Given all that is shifting and uncertain, some may be inclined to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm, hoping that enduring alone will help them emerge intact eventually. That kind of defensive posture is no longer effective, though. Today, no brand will be able to maintain its competitive advantage by simply hunkering down and staying the course. The impacts of the current crisis will be long-lasting, and if an organization wants to survive it is going to have to become more agile, able to quickly interpret and respond to change. That means being reactive, when appropriate, and proactive, when the opportunity to lead presents itself. In short, businesses need to learn to adapt and keep pushing forward, or risk becoming irrelevant.
Adapting Is Associated with Business Success
A look back over the last few years surfaces numerous cautionary tales of companies that refused to evolve when market conditions changed. Remember MapQuest, the first commercial web mapping service? Its parent company AOL failed to keep pace with the technological advancements and user-friendly features offered by competitors. Now, the once peerless MapQuest is struggling for survival in a space dominated by Google Maps. It’s a similar story for Kodak, the company that was the undisputed leader of the photography industry for most of the 20th century.
But Kodak squandered a ten-year window of opportunity to transition to digital photography, an innovation that remarkably, was invented by a Kodak engineer. This, along with additional missteps, resulted in Kodak filing for bankruptcy protection in 2012.And then there’s BlackBerry, which in the mid-2000s, controlled 50% of the smartphone market in the US and 20%globally. BlackBerry was also too slow to change. Rather than continually adding features like Android and Apple did, the company stayed true to its original design, iterating more cautiously—and losing customers all along the way. Fourteen years after the release of its first phone, Blackberry was no longer part of the smartphone market.
The plot line is much the same for Atari, Blockbuster, Yahoo…the list goes on and on. Some of these industry leaders were so committed to their original visions that they simply would not adapt. Others lacked understanding or acceptance that the marketplace was shifting or, even if they realized change was needed, weren’t able to adjust quickly enough. For most, it was a combination of multiple factors.
Of course, there are also examples of companies that succeeded in the wake of new market forces. These brands faced disruption head on, re-grouped, pivoted, and ultimately, thrived. Netflix started out as a digital content distributor.Now, it is also a leading producer of original content. Philips realigned its focus from lighting to healthcare technology. AndApple continues to stand out for its capabilities to innovate and remain relevant, often by driving disruption itself. What can we learn from analyzing how companies react to change?
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