Fifteen years ago I flew across the country on business several times a month. Headquarters was in Southern California, and I was responsible for building a factory in central Indiana. When compelled to wait at connecting airports, usually in an airline club, there were two things that made me unique with respect to other travelers; namely, a laptop computer and a mobile phone. First thing into an airline club I scurried for a station with a dial-up internet connection to check email. It was a laborious process by today’s standards. People looked at me curiously, wondering… I’d just wink at them and say, “It’s magic.” |
Inside the airline club and scattered throughout the terminal stood banks of pay phones (remember those?) heavily competed for by businessmen. I, on the other hand, simply removed my wireless phone from my pocket and made whatever calls needed to be made although the network from the service provider often morphed into a pain-in-the-ass roaming mode. However, I must in truth admit, many of my calls and much of my computer diddling was frivolous. I lived out Maslow’s statement: “beware of he who is good with a hammer for they see everything as a nail”. Sure enough, that was me dickin’ around. I enjoyed the curious (and envious) stares of my fellow business travelers. Though I didn’t know it then, that was the Genesis of startling, revolutionary change in work tools and communications; and a veritable opening of Pandora’s Box.
Until then, change during my career had been evolutionary; that is, developmental change was gradual, which eventually resulted in a more complex and better form. On the other hand, those first days described above ushered in revolutionary change, dramatic and extremely fast-paced that continues to this day at an even more maddening pace. Is there no end? Let’s take a quick look and cause-and-effect.
To successfully market a product (meaning goods, services, and information) there are two basic strategies: 1) market-pull and 2) technology-push; and a business must also decide whether to have a sub-strategy as either price leader or technology leader. It’s difficult serve both masters. In addition, within those strategies are two aspects of quality: 1) freedom-from-deficiencies and 2) product features. I admit all that blather sounds rather confusing (and boring), but in reality it’s rather simple. We’ll break it down piece-by-piece.
Market-pull means you wait for the customer to tell you what he wants, and it’s always prudent to listen to the customer. The problem is that your competitors are also asking, at least you must assume so, making the “game” about who is first to market. However, first-to-market does not always win especially when the first aspect of quality (freedom-from-deficiencies) is ignored. Example: Pontiac brought out a two-seater called the Fiero back in the 1980s that the market loved. Unfortunately the vehicle was fraught with problems, which opened the door for Toyota’s second-to-market effort (MR-2), which dominated that segment. Fiero disappeared. I experienced the same phenomenon in drill bits for rigs in the oil patch. The technology leader had an 80-percent market share, but treated customers with insufferable arrogance. My company came in second-to-market (shamelessly copying the big guy), treated the customer like a king, including putting a fifth of Jack Daniels in every bit box, and ended up with an equal 40-percent share. Talk about thinking outside the box!
Technology-push means anticipating what the customer wants including items for which he doesn’t know enough to ask! This can be very dangerous if your “prophecy” is off. (And, folks, here’s another little gem: good management = prediction!) Ask the Disney executive that just resigned for the $205 million egg a recent movie laid. Tech-push also means focusing of the second aspect of quality (product features), but all strategies must STILL include the first aspect of quality. Think of it this way: once upon a time automobiles had crank windows, manual transmissions, no A/C, and steering that required muscle. These automobiles, for the most part, were free of deficiencies. Then new product features, the result of tech-push, were offered. People liked them. They caught on. And get this: customers were willing to pay more to get those features. Companies who were “first in” no longer had to play the “price leader” game; they became the technology leaders. By the way, there is only one price leader and you know it by this sign: when that company raises prices, everyone else follows. Think about it…
Technology-push in automobiles resulted in a basic and irreversible paradigm shift in commerce, meaning all competitors better have the desired product features or face going out of business. AXIOM: No matter how successful a company is in the “old ways” (price leader, least deficiencies, etc.) if a paradigm shifts, they’re going down unless they change. Ask companies that made only wooden baseball bats; or forging presses; or vinyl records. See, it used to be that obsolescent cycles were relatively long; that is, what worked for one year might work for the next twenty. Now for some products, like wireless phones and computers, the cycle may last as little as six weeks.
However, there is a significant dark side to runaway technology change. More to come on that subject… Stay tuned.
By Gene Myers author of AFTER HOURS, SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE, and many other pearls of wisdom. Check out Amazon Kindle for prices 50-percent less than the printed books.
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