For every company that redefines their little part of the world and changes our culture just a bit, there are plenty of firms that run on autopilot until the fuel runs out and the plane needs to be ditched in the ocean. The forces of globalization and digitization create storms and headwinds for some that are just too strong to overcome.
From Apple and Best Buy to Netflix, Starbucks, Zappos and Zipcar, there are firms and leaders that produce cultures and armies of people that thrive on redefining the rules in their own vision and along the way, they change our lives, habits, vocabulary and our view on the world.
These firms have dared to ask, What If? and Why Not?, and then they had the audacity to move forward and change the rules.
For the rest, there’s frustration, shock and amazement as their business models disappear. The CEO of Blockbuster describing how he likes how his moribund firm matches up with the competition is shocking, laughable and sad all at the same time. His $36 million or so in market capitalization versus the billion-plus of his disruptive competitor is all of the scoreboard that any of us need to see to know that there is no match.
I hear frequently from managers and owners about how their firms can no longer make money in their traditional businesses. In some cases, since they don’t know what to do, they’ve settled on trying to just lose less money. That’s equivalent to allowing yourself to bleed out slowly. The outcome is still the same, but the pain lasts a lot longer.
When I ask why they aren’t rethinking their businesses…whom they serve, what problems they are capable of solving and how they can position themselves in arenas where there are profits to be cultivated, the answers are shoulder shrugs mixed with looks of resignation and acceptance. If looks could talk, theirs would say, “Who is John Galt?”
I’ve noticed that no one in these firms is asking What If? and Why Not? Instead, they are filled with leaders and managers doggedly defending the status quo as if their lives hung on perpetuating what they know. Ironically, their business lives hang on what they don’t know but should be seeking.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
There’s no silver bullet, quick fix or sure-fire method to rethink and reinvent a business. In fact, many cannot be reinvented and the highest and best use of capital may well be to fold.
For some however, there’s a process that combines the speculative questions of What If? and Why Not? with the courage to ask and answer How Can We? and then to say, Let’s Try It!
If your plane is running low on fuel and the storm clouds look ominous, it may be too late. But before you decide to pull the ripcord and let the business plummet into the abyss, try asking and answering some simple but profoundly tough questions.