Constant Reinvention = Survival

Nothing lasts forever. Even the best-conceived business strategies eventually become constraints on growth.

Consider Dell. “Dell succumbed to complacency in the belief that its business model would always keep it far ahead of the pack.” But the competitors got better while Dell failed “to invest in new business lines, talent, or innovation that could provide another competitive edge.” * [see Business Week citation below]

As a leader in technology or product development, you may think that your entire job is to execute well on the development plans laid out by Marketing or a strategic planning group. But you can do more. You can help the executive staff recognize that the business has other opportunities.

Consider what the Business Week authors went on to say: “Long-term success demands constant reinvention.” This means that while you’re turning out products that meet the current set of goals for functions, price and quality, the viability of the company may depend on your pointing out where innovative products or services could come from, using the brains you already have on your staff. Reinvention means re-thinking the orthodoxies everyone has accepted as the characteristics of the company. Do you have some independent thinkers on your staff who keep coming up with off-the-wall ideas? Maybe some of those ideas are actually your ticket to survival.

Nurture the next growth platform long before it’s needed.” This means you have to carve out the budget to support the radical ideas from the operating budget you’re supposed to use for mainstream development. If you can’t convince your executive staff to fund a skunkworks operation, then you should look at having some of your key contributors doing some off-the-record investigations. Is this risky in your company? Then maybe the company needs some shaking up.

Most [companies] don’t [nurture the next ideas]. Distracted by the demands of their current success, they re lulled into a false sense of security.” It’s easy to focus only on the tasks that will satisfy the demands of current customers and current ways of doing business. And while it’s not easy to perform on those tasks at extraordinary levels, you can get lost in gunning for the immediate satisfactions of meeting this quarter’s goals. Can you be a VP or Director of Engineering and still make time for thinking about next year’s products and the businesses that you haven’t entered yet? Consider this: who else is better positioned to view what’s possible, who is out there needing better functions or services, and what can be combined to make a new business?

I suggest taking an advocate’s role as part of your commitment to the long term success of your company. You don’t have to be a marketer or business analyst to know what’s exciting and feasible in the next generation of products and services. Carve out a niche as a visionary and a keeper of the wild ideas that can open up new busineses for your company. Do it regularly, and you’ll be twice as valuable as the person who only meets the usual goals of Development. Besides, it may help your company survive.

* “Where Dell Went Wrong” by Nanette Byrnes and Peter Burrows in Business Week, February 19, 2007, pages 62-63.

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About John Levy

John Levy, Ph.D. is an expert in computers, software and storage who is available for consulting in patent litigation.

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