Thursday, December 1, 2011

Steep Cliffs

We are all arm-chair quarterbacks when it comes to predicting the past in the digital world.  Of course AOL would tumble because of their reliance on dial-up.  MySpace?!  Seriously?!?  Everyone could see their demise.  After it happened.

I suppose if I had really good advice for predicting such future, I would be retired on a beach somewhere and not writing this blog.  Well, maybe I would still be writing this blog, but I would be more relaxed.  The reality is there is no crystal ball, but the cliffs are steep when leaders fall.  We have a hard time imagining Google or Apple or Facebook not being leaders in their space, but it's almost inevitable that their time will pass, as well.  The great companies are always reinventing themselves, because any combination of market forces, competition, technology, etc. change the environment that made them successful.  IBM did it.  Apple did it.  Nokia was renowned for attempting to reinvent itself every year, but somewhere along the way, they have stumbled and chosen the wrong path.

I once forced myself to read the book The Invisible Computer, by Donald Norman, and at the time, I worked in the computer industry.  The concepts described in this book are much of what makes Apple a leader today: embedding computers in everything, making them smart and seamless, invisible.  The book was published in 1999.  I remember thinking that the concepts that Mr. Norman discussed were interesting, but he ignored the realities of the business aspects of the market and the economies of scale that existed and the advantages they provided to the PC world.  I've learned since that those advantages go away quickly when consumers and businesses vote through their purchases.  It's happening to Nokia, and now Apple is recognized to have the advantages of economies of scale.  It's a prize you receive, if you run a tight, smart ship, when you make good products.

Great strategic leadership can help to identify the cliffs before you drive the bus off them.  Always be aware and never be content.

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