company vision

Make yourself obsolete, or someone else will

make-yourself-obsolete

by Ken Tencer
Originally published as a Special to Globe and Mail Update, Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

With Dyson’s new bladeless fans, generation of kids will be denied the chance to stick pencils through screens to see what happens when they touch fast-spinning blades.

For any other reason, you have to love the British-based company because its innovations are so obvious yet so breakthrough.

  • Safe, bladeless fans that move air without all the rumbling and rattling.
  • Technology patterned after jet engines.
  • Dual-cyclonic vacuums that suck up more dirt, more efficiently.
  • Airport hand driers that actually work.

Why were these products not developed sooner? Did no other company listen to generations of frustrated consumers? Or were the former market leaders simply too afraid to cannibalize existing products and markets by introducing something truly innovative?

Dyson’s success is a lesson to all business leaders: Don’t be afraid to make yourself obsolete, or someone else will do it for you.

For most companies that’s easier said than done. I used these words while co-chairing a recent innovation conference in New York City, and I heard the groans from the audience.

I have heard their thoughts out loud too often:

  • “We are the market leaders. We are too big to fail.”
  • “Our technology dominates the market, no need to worry,” said the buggy-whip maker to his horse.

Too many great companies have disappeared because they resisted change instead of embracing it. We may now be watching the demise of yet another giant, in photography company Eastman Kodak Co. The incredible thing is that Kodak actually saw and invented a future when digital photography would replace film. But somehow it managed to resist it. As analyst Chris Whitmore of Deutsche Bank told The New York Times: “The big story here is that their core business — the yellow box business — got cannibalized by the digital camera, which ironically they invented.”

The “good news” for investors is that Kodak is now soundly and strategically focused on digital-printing technology (in an increasingly paperless world?). I don’t mean to pick on Kodak, as it is not the first company to resist change, and it won’t be the last.

So where do we turn to find an example of an industry successfully making itself obsolete? Look at autos. Car makers recognized it was only a matter of time before the traditional combustion engine model gave way to newer, cleaner technology. So over the past decade they have gradually introduced us to the future, in the form of clean diesel, hybrid and now fully electric engines.

Each of these introductions started small, with expensive pioneering products sold to early adopters. This is how the industry developed its ability to introduce alternative technology, test demand, optimize production, and manage the transition. Today auto makers have a clear understanding of their market and possess the production capacity to ramp up a full-scale transition – fully cannibalizing the old combustion technology – without endangering their revenues.

The car industry didn’t just stay ahead of the curve – it created and managed the curve. If more of Dyson’s vacuum-cleaner competitors had shared that kind of vision, they wouldn’t be sucking air.

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Innovation Insight: About 3,560,000 results (in 0.09 seconds)

One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO

Google

So, I Googled the phrase “selling non-core assets” and you can see the results! Clearly, business leaders are hungry for information on how to offload underperforming assets and get back to growth from the core.

These search statistics confirm my inspiration for co-authoring The 90% Rule: What’s Your Next Big Opportunity – a book about growing through innovation in adjacent markets that you already know and understand.  The initial inspiration for the book was the constant flow of stories about companies selling their non-core assets.

More →

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Innovation Insight: The Dove Spa Experience

One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO

Dove

Leaving a meeting the other day in Toronto, I found myself walking past a Dove Spa – one of a growing chain of spas designed by the makers of Dove soap and beauty products.  I am not the target user, but I was impressed. I was impressed by the clean, minimalist form and function of the design. But I was even more impressed by the focus with which Dove has recreated the brand’s innovation strategy in business form.

As Dove says on its Web site, “At Dove Spa our philosophy is simple – we want to make women feel more beautiful every day by inspiring them to take great care of themselves.” This is yet another extension of Dove’s award-winning focus on “real beauty.” This commitment to “real beauty” from the original “beauty bar” (Dove has always positioned itself as more than a maker of soap) is continually opening doors for one of the world’s biggest and most elastic brands.

Is your company in the business of making soap, or selling beauty? Don’t focus on what you make, but how you change customers’ lives. Do you sell hotel rooms or help people book dream nights? The choice is yours.

If your business’ definition is too narrow, what can your growth prospects be?

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