How I learnt to speak the language of business
Imagine pitching a business idea involving user experience, high ethics, respect toward the environment and being financially attractive.
To make an impact on the business through design, it is essential to develop excellent business skills. I choose to develop these skills without spending a fortune on an MBA or workshops; I found a simpler way to gain understanding about businesses; analysing companies on the stock market. Real data, real-life examples, no textbooks.
It helps me develop a mindset to better communicate with product managers and business leaders, a nice skill to have for a UX Designer.
To achieve that level of influence you will need to train your mind, so how can you start? In every country, there is a place that offers an incredible amount of data about businesses, your local stock exchange. You will find countless executives pitching ideas to investors, many successes and failures, strategies, disruptions, and all of this accessible for free. With a learner mindset, I explore publicly traded companies and seek understandings of businesses and industries. Let’s examine what you need to look for and how it will help you.
The first challenge consists of extracting relevant information about a business and an industry. Being able to articulate; how the business works, its key metrics, industry dynamics, is a first step to get your head around the mechanics of a company. If you can select five businesses that interest you and articulate the basics of each of those, you will be better equipped to analyse the business you work for. It is all about training your mind, the deeper you go, the more training you get.
To extract key information, I use a checklist, from the book titled “The Investment Checklist”, that forces me to look into all the facets of a company. If you use this framework to analyse the business you work for, you will discover a new language that will help you better discuss your ideas with business leaders. You will unlock a new set of relationships, perspectives and opportunities.
If you choose to use the book, I recommend the following chapters:
- Chapter 2: Understanding the Business – The Basics
- Chapter 3: Understanding the Business – from the Customer Perspective
- Chapter 4: Evaluating the Strengths and Weaknesses of a Business and Industry
- Chapter 5: Measuring the Operating and Financial Health of the Business
- Chapter 10: Evaluating Growth Opportunities.
Interestingly, using that framework to analyse a business can also be useful when job hunting.
Now that you have trained your mind to analyse businesses, see the business you work for as a big machine that can change form and direction. I see a company as a set of mechanics that interact with each other, fueled by humans creativity and actions. Asking questions, such as “How can I improve that machine?” can lead to new opportunities. By adopting this mindset, you will increase your chance to pitch business ideas or improvements successfully.
To increase your chance of success in the business environment, networking with departments in your own company is key because you will need a new type of information that might not be on your intranet. Creating relationships with finance, data specialists, staff on the front line, business leaders is what you need to embrace to gather relevant information. Dicing large data sets, understanding income and expenses, business strategy, employees on the front line, is work that will come on top of your job. It is extra effort, but if you keep your idea in sight, it will become much more fun.
Once you have an idea backed up by data and a clear understanding of the business, you need to make sure it is robust by seeking contrarian views. Often getting people that think the opposite of what you think, contributes a lot. You will need as many perspectives as possible to understand all the aspects and repercussions of your idea, it helps to get credibility and interest.
To cultivate your business skills, you can also connect with the business community by reading newspapers that focus on businesses, read industry magazines and business books. Here are a few resources:
- Strategy Safari (Book)
- Playing to Win (Book)
- Strategic Navigation (Book)
- The Investment Checklist (Book)
- Inspired (Book)
- The Australian Financial Review (Newspaper)
- The Constant Investor (Blog and Podcast)
To recap; start by shaping a business mindset by studying real-life examples such as companies on the stock market. Second, see businesses as a big machine fueled by human creativity and actions, these machines can change form and direction. Third, seek different views because you will be wrong, you will have blind spots so like in design, seek contrarian views. Finally, stay informed and keep shaping your business acumen.
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