When Clayton Christensen was a newly minted professor at Harvard Business School and began his famous study of why companies fail, he took an unsuaul approach
He wanted to look not just at any companies, but successful ones. The kind whose stocks were once high flyers and whose CEO’s graced the covers of top business magazines. Not the losers, but the winners who stumbled and fell. What he found was startling.
While he expected to see once great companies who lost their way, what he found was firms that followed all of the best practices taught at business schools like his. In other words, he found that technology shifts can radically change business principles. Today, as the technology continues to evolve, we need to take these four shifts into account.
It’s fun to look at old pictures of Bill Gates from back when he was a boy genius. Unlike Mark Zuckerberg, he arrived on the scene looking very much like the nerd he was; big glasses and a sheepish grin, like he’s just happy, albeit a bit embarrassed, to be invited to the party.
He’s grown up a lot since then. Years of success and media training have given him a quiet confidence. He speaks from the heart about issues he is devoted to, like education and eradicating malaria.
And technology has grown up with him. The bulky green fonts and command lines have been replaced by far more natural interfaces. Computers are now able to recognize speech, text and even gestures. As they continue to learn, they will become intelligent enough for most human tasks, changing the nature of work, business and society.
Steve Jobs liked to say that it’s not enough to kill bad ideas, you have to kill good ones too. That’s because good strategy is about making choices and it takes more than intelligence or even instinct, it takes discipline, one of Jobs’ most overlooked qualities.
Marketing strategy is particularly difficult because, as I’ve noted before, the rules have changed. A generation ago, brands mostly strove to create buzz and “drive awareness,” now they need to build compelling experiences that keep consumers engaged.
However, the old tasks have not gone away. We still need to run TV ads and in-store promotions, man conference booths and hand out brochures, but now on top of that we have a whole new world of algorithms, apps and devices to master. To meet the new challenges, we need a new strategic approach, a new mindset and new organizations.
Hannibal Smith, the fearless leader of the A-team, always loved it when a plan came together and on that campy ’80′s TV show, they always seemed to, no matter how intricate and contrived. It seems quaint now. In the real world, things rarely happen as we imagine they will.
As Mike Tyson, another icon from the ’80′s liked to say, everybody’s got a plan until they get hit and, like it or not, we all get hit, usually sooner rather than later. When that happens, as it inevitably always does, even our best laid plans go awry.
In truth, planning has never been about strategy, but control and control has always been an illusion. Nevertheless, for a long time, it was true enough to be successful. Plans set direction and, if problems arose, plans could always be changed. The problem is that as technology cycles compress, planning cycles can’t keep up. We need a new model.
A few weeks ago, I posted an article on Forbes called Sorry Nassim Taleb, Technology Actually Does Matter in which I explained a number of ways that technology has transformed business and society.
Mr. Taleb contacted me to object that I mischaracterized his views. A few readers also commented with similar objections. I offered to correct any mistakes that he could point out, but Mr. Taleb declined to do so.
While I disagree with Mr. Taleb on this point, he’s a thinker I greatly admire and feel should be taken seriously. So I want to describe Mr. Taleb’s comments in greater detail and explain why I believe he is in error. While he claims that he is not anti-technology, his views undermine the innovation process which brings it about.
Technology pioneer Alan Kay famously said that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” It’s the kind of inspiring quote that can completely change your outlook on things.
That is, until you remember the sorry plight of failed geniuses, from Gregor Mendel to Vincent Van Gogh to thousands of others who are long forgotten and whose ideas only took hold long after their death. Inventing the future, it seems, is no panacea.
The truth is that ideas don’t change the world, people do. From the American Revolution to Civil Rights Movement to the Arab Spring, most of their names are lost to history, but their accomplishments stand testament to the power of what can happen when people act as one. It’s not the nodes, but the network that makes great things possible.
This post was written by Simeon Spearman, a Senior Innovation Strategist at Engauge, a full-service marketing agency in Atlanta, GA. He helps brands identify emerging media and technology opportunities and devises strategies for experimentation and learning for brands. You can find him on Twitter @srspear.
March is always a month where technology companies receive a lot of attention. Between SXSW and Samsung’s Galaxy S4 announcement, March has been rich with insights into issues facing consumer technology and indications of exciting new spaces to watch in the years ahead.
Trends get a bad rap, mostly because they are often equated with fashions. Talk about trends and people immediately start imagining wafer thin models strutting down catwalks in outrageous outfits or a new shade of purple that will be long forgotten by next season.
Yet trends can be important, especially those long in the making. If lots of smart people are willing to spend years of their lives and millions (if not billions) of capital on an idea, there’s probably something to it.
Today, we’re on the brink of a new digital paradigm, where the capabilities of our technology are beginning to outstrip our own. Computers are deciding which products to stock on shelves, doing legal research and even winning game shows. They will soon be driving our cars and making medical diagnoses. Here are five trends that are driving it all.
Innovation has become management’s chief imperative. Everybody wants to be the next Apple, Google or Netflix, nobody wants to be the next Kokak, Blockbuster or US Steel.
Go to any conference these days and some whip-smart technogeek will declare that you must, “innovate or die,” and then dazzle you a wide array of case studies to illustrate the point. You’ll feel inspired, then scared and then have a few beers and go about your business.
What’s missing is a clear set of principles for action. What good is Steve Job’s unfailing design sense when I struggle to get my outfits to match? How can Google’s technological supremacy be relevant to me when I can’t even figure out my TV remote? In other words, we need to take innovation down from the presentation screen and into working life.
Insight used to be considered a personal quality and one that was essential to be a successful marketer. While other corporate functions, such as finance and logistics, were driven by cold, rational calculation, marketers were supposed to thrive at the human side of business.
Nowadays, when we refer to insight, we often mean the work product of algorithms, analysts and maybe a mathematician or two. As Forbes previously reported, by 2017, CMO’s will outspend CIO’s on information technology.
However, for all of the wondrous possibilities of big data, there are still some things that it will never do. Computers, after all, are not people, much less consumers. While they can help execute plans, they cannot form our intent. Ironically, as marketing becomes more automated, true competitive advantage is even more inextricably tied to the human spirit.