If you are like almost every other business out there, you will be familiar with the process of reactive experimentation. Basically you have ideas, you activate them, some work, some don’t, and naturally you keep the former and discard the latter.
The challenge with this process of course, is that you don’t know which ideas will be the duds before you’ve invested in them. That’s fine for a business like Amazon perhaps, with access to unlimited capital, but most of us have to take our risks judiciously. This is a tricky line to walk. Should we be constantly experimenting and innovating? Or should we play it safe, sticking with what we know works? In one direction is chaos, in the other is stagnation – neither of which are particularly appealing.
Bearing this in mind, it goes without saying that it would be pretty useful to be able to predict what innovations were going to be successful before investing in them. Then we could grow aggressively and safely.
Well, such a skill is in fact attainable, and it requires no clairvoyance nor even particularly brilliant analytical capabilities to achieve. All it requires is a clear understanding of your company’s inherent nature.
To understand what we mean by this, let’s look at an example from nature itself.
Every animal “has a nature”. This effectively means the “rules” the animal follows, the template that has been set for it by the requirements of the wider ecosystem. Bees, for instance, if they want to be successful have to “behave like bees”. They fly around, they collect pollen, they live communally, they make honey, and so on. All of these things are within their nature. What they can’t do however, is behave like ants. If a bee started to act like an ant it would be betraying its nature, and it would ultimately suffer because it’s not equipped for that set of behaviours. It wouldn’t be playing the role the ecosystem wants it to play.
This exactly how business works too, only we substitute the words “organism” and “ecosystem” for “company” and “market”.
Just like the bee or the ant, your business has a unique role the market wants it to play. This is its nature. Fulfil it and you will thrive, betray it and you will suffer. Unlike the bee or the ant however, you probably aren’t quite sure of what your nature is, and thus you will find yourself constantly stumbling into other company’s territories; constantly taking actions that run against your nature.
A typical example of this idea can be seen in the collapse of Nokia. In the space of six years their market share went from a never-beaten 49%, to a measly 3% – a figure that has only decreased since.
Well, firstly, we can infer that the “successful Nokia” was a company that was abiding by it’s true nature. Clearly it was doing a job the market wanted it to do. However Nokia, like many successful companies, never took an introspective moment to define what exactly this nature was; what they were doing that made them so successful. If they’d bothered to look, they would have found that the root of their success lay in making phones which were simple and, moreover, robust. The Nokia 3310 still holds an iconic place in culture due to these characteristics. People called it the “Terminator Phone” – and they still do.
But then along came Apple – the ant to Nokia’s bee. They were a different beast, with a nature that was clearly more premium and more design led. Now in such an ecosystem there is clearly space for both of these kinds of creature. They are doing different jobs, so in a way they aren’t even competitors at all – arguably they actually bounce off each other, strengthening one another’s position. However Nokia didn’t see it like that. They wanted to play both roles in the market, be the ant and the bee simultaneously, and in doing so take all that market share for themselves. So they started trying to build premium, design led phones too. In doing so however they unwittingly abandoned their job in the market, subverted their nature, and tried to copy another business that was much better suited for this purpose than they were.
The result, of course, was extinction.
The sad thing is that there probably remains a Nokia-shaped hole in the ecosystem, but currently there is nobody to fill it. And that’s a real tragedy, because if Nokia knew who they were they could have continued to innovate, but in a really focused way, within their nature, that would have accelerated their success rather than running them off the tracks.
No matter who you are, your company is in exactly the same boat. If you’ve had any success whatsoever, you too have a nature, something you’re doing that serves the greater whole. When you take actions that align with this nature they succeed, but when they don’t they fail. This is how you know whether an innovation will be a success or not, but unlike Nokia you have to be able to clearly articulate this nature first, so you know what fits and what doesn’t.
Figuring this out requires a deep analysis of the history of your company, of what’s worked and what hasn’t, of what different interpretations are at play, and then identifying the core thread that ties them altogether. The result, when you uncover it, is likely to be blindingly obvious, and yet also never spoken before. It’s like that bit in the Matrix, if you’ll permit a dated reference, where Neo suddenly sees all of the code that constitutes the fabric of the world, synchronises with it, and enters a state of effortless flow.
What exercise could be more worthwhile than that? You just need the ability to recognise patterns, perhaps a bit of outside perspective, and your company can share the same effortless intuition that most of the entities in the universe take for granted.
Identifying this nature is what Basic Arts specialises in, so if you aren’t immediately clear on what yours is after reading the above, and if you aren’t confident on how your company balances the market rather than doubling up on what other players are doing, please get in touch for a chat.
Subscribe to The Way to receive regular lessons in strategic thought. With it you'll get:
- A new insight into effective decision making every couple of weeks
- Ideas on strategy in business and life in general
- Bonus material such as downloads and book reviews
- And a free ebook: Effort is the enemy: the 5 philosophical principles of strategy