Jack Uldrich
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Risky is the New Safe

Posted in Behavior, Change, Creativity, Culture, Quiz, Unlearn Strategy

: Do more people die jaywalking or in the crosswalk?

The answer is the crosswalk. Why? Because people are lulled into a false sense of security. Due to existing rules, painted crosswalks and flashing signs, they don’t feel as compelled to pay attention to the actions of others. When jaywalking they are under no such illusion and remain vigilant and fleet-of-foot.

This lesson is appropriate for today’s business environment in two important ways. First, too many business leaders and organizations are lulled into complacency by tradition, existing rules and the power of the status quo. Like the white painted lines on a crosswalk, the protection of their market position or brand is often non-existent. Worse yet, much as the flashing lights and warning signs give false confidence to a pedestrian, the signal customers send businesses also offer illusionary protection against an accelerating future.

The problem, of course, is that by the time a person or organization realizes the danger they are in it is too late and they are run over.

Clayton Christensen in his excellent and now classic book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, provides numerous examples of industry leaders refusing to heed the oncoming sounds of new threats because they were so attuned to the needs of their best customers—customers who were primarily focused on incremental product improvements.

This purported safely approach (i.e. “the customer is never wrong”) left them vulnerable to new competitors who were willing to ignore existing rules and opted instead to jaywalk in the direction of those “risky” fringe customers or niche opportunities. Overtime, niches mature and the product capabilities which were initially only demanded by those on the fringe come to be seen as valuable to mainstream audiences. Unfortunately by the time this becomes evident to the existing players, it is too late. Think about how IBM was caught flat-footed by the personal computer in the 1980’s; large book retailers by the Internet in the 1990s; and the music industry by digitalization in the first decade of the 21st century.

What’s next?

Industries destine to feel a similar affect in the future include the energy, gaming and manufacturing industries. Advances in nanotechnology are fueling startling advances in solar and fuel cell technology. These devices, many of which are now expensive and limited in capability, don’t appear to represent much of a threat today but as they improve they will create a vastly more decentralized energy distribution network and transform the energy paradigm. If existing leaders in the energy sector ignore these signs they will be run over. The same is true with how hand-gesture and 3-D technology will transform gaming culture, and advances in 3-D printing might lead to radical new manufacturing and supply chain distribution models.

What then is a person or organization to do? Jaywalk. That’s right. Break the rules. Doing so will not only make you more aware alert to the dangers around you, you may also chart a quicker path to future customers.

Remember unlearning is risky. What is risky is playing it safe.

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