If you were asked to define yourself with just one word, could you do it? Maybe you’re a mother, a runner, an entrepreneur, a dog-walker or a gardener. Maybe you’re all of these things. The point is who you are extends well beyond a single word. Complexity is what makes us interesting.
As humans, we afford ourselves the luxury of being many things. However, we rarely appreciate the same nuance in companies. Many businesses assume they must be classified as one thing so that consumers can easily identify the product or service they offer. There is a certain shorthand created by this type of systematic categorization, but it also creates limitations.
Since we re-envisioned PointSource in 2012 and pivoted to mobile we have evolved as an organization. In the last three years we have described ourselves as… an enterprise mobility firm, mobile design and development firm, and a tech agency. However, I recently decided to drop the descriptive nouns when describing PointSource to people. Instead, I describe the value we create and provide for our clients and how we go about creating it. PointSource is a combination of the services and expertise we provide, not the descriptive noun that our business most closely resembles.
As I think about that journey toward deconstructing business classification, I notice this – we like to treat businesses like Mad Libs. Do you remember the fill in the blank game where a haphazard collection of words created a crazy story? Playing Mad Libs with my daughter recently felt like an awfully familiar business exercise. I’ve unknowingly been engaging in a professional version of the same game for years. When we classify businesses with traditional categories, we fill in their blanks with a single word. It’s as if entrepreneurs and consumers across the globe are given the same sentence:
My business is a/an [noun].
Through this stringent categorization, we define businesses using a single word that could never encapsulate just how complex they really are. Just as we fill in Mad Libs without first knowing the entire story, businesses often do the same thing. We assign nouns that leave little room for future flexibility or growth. Most problematically, we try to write a story that remains unwritten.
Moving forward, I challenge all businesses to resist this type of categorization. Why limit yourself to a single noun when you can be many? And why focus on just nouns when you can be adjectives, verbs and adverbs, too? Maybe it’s time to allow your business to become a series of sentences that work together to tell an ever-changing and increasingly valuable story.
In an effort to take back categorization, businesses must first reinvent the rules of classification. Take agencies as an example. While agencies are common within the technology and mobile sectors, the label comes with a lot baggage.
My business is a/an [agency].
As soon as we write it down, customers fill in the rest of the blanks with their preconceived notions of what agencies have become. Many believe that agencies are dead and worry that they’re now obsolete within the mobile space. As soon as we call ourselves an agency, we face the limitations of doing so.
Instead of trying to describe what a business is, we should emphasize what it does to fully convey its value.
My business can [verb].
By altering our perspective from nouns to verbs, the focus shifts from a business’ definition to how it can meet a variety of client needs. While our approach is much like an agency and tech firm, we are much more than what those labels imply.
When we stopped describing PointSource a descriptive noun, clients more clearly see the strategic value we provide. And employees who didn’t want to work for a stiff hierarchical system see our workspace as a playground for exploration and creative design and development. In reimagining how we see our own business, we were able to redefine how others see us too.
Be mindful of how you classify your own business and how you let others classify your business for you. We should focus on the values our businesses offer, and the authentic story you have to tell. Don’t lose your business identity in favor of cardboard and sterile company classifications.
Stephanie Lynn Trunzo is the Chief Operating Officer for PointSource, an award-winning mobile design and development company. Stephanie manages the design, delivery, and marketing organization for PointSource, and is rapidly identifying ways mobility revolutionizes how people live and work across a variety of industries for clients that include Finish Line, hh gregg, and Allstate. Prior to joining PointSource, Stephanie spent 13 years with IBM, most recently as program director for IBM Rational Jazz Platform.