What do World Book Encyclopedias, the Sony Walkman, public pay phones, cassette tapes, floppy disks, Palm Pilots, and manual typewriters have in common? OK, I realize it is an easy question – they are all obsolete products. But the real question is why they became obsolete in the first place. You may be thinking, “Other more advanced products came along and replaced them.” True again. But why didn’t the makers of these products create newer and more advanced versions? And therein lays the dilemma. I am going to make a sweeping generalization here to prove my point – and the individual situations may have been more complex than I am purporting. The bottom line – there was a failure to embrace change and a desire to embrace the status quo.
For many people change is scary. It is filled with uncertainty and risk. Think of all the businesses you know about that have adopted the philosophy, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Yet, maintaining the status quo is actually falling behind. Why? Because we are in a highly competitive age where information flows more quickly and more substantively than at any time in history. Someone is always looking for a better way to do everything all the time. What steps should we take to avoid becoming the next World Book?
Step One. Constantly stay in touch with the customer. We need to mine every customer interaction for the data that can be produced. And we need to create customer interactions outside the regular purchasing process through surveys, focus groups, etc. What do our customers like about our product or service? What don’t they like? What do they like and dislike about our competitor’s product or service?
Step Two. From our ongoing customer feedback process, we can continuously fine tune our product or service offering with incremental improvements. This enables us to keep from falling behind in the competitive race.
Step Three. In addition to staying in touch with the customer we should also be totally immersed in what is happening within our industry. Trade publications, conferences, blogs, and ongoing relationships help keep us on top of trends, opportunities, and threats.
Step Four. This one is the biggie. We can make a choice as to whether to be a disruptor or be the disrupted. A disruptor is an innovator who turns an industry on its head with a radical idea. Those who choose to stick with what they are already doing are vulnerable to becoming a victim of this marketplace disruption. Some industries rock along for years with little or no disruptive innovation. In others (technology, for example), disruption occurs daily. Even if we do not create a huge and splashy disruption of some sort, the fact that we continue to try and do so will often be enough to keep us on the cutting edge.
One of the most prominent disruptors of our time is Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group. He has a mindset of looking at various industries and seeing an opportunity to innovate. Then he does it. Often it works – sometimes it does not, but few can argue the success he has had with more than 400 companies.
Resting on the laurels of success is a dangerous game. I imagine at one point in time Walkman sales were off the charts and the folks at Sony were feeling pretty good. And then, BOOM, the ride is over. It is important to keep our foot on the metaphorical gas pedal. Keep marketing no matter what. Build a backlog. Take the utmost advantage of good times. But . . . always remember and practice Steps One through Four. It is the best vaccination for obsolescence.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.