business can be a challenge.

Seeing with fresh eyes, assessing reality, and changing a company's culture can be difficult, I admit. But it's not impossible, as you'll see in the case studies that make up Chapters 3–9 of this book. And in a fast-changing business climate, it's often a necessity.

What makes the process possible is applying the concepts, methods, and tools of anthropology. And after many years of working with corporate decision-makers, I have learned how to help them do just that. Once these company leaders see what's really going on, they are then able to rethink how they can successfully respond to the challenges of their business environment.

The point is that you, too, can follow their lead. Let me introduce you to the anthropologist's tool kit.



SO, WHERE DO you start? What are these anthropological practices and how do you put them into action, not theoretically but in reality, in your own business? Don't worry. The list that follows is not intended to be a master's program for you. Instead, think of these as easy-to-understand, simple-to-use methods and tools to help you do three important things.

1. Conduct Observational Research.

It's important for you to get out of your office and begin to systematically watch and listen to what is really happening, instead of what you think is going on or what has been going on in the past. Since people (customers or clients) often cannot express what they are doing, thinking, or believing — or how their culture, core values, beliefs, and habits guide them through their daily lives — you have to watch them and record what you see. This is the core foundation of how anthropologists explore the essence of a culture. Similarly, when the process is applied to companies, you can step back and observe, listen, and participate as an outsider to see the situation in a new way. I contend that this is the best way to uncover what someone may not be able to put into words. By doing so, you will discover

* their challenges,

* the difficulties of having to compete in oversaturated markets with too much supply and diminishing demand,

* the major trends they see approaching that worry them and that they're not prepared for,

* how they could use a hand finding nonusers with unmet needs who could help expand the market, and

* how the cultural differences among generations are changing the traditional ways of doing business.

2. Find Customers' Pain Points.

Next, you need to take a good look at all those key points of contact where people are trying to get answers to their questions or solutions to their problems. You may be amazed at their frustrations when they call into your customer service center. Where are email inquiries coming from and what are they asking? What is happening when people visit your website to search for something? Do they stay or abandon you? What if you could see them on video?

3. Use Culture Probes and Storytelling.

What are the stories customers or clients could tell you if only they had a chance to share them? There are ways to listen with different ears.

These are the broad goals. Now, specifically, what kinds of things can you do?

First: Go Exploring

The core idea here is that you need to separate yourself from what you typically do in your daily work. To get your customer or noncustomer's perspective, you need to see them actually doing their jobs, solving their problems, and perhaps using your products or services ... or those of another company. Among other things, you may find that those whom you're observing don't really like the solutions they've come up with, but they may not have any alternatives.

Here are several ways to step out and look around:



Excerpted from On the Brink by Andi Simon. Copyright © 2016 Andrea Simon. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


CHAPTER 1: Acres of Diamonds,
CHAPTER 2: The Anthropologist's Tool Kit,
CHAPTER 3: Laclede Chain Manufacturing,
CHAPTER 4: EAC/Integrated Power Solutions,
CHAPTER 5: A Midwestern Medical Center,
CHAPTER 6: A Premium Plumbing Manufacturer,
CHAPTER 7: Benjamin Obdyke,
CHAPTER 8: ParagonRx,
CHAPTER 9: Centenary College,
CHAPTER 10: Creating a New Vision,

What People are Saying About This

Carmen Effron

Andi's perspective and voice are original and come from a deep understanding of corporate anthropological techniques and years of working with companies struggling to find new answers to the old question of how to grow their business in an ever rapidly changing environment. The book is a must read for businesses looking to differentiate themselves, create value, and thrive. Andi is a master at breaking down the complex and varied options businesses face into a clear cohesive strategy, brand, and set of implementation tactics--a rare combination of talents. --Carmen Effron, Founder and CEO of C F Effron Company

Kim Cameron

Andrea Simon's book, On the Brink, provides a unique contribution to the overwhelming number of books on leadership and organizational improvement. She applies rigorous anthropological methods that highlight issues and resolve problems that would not be recognizable otherwise. This is not the standard consultant's interpretation of well-known corporate examples. It provides a thoughtful and insightful perspective that brings to light new and important perspectives useful to any manager. --Kim Cameron, PhD, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

Tom Struzzieri

All of us who run businesses tend to feel confident that we excel at what we do and that we use our resources wisely. However, Andi Simon's eye-opening approach to business reveals that any organization can constantly improve and grow. Through common-sense tactics and spot-on insights, Andi Simon has created a wonderful resource for the innovative business leader. --Tom Struzzieri, Founder and CEO, HITS, Inc.

Lisa Perrine

Andi Simon's book On the Brink is a powerful toolbox of ideas and practices for crafting breakthrough business strategies, delivered through real-life stories. With her engaging style, Simon now adds 'storyteller' to her impressive credentials as a strategist, change agent, and corporate anthropologist. --Lisa Perrine, EdD, CEO, Cibola Systems

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