By Tom Fedro
Today’s executives face issues yesterday’s didn’t. This isn’t to say today’s businesses are completely different than those of the past. I’m a firm believer that business fundamentals are the exact same today as they were two hundred years ago. Everything still comes down to creating a product and selling it for more than it costs to make it. Now, though, the product is often virtual or intellectual in nature, and the ability of a company to sell it is influenced by a great deal more than the quality of the product, not the least of which is the rapid change in technology and game-changing alterations of needs, expectations, and therefore buying habits of the customer.
Take tires, for example. We’ve only had pneumatic tires for about a century, and they’ve been prevalent for less time than that. Thousands of wheel manufacturers had to adjust simply because a man wanted a bicycle tire for his son in the 1880s that would handle rough roads. Some of those tire companies were able to adjust to the sudden change in the marketplace, and some couldn’t. Other examples are even more profound. Carburetors gave way to fuel injection, for example. In some cases, entire industries were built out of needs previously unknown or unexplored. Cell phones make landlines almost irrelevant from a residential standpoint. Digital delivery of music has devastated manufacturers of machines designed to play non-digital media. The list goes on.
So how does an executive charged with the vision and direction of a company stay on top of what might happen tomorrow? After all, just getting where we need to be with our current set of tasks can be overwhelming, right? I believe the answer lies in the perception of the business itself. If you believe, for example, that you’re in the backup and recovery business, you might have a problem. Turn it around and say your company exists to keep information secure. Think you’re in the burger business? I think you’re offering customers food quickly and conveniently. Maybe there wouldn’t have been such a lapse in healthy choices at the big fast food companies if they’d thought that way.
The point of all this is that we need to be committed to what our products do for our customers, not what our products do from a technical standpoint. It does us no good to make great carburetors, no matter how much quality control we put in place. We can make the best steel rings ever produced to line our wheels, but it doesn’t do us any good. The key (and the hard part) is realizing when our product, no matter how stable and well thought out, has become our goal instead of our means to the goal.