Xerox. Kodak. Nokia. What do these names have in common? Once a dominant player in their respective industry now remains iconic examples of how the mighty falls. They were all once hugely successful companies that failed to adapt, or was it?
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Numerous books have been written on the traits that led to their failure. Amongst them, the one significant factor was the need to change in the ever-evolving economic dynamics and the inability to innovate. These companies had enormous R&D power and an army of scientists, engineers and technicians that got them to their earlier pedestal in the first place. Were those experts not that good? I don’t think so. I believe that the vast majority of experts and leader in those organizations were well qualified for their jobs and interested in doing them well. So why didn’t they innovate and adapt?
Let’s flip the question as to how is that other successful companies have been able to innovate and adapt? Before we try answering this question, it’s critical to understand at what phase of the maturity life cycle are these so-called successful companies. If we were to draw a checklist of all the essential trait amongst the current top successful companies and the companies that were once successful but have either failed or ceases to exist today, we would be surprised that most companies are very similar in their inner workings. Right from organizational structure to internal processes and technologies used in most large corporations at a macro level are similar if not same. It’s therefore unfair to paint these failed organization as slow to innovate or adapt when they were the ones to chart a new course in their hay days. We cannot ignore that the companies discussed above who was unable to sustain their leading position in their respective space were once very successful and innovative companies. Xerox was a pioneer in computer technology. Kodak was the undisputed leader in photography and had also invented the digital camera way ahead of others. Nokia was the supremo of mobiles phones. These and other similar successful companies made the right moves under their current environment to be successful.
We are enamoured by the glowing success of the young breed of companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, etc., who have outrun most first companies in a brief period. The key word is ‘Young.’ What is currently working for these newer successful companies may not work all the time, similar to their once successful predecessors. Each of these giants had a humble and even embarrassing beginning initially or slightly later after that. Amazon was only into books and had several logistic issues initially and had not yet planned for harbouring other items on their website. Google just had the search engine working for them, and they had not devised the revenue methods that grew its revenue exponentially. Apple had no market presence outside of the very small niche patrons and struggled with a suite of models that did not contribute to their growth.
There is no denying that these successful companies continually improved all aspects of their business to become what they are today. However, it must also be understood that these newer organizations had some distinct advantages supporting their meteoric rise that was not available to their predecessors. Several factors for their success have been analyzed in various business books. However, I believe three critical variables remain instrumental in the success of these organizations have not been widely discussed:
Leveraging Previous DNA
The original wheel invented by the cave people revolutionized the human race for millenniums and will continue to do so. Similar to wheelbarrow, carriages and automobiles that leveraged the original wheel invention, all newer companies had the advantages of similar innovation pioneered by those who came in earlier, and also made further improvement to propel their growth. We speak highly of the latest and the most excellent organizations but give no credit to the shoulders on which the success of others rest. Had it not been for the earlier creations, all subsequent development would not have been feasible. For instance, Amazon’s successful online domination would not have been possible without the internet, which would not have been possible without the invention of fibre-optics, which would not have been possible without the invention of the phone, which would not be possible…and the list goes on.
In the same way, all the newer organizations are also laying the foundation for other start-ups to build on. No organization is here to stay forever, and it’s only a matter of time that the organizations that are investor’s and Wall Street’s favourites will get unseated from their pristine position and be replaced by newer organizations who will find ways to leverage the foundation laid by their recent predecessors.
Every wrong move by the failed companies became free consultation White Papers for the newer companies. It reduced the learning curve for the new companies and helped them avoid the pitfalls the failed companies had committed. The more modern companies benefited using the navigation map from the older companies and sailed their way through success.
The older companies did not share the level of expert diversity (culture, race, gender, etc.) that we get to see in today’s workplace. The experts then relied solely on their expertise, which in and of itself is not sufficient to map the ways forward. Essential new knowledge was being continuously created in almost all disciplines, and that learning was slow to enter the older companies to re-stir the innovation and adaption process, a catalyst now available to newer companies.
So what’s the secret of success?
There is none. Be it any organization or any individual; every success will come to an end if we fail to build upon what we know and have experienced, and continually add new perspectives to the mix. It does not mean recycling what we know already, but reinventing them to extend the growth. Having a plan is vital, but following it blindly is not.
It’s not knowledge that is important, but the quality of our thinking that will improve the chances of our success. If you see anyone doing well then appreciate their success but don’t just be fascinated by their results, look for what can be leveraged to create or recreate your successes. Look for success and failure patterns, and define a better way to lead your company or your career. Engage diverse thinking and perspectives on your projects and for your self-development to avoid biased thinking and further improving the quality of thinking. Remember today’s recipe will not work tomorrow just as yesterday’s do not work today. Use the past, add today’s new to it and anticipate and prepare for the unknown.
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Success to you!