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Sustaining success through failure, evidence and doing

Gus Balbontin, former Executive Director and CTO of Lonely Planet, recently shared his expertise with St George customers. He provided insights on how businesses can sustain their success through failure, reflection and action.

Gus has experienced a lot throughout his career. At Lonely Planet he helped the business navigate the rapid climate of digital disruption that consumed the media industry. Aside from his work with Lonely Planet, Gus has had a varied career. He has founded, or overseen, several other businesses; a successful creative consultancy, a swell report app for Surfers, and even an import/export business which sent Blu Tack to Argentina. Suffice to say there’s more than one string to his bow.

As you'd expect from a career that diverse, he has experienced both the ups and downs of business. So what advice did Gus provide for businesses that are transforming or pursuing a new idea? What were his suggestions for businesses looking to sustain success by embracing change?

Here are our top four takeaways:

1. Your first idea is, more often than not, discardable

A problem is an itch you want to scratch. You need to be prepared for the fact that your first idea, very often, isn’t going to be your best. However, it is important that you always give it a go. If you fail with your first solution, reflect on why it failed, improve it and give it another go. You need to "patch your ego", while you keep learning and keep trying.

During times of digital disruption Lonely Planet tried many ideas that didn’t work while others did which allowed the company to survive the transformation and come out the other end maintaining their powerful brand across both print and digital.

2. Fail often, but fail small

Running a business is a risk, so is reinvention. The goal is to run with new ideas while minimising your level of risk. In other words, embrace failure and the lessons it brings, but fail small.

Empower your staff to be proactive, let them make decisions for themselves and help them learn from their mistakes. Teach them to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

3. Show me, don’t tell me

There will always be evidence that suggests whether an idea is good or not. It will indicate whether it has potential to deliver on its promise. Ask questions of your idea "Does the problem it solves really exist?" Or "What was the first customer experience like?"

Often it is important to get a minimal viable product or solution into market. This way you can start to test the idea. Start collecting evidence early so you can then tweak and further develop your thinking and approach.

4. The more you plan, the less you do

Gus is a believer that you can plan your business to death. He believes in planning but he believes that businesses should recognise when a viable plan is in place and put it into motion.

There is, however, a flipside to this, "Momentum is the ally of efficiency, but the enemy of reinvention". It’s easy to get caught up in executing an idea. It becomes too late to pivot and your business has major issues on its hands. Stay alert, stay nimble and keep your eye on the changing needs of your target audience.

Gus' insights are the result of his experience working with businesses of all sizes. As such, they can be put into practice for businesses across the board. Developing new ideas is just as vital for established businesses as it is for start-ups. The world and its consumers keep on changing, it would be to the detriment of businesses if they didn’t keep changing with it.

Explore the St.George Kick Start portal for more insights into running a successful business.

Published: 7 September 2018

The views expressed are those of the speakers and readers should seek their own professional advice.