If You Want to Survive, Reinvent Your Company

Last Updated May 25, 2011 9:06 PM EDT

If You Want to Survive Reinvent Your CompanyEver wonder what it's like to run marketing for a company like Mars? The world's leading confectionery company launches a new candy bar, what, every twenty years or so? Wow, how boring can you get?

Contrast that with the food services industry. In an interview with Food Network chef Robert Irvine - host of Dinner: Impossible and Worst Cooks in America - the culinary dynamo said the average restaurant lasts about three years. So restaurant owners and chefs are constantly reinventing their establishments and menus.

When I heard that, it suddenly hit me. Ten years ago, we used to say that business was changing at Internet speed. But that speed hasn't remained constant, it's accelerating. In other words, business and markets aren't just changing at a faster rate; the rate of change is also increasing over time.

Here's some hard-hitting evidence that the rate of business change is indeed accelerating, and, more importantly, what that means to everyone reading this:

  • Products and services are going viral and achieving higher rates of adoption at ever faster rates. Products like Apple's iPhone and iPad are blowing away adoption rates of DVDs and Sony's Walkman, for example.
  • It only took Apple - a nearly bankrupt computer company - ten years from launching its first retail store and non-computer product to become the world's most valuable brand. On its current trajectory, Apple will overtake giant Samsung as the world's largest consumer electronics company by the end of this year.
  • Google achieved a $100 billion market valuation just seven years after its founding. Two years later, it became the most valuable brand in the world. Now it's listed as a verb in the dictionary.
  • Smartphones, a category that barely existed a few years ago, is now the second largest consumer electronics category in the U.S. behind TVs. Apples' iPad is expected to be the fourth biggest category in only its second year of existence.
  • Remember how hot Digg, Delicious, and Reddit were just a few short years ago? They're more or less has-beens, now.
  • In the mean time, Twitter went from zero to over 500 thousand new accounts and 150 million tweets per day in five years. Facebook achieved 100 million active users in four years and 500 million active users in six years. Incredible.
  • Companies are being founded, getting funded, rising like rocket ships, and plateauing faster than ever before. The Yahoo rocket ship plateaued in 11 years and hasn't budged in five years. Even eBay, with a category all to itself, has seen its revenue growth flatten out in recent years. And there was a time when Dell looked invincible as the world's top PC maker. That reign didn't last very long. And revenues have been flat for over four years.
  • Then there's the personal computer, arguably the most important single product in history, lest we forget that none of these companies would exist without it. Computer giant IBM went from inventing the PC to nearly going out of business and then reinventing itself in just 12 years. Now it doesn't even make PCs anymore.
  • Microsoft and Intel continue to achieve record revenues and profits off PC hardware and software sales, but the once-venerable Wintel duopoly is considered largely irrelevant these days. After a meteoric rise, both company's share prices have been flat for more than a decade.
What does all this mean? Three things, and they apply to each and every one of you:
  1. While the market for candy bars and soft drinks may not change as fast as consumer gadgets and social networking sites, the rate of change is accelerating for everyone and every company in every market. This is a broad global phenomenon.
  2. If companies don't stay on top of what's going on in their markets, with their customers, with competitors, and with the infrastructure they depend on, they'll surely be left behind. Today's high-flyers will be tomorrow's flat-liners and the following day's bankruptcy filers.
  3. Strategic planning takes on a whole new meaning as companies and executives can no longer afford to rest on their laurels, not even for a year. Instead of thinking of strategy and reinvention as big, revolutionary change, think of it as Kaizen - the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement. If not, you'll be reinventing yourself, and your resume, on LinkedIn.
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