Over the last several decades I’ve maintained a deep fascination with three questions:
I’ve turned my fascination with these questions into books, articles, undergraduate and graduate school courses, consulting projects, investments in startups and public companies, speeches to general audiences, and radio, TV, newspaper, magazine and podcast interviews.
Just because these topics have held my attention for decades, it doesn’t mean they should matter to you as well. However, I am convinced that you will be much happier and more fulfilled in your work if you can focus your strengths on some set of questions that you find deeply engaging.
What follows is a brief explanation of why these three topics captured my attention, the concepts I’ve developed to help business leaders, and why I think they could be helpful to you.
1. How Technology Keeps Changing.
When I was in college, I was surrounded by classmates who knew right from the start that they wanted to become doctors, lawyers, or professors. I thought I wanted to become a poet. My father told me to look up poet in the Yellow Pages. I couldn’t find any.
Next up, I thought I wanted to be an architect so I took Harvard School of Design’s Career Discovery program. I discovered that I did not have the talent to be a good architect.
What next? As it happens, I began teaching myself to program computers when I was 13 and kept learning new things about computers. In my junior year in college, I was looking out the room of my dormitory and it occurred to me that nothing would have more of an effect on changing the world than advances in information technology.
This led me to the decision that I should aim to be a strategy consultant who helps such technology companies to grow. I am happy to have helped some of these companies grow by performing about 150 consulting projects over the years.
If you lead a technology company, you need to improve your current products to make them more valuable to your current customers. At the same time, you should be looking to the customers of your industry’s fastest-growing upstarts to catch the next wave before it crashes head on into your current business.
2. Winning Technology Strategies.
After watching the lead in the information technology business shift over the decades — from minicomputers, to PCs, to networked computing, smartphones, social networks, and the cloud — one simple thing is clear: the winners will always be companies that deliver new technologies in bundles that people find irresistibly valuable.
I was fortunate that this topic was of great interest to the head of R&D at a huge telecom company — my first client when I opened my own consulting shop in 1994. I did a project in which I tried to find out what was behind the ability of a small number of large technology companies to prevail when new technologies came along.
This became the topic of my first book — The Technology Leaders. My most recent book, Goliath Strikes Back, also addressed this topic. In my first book, I thought the answer was an organization with the right learning mentality as reflected in organizational structures and processes.
In my latest book, I concluded that the way to prevail through waves of technology is for a company to have a CEO with the right mindset. CEOs with a Create the Future mindset have the rare ability to keep growing at over 20 percent a year by making their current products more valuable to existing customers and investing in breakthrough innovations that will sustain their growth as their current products slow down.
3. How Complacency Kills Successful Companies.
I continue to be fascinated by how success can lead to failure. That’s what happened to Kodak — a company I spent about a year consulting with in the previous millennium.
Kodak had a hugely profitable business that hinged on giving away a Brownie camera at a low price and charging a price premium for its film and development services — dubbed the Silver Halide business model.
Kodak — which surprisingly had invented the digital camera — could not apply this Silver Halide business model to digital photography. Kodak could not see how it looked to customers as rivals like Fuji cut film prices and high quality cameras found their way into smart phones.
The lesson for business leaders: never lose sight of how customers — both current ones and those of fast-growing upstarts — perceive your company’s value proposition relative to competitors’.
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