When I hear someone complain about it being “impossible” to do this thing or that thing, it reminds me of that clever cliché that often something is impossible to do, only until somebody does it. Naturally, believing things are impossible for us to accomplish discourages us from trying them and stops us from achieving our dreams. But, we can thank courageous business pioneers for demonstrating how to do the impossible—such as successfully competing against giants of their industries.
But, what’s their big secret? How did they do the impossible? Well, even the strongest have their weak spots. Even the biggest companies lose market share to small competitors, when the little guys locate a weak spot and prove themselves to be more adept at correctly anticipating market shifts, or interpreting other industry indicators, or innovating production technologies or product improvements.
Talented small business owners can sometimes recognize potential changes in their industry and are more adroit in reacting with timely adjustments in operations how and where necessary. Much larger companies, laden with layers of bureaucratic management cannot always pivot with the same degree of cross-departmental flexibility.
Here are a few contingencies that can unfold into a crisis in a business, so that you can better anticipate and recognize oncoming threats to your enterprise:
Being Unprepared for Competition
Another cliché to love: Be ready, so you’ll never need to get ready (or something to that effect). A clever, energized new competitor might enter your market on any given day. Any time a thing becomes cheaper or more profitable, competition is going to show up. For example, the nearly 100-year old Radio Shack company was overcome by Microsoft and Apple, which collectively came to dominate the electronics industry, pushing the long-time variety electronics retailer into history. In another example, Netflix brought down Blockbuster, when the latter failed to anticipate the shift to delivery service, a very simple change in principle, but one to which Blockbuster could not readily pivot under its existing operational system. And countless other commercial market disruptions have made once ubiquitous products and services obsolete.
LESSON: Anticipating new competition is fundamental to avoiding devastation and being in a position to embrace competition for the benefits it can generate in your industry.
Major Changes in Technology
For a long time, you’d need a pay phone to get through the business day in outside sales. Finally, cell phones took over travelers’ telecommunications. Players like Bell, ultimately A&TT, made cell phones and offset losses from the extinction of the payphone segment of their industry. But, pay phone carriers unprepared to shift resources to cellular are no longer remembered. And, early word processors crushed the then state-of-the-art IBM Selectric typewriter, which was busily innovating its font balls at the time it became obsolete. The resourceful IBM, of course, blazed its own magnificent IT trail of innovation, but production of its stunning Selectric was stopped cold in the midst of that technology’s heyday.
LESSON: Anticipate inevitable revolutions in technologies that drive productivity, product functionality, and services in your industry.
Remember when we all used to listen to CDs. But, then Napster took over and put a large dent in the entire music industry, artists, record labels, and the cultural conscience of music lovers. Now, thanks to the advent of iTunes, we’re back to doing the right thing—buying our music, but one song or album at a time, by instant download. We don’t have to pay for a whole CD, when we really just want a song or two. And, the need to download free music is eliminated. People no longer are as motivated to steal music off the web.
LESSON: Look out for cultural skewing.
Remember that nothing is impossible. And, keep in mind the need for diligence in anticipating new competition, technologies and cultural shifts. Giants of industry and commerce pay heavy prices for failure to anticipate, innovate, and reinvent themselves to shift along with new demands of their markets. Stay out in front of these contingencies, and nothing can stop you.