10 Ways More Open-Minded Business Owners Win in the Marketplace

You may be surviving in the market, but is your business truly thriving and winning? In my role as a mentor, I challenge every business leader to be more open-minded to the challenges of change and the arrival of new competitors in their space.

Most are reluctant to tip the balance between hard-won experience and new ideas that can take them to the next level.

So, I challenge each of you to measure yourself against the following practices which I believe will broaden your thinking and ability to keep pace with change and win in the global marketplace today:

1. Don’t let your passion run the business.

Passion and optimism are great for starting a business, but you need to add realism to keep it growing and thriving. Winning business owners really listen and act on feedback from clients and advisors. I find that too many of you quickly become defensive and use old anecdotes to confirm your position.

2. Embrace change as a way of life for success.

Gone are the days of winning by fixing processes and never changing them. Technology, competitors and customers change every day, so the “tried and trusted” ways you do things need to be reviewed and updated regularly. No recent changes mean you’re likely behind.

3. Dig for the root problem rather than correcting the symptoms.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions and tackle the symptoms of a new problem, like blaming the marketing team for declining sales. If you dig deeper, you might find that the root cause is new competitors or your key product has quality issues. Quick decisions and biases can be very costly.

4. Analyze market events in the context of emerging trends.

Smart business owners are always looking for a multitude of inputs for the need for change, rather than reacting to the most recent individual customer complaint. The best change decision should respond to an emerging trend, rather than a specific case. Don’t be totally guided by a key customer.

5. Foster healthy disagreements among key team members.

Successful business leaders don’t surround themselves with “yes” or team members who never talk. You need to solicit diverse and creative ideas from outliers and people willing to take risks, even if you don’t agree. For this to work, it takes trust on both sides.

6. Find time for what you need to accelerate learning.

Learning from your own mistakes and missed opportunities is good, but not enough to stay ahead of change. The best business leaders continually build new relationships with successful peers, industry experts, and influencers from other fields. Listening to customers also helps.

7. Reward risk taking rather than penalizing or discouraging it.

Most business teams are risk averse, driven by their own fear of failure or the company’s habit of penalizing failed attempts to implement change. You can change that by highlighting things learned from every effort and rewarding creative efforts, even when they don’t meet your goals.

8. Minimize stress associated with decision making.

Especially in a crisis, it is worth taking a little more time or sleeping on the alternatives. In stressful situations, we all tend to focus on the short term or make a quick emotional decision to get out of the situation. Observe the pressure you put on your teams in these situations and gather the necessary data.

9. Always consider both ends of a spectrum of solutions.

Creative leaders always evaluate opposing alternatives for a positive solution to any problem, even if a similar alternative has failed in the past. It means keeping an open mind about each new challenge, rather than letting previous experience convince you that certain approaches will never work.

10. Set up metrics to track decision outcomes.

Embrace the philosophy that making a decision is just the beginning, not the end. This means that you should assume that the results of decisions should be tracked and measured against your expectations. Even the best ones will likely require adjustments as the environment continues to change.

In today’s business, the real challenge is to stay ahead of your peers and competitors, make the customer experience more memorable, encourage word of mouth marketing, positive reviews via social media and loyalty for return visits.

Remember that you are the role model for your team and they are the multiplier for your actions and decisions. Make your creativity worthwhile.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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