Weeknotes | 16 April 2010

We spent the past couple of weeks in visits to several cities in East of here. Our objectives were to meet with some very interesting people doing great work in those places and to see how our work intersected with theirs.

We were impressed, despite the press reporting a turning in the economy, that everybody we spoke with was still greatly concerned and significantly affected by the economy. We’ve tended to look out from the black hole of the Great Lakes economy and imagine that everything is better in other places. Well, it is, but not in the much better way that we’d thought.

Among the impacts of this condition is certainly the fact that all are operating with considerably smaller teams and with a significantly narrower spectrum of work. They are dealing with conditions of surprisingly diminished differentiation and dramatically increased competition. In these markets, former brackets of firm size and project scale no longer apply as even the biggest firms are after any available work.

The strategies for dealing with this condition vary. Some are looking to newer, more robust markets (or expected soon to be) like health care. Some are moving firmly into the implementation space, working with a smaller volume of work but providing clients with integrated approaches to reduce complexity and cost, and increase the value of the relationship. Some have considered whole new ways of doing business through unexpected partnerships, but have not yet found the path or the resources to realize the vision.

In general, it seems that all are in an expectant condition, but it was clear that each and all must get energetically moving on a plan now or risk a backslide as the economy does warm up.

Previously loyal clients are opening projects to competitive bidding. There is certainly an apparent economic incentive for this, but in a number of cases, it appeared to us that the change in the competitive landscape has opened clients to new resources they had not seen before, and even to premium services to which their budgets had not previously given them access.

We think that this may be the most dramatic impact of the recession: that creative and innovative thought leadership is moving into secondary and tertiary tiers. As the big and complex clients have collapsed and are still caught in a cost conscious mode, this may be a significantly dramatic shift for the agile and nimble companies who can capitalize on knowledge, experience and expertise that had previously been out of reach.

We also think that this is an unappreciated shift. Firms that are looking at comparative volume and costs associated with the practice of the past generation are missing a tremendous opportunity. The knowledge gained by these firms, now applied to emerging energetic, motivated, agile, and clever clients can provide a rich resource for creativity, contribution and growth.

In this spirit, an unexpected delight in the trip was moving through a landscape coming into Springtime.

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