In recent weeks, I've become far more aware of how it is possible to dislodge a leader and achieve construction marketing success even when an incumbent seems to have it sowed up. While some examples of this process I know about are highly relevant, they are also a bit too close for comfort. So we'll go outside the industry to discern some insights.
Apple's success can be explained largely by innovation. Its products, carefully crafted and trend-breaking, were under Steve Job's leadership so powerfully effective that they created the same sort of 'wow' that Blackberry achieved when it invented the original smart phone. In both cases, I received my introduction when an early adaptor enthusiastically showed off his new toy to me, describing its features, flexibility and effectiveness.
The Samsung/Android story is somewhat more complex. Samsung saw the trends -- and Apple's success, and moved adroitly to discover an alternative operating system that could do many of the nifty things possible only with the IPhone (this of course leads the way for some really expensive patent litigation). With enough foresight and speed, it licensed Android and set out to move the new phones to market quickly -- at price points at a level shell-shocked consumers not ready or able to pay Apple's price could accept.
So what went wrong at RIM and Nokia. They had the lead; they presumably had the resources to see the new forces arriving, but they could not respond in time to recapture their place. The answer is the danger of complacency within incumbency. When you are the market leader, and the outliers seem just that, you are tempted (and in fact rationally may think) you can simply weather the storm with incremental improvements. Big mistake.
I've seen some examples of this process -- and success where I hadn't expected it to occur -- in my own neck of the woods. Complacently, I thought the newcomers were simply banging their heads against a big and expensive wall. I studied them, in some cases even met them personally, but didn't take them nearly as seriously as I should. And they "won" -- well, sort of.
The story is not over until it is over. Learning, innovation, growth and maturity are complex, continuous things. We all tend to revert to the norm, and fall back into our habits (good or bad). Real change is difficult and sustaining change when it is easier to hold back and enjoy the status quo can be difficult, indeed.
But I don't give up. As I prepare to spend another day alone in Istanbul, wandering through eons of history, I'll remember the priorities and forces which need to be observed. Don't be complacent.
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