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Build Your Hub to Sustain Success
Thursday, December 1, 2011

Section: Features/Substantive Law

By Dan Coughlin. Mr. Coughlin is an author, consultant, lecturer, and coach providing advice on long-term business management at www.thecoughlincompany.com.

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Over 10 years ago, Steve Jobs, the recently departed visionary of Apple, gave one of his greatest presentations, and introduced what would become one of the most famous business strategies of all time. He called it “The Digital Hub.” [See Jobs’ speech at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9046oXrm7f8]

This concept has been written about in numerous business books and magazines. In essence, he explained how Apple would dramatically enhance our lives through products that leveraged digital devices. From that moment on, and even before it, Apple has supplied us with iMovie, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and almost every iIdea imaginable.

Steve Jobs didn’t hide what he was going to do. He put it right out there for everyone to see, and then he focused his company on staying true to this strategy for the past decade. More importantly, he gave every company an important insight on how to build business success for the long term.

A “business hub” is a central concept of something that adds value to other people and that you will build everything in your business around.

The Ralph Lauren Hub

On one of the last Oprah shows, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Ralph Lauren. As he spoke, I began to realize more and more the hub that he has built his remarkable 45-year business around. He said, “I’m not about fashion. I’m about living. The clothes I’ve designed and everything I’ve done is about life, and how people live, and how they want to live, and how they dreamed they would live. That’s what I do.” On his website, ralphlauren.com, he wrote, “Style is very personal. It has nothing to do with fashion. Fashion is over very quickly. Style is forever.”

Keep those statements in mind and then look at his complete body of work over the years including his clothes, his watches, and everything else he has associated his name with. You will quickly see a consistency where each layer from his lowest-cost items to the most expensive all exude his focus on ‘how people live, how they want to live, and how they dreamed they would live.”

The Hub of my Life

Everything in my life—from my marriage to my relationships with my children to my best friendships to my hobbies to my professional life—all revolve around a single hub that I call “a classroom.” To me, a classroom is any way that people get together to learn from each other how to improve their performance and their results. My wife, Barb, and I discuss our relationship and the raising of our children, Sarah and Ben, on a regular basis. This helps me understand how to be a better husband and father. Hopefully these discussions are of value to her as well. When I’m with my two life-long great friends, Jeff Hutchison and Mike Feder, we are constantly discussing how to be better men, better community leaders, and better friends and husbands and fathers and sons. My volunteer efforts as a Sunday School teacher at my church and as a youth sports coach revolve around me learning from the students and players and them learning from me.

The times when I am the most frustrated are when I’m in a situation where I feel that I am not learning or teaching anything at all. To me, a great movie or a great concert or a great party can still be a great learning experience, but I feel trapped when I’m in a situation where everyone is complaining and no one is listening or sharing good ideas.

The Hub of My Business

My business revolves around a subset of this classroom approach to life. My focus is on making it simpler for people to be great business managers. To me, a great business manager is a person who guides a group to generate sustainable, profitable growth consistently and over the long term. Everything I speak on and write about fits around that single hub. The three primary areas I focus on are leadership, innovation, and branding because I believe these are the three essential topics to being a great business manager. I believe this is true in operations and sales and marketing and human resources and finances as well as at the CEO level and at the front-line manager level.

With almost every book and article I read or write and every speech and seminar I give or hear and every executive coaching session I provide, I am constantly learning and sharing ideas on how to make it simpler to be a great business manager. I try to avoid anything in my work that does not connect clearly to this hub.

The Wagon Wheel Approach to Strategic Planning

The covered wagon was critical to the success of America. If it were not for the covered wagon in the mid-1800s, how would thousands of families have moved themselves and their belongings across the United States? The key factor to the covered wagon was the wagon wheel. The wagon wheel was a wooden wheel that was supported by spokes that fit into a central hub. Without that hub, you could only have one spoke in the wheel, which would not have supported the entire weight that was being transported across the bumpy roads of the Great Plains of America to Oregon and California. By using a hub at the center of the wheel, you could put in twelve spokes and the wheel became dramatically stronger.

You can use the wagon wheel approach to strategic planning by first identifying the hub that your business activities are going to revolve around. Then make sure that every spoke, every activity within your business, connects clearly to that hub. Your business will then become much stronger. You don’t want eight of the spokes sticking out in different directions with no connection to the hub. The wagon wheel would collapse if that were to happen, and so would your business.

What’s Your Hub?

What is the central concept that is of value to other people that you are going to build your business around?

Don’t read on. Just pause for several moments or days or weeks and think about your answer to that question. Until you are absolutely clear about the hub of your business there is no need to start planning for next year or even next month. Without a clear hub, you will start to move into actions that may very well take you all over the board. That will weaken your wagon wheel and ruin your ability to transport your business successfully over the long term.

Plan Your Actions to Fit into Your Business Hub

After you have clearly decided what the hub of your business is, make a list of all the possible initiatives, projects, and actions your company is considering to take on over the next twelve months.

Then for each item on your list ask yourself if it truly connects to the hub of your business. If it does not, then remove it from your list.

Then take the remaining items on your list and rank them in terms of which ones will best support your business hub and add the most value to your desired customers.

Then add any other ideas that are not on your list that might fit into your hub even better than the ones you have on your list right now.

Then narrow the list down even further to a few items that you have the resources to do extremely well. In the end it might only be two or three key items that your business is going to focus on over the next twelve to eighteen months. That is vastly better than trying to do 18 to 20 things that are going to eat up a ton of time and money and have zero impact on generating sustainable, profitable growth.

Remember Ralph Lauren started with a single tie to build his empire. But with everything he added, he stayed true to his hub. Do whatever you decide to do that fits with your hub as well as you can and then add more spokes to your wagon wheel.
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