Legend has it that Taiichi Ohno, creator of the highly-successful Toyota Production System, would take young engineers to the manufacturing shop floor, where he would draw a chalk circle on the floor. The employee would be told to stand in the circle, observe, and note what he saw. When Ohno returned, he would review the notes. If the observations were not complete enough, the new-hire would be asked to keep observing. Ohno’s goal was to impress upon his future engineers that the only way to truly understand what happened on the shop floor was to go there, where true value was added and challenges could be observed in real-time. 

“Genchi genbutsu” – “go and see” – was born. The idea is that, if the problem exists on the shop floor, then it needs to be understood and solved at the “genba,” or the “real place” where the work is done.

One of the pervasive challenges that startups encounter is known as, “marketing myopia.” This term was coined by Theodore C. Levitt, Harvard Business School emeritus professor of Marketing, in an article of the same name, published in the July-August 1960 issue of the Harvard Business Review. “Marketing myopia” is defined as a “short-sighted and inward-looking approach to marketing which focuses on fulfillment of immediate needs of the company rather than focusing on marketing from consumers’ point of view, (resulting in) the failure to see and adjust to the rapid changes in their markets.”

In order to counteract the effects of “marketing myopia,” startups are well-advised to employ strategies that meet the following criteria, answering these questions:

Customer-centric: What do I know about the customer’s market challenges?

Market-focused: What “pain” does the market feel, and how do I “cure” it?

Budget-bounded: Do I have the resources needed to address the market opportunity?

Go-to-Market Roadmap-guided: Have I mitigated risks and barriers to market entry?

One of my mentors once asked me if I had a “life plan.” I asked him what he meant, and his reply was, “Glenn, if you have to ask me what a ‘life plan’ is, then I guess you don’t have one!” He told me that, if I did not have a life plan of my own, then I would end up in someone else’s life plan, and what that “someone” had in mind for me was: not much!

In order to be competitive in a competitive market, you need a “business life plan,” informed by the “voice of the market” that you are addressing. Remember that you engage with value – and that value is determined by your customers.

Get to your “genba” and take good notes!

Enjoy the adventure!

Contributed by  Glenn E. Robinson

Managing Director at IC2 Institute, The University of Texas at Austin, and XLr8 Andhra Pradesh Technology Business Accelerator, Senior Training Consultant to the DHI Business Acceleration Program (BizAP).