Fear, Comfort, and the Future of Your Business

Do you need to change? Does your business need to change? Is success just slightly out of your reach because you are unwilling to question the basic assumptions of how you serve your market?

Often in business, we try to predict the future by looking at the past. And this is why established companies sometimes miss out on innovations. There was a great quote in this week’s episode of Mad Men:

“A new idea is something they [the customer] don’t know yet, so of course, it’s not going to come up as an option. You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved.”

For example, researchers studying the Class of 2014 say that students don’t use email because it is too slow. How could this present day behavior of these students change how we communicate in the future? Companies banking their future on email as the primary communication tool of their market may miss an opportunity because they didn’t even consider that email is “slow.”

Seth Godin talks about how we deal with fear by surrounding ourselves with what is already known:

“A lot of entrepreneurs get an MBA because they are afraid to go out into world without one. They are seeking the reassurance a credential will bring them, even though the cost is huge and there’s no data to indicate that they’ll be more successful as an entrepreneur as a result.”

How much does fear drive your career and business? How many decisions are based on an existing comfort level with the products or services, the sales process, the customer segment? Are new ideas rejected because they are bad ideas, or because they ask uncomfortable questions?

If you wait until you realize you need to change, it may be too late. The New York Times explored this with Netflix:

“Netflix tries to avoid creative destruction by experimenting with new models well before they need to, and well before the old model has lost steam.”

And Mike Masnick picked up on the theme:

“This is, of course, the typical Innovator’s Dilemma, but it helps explain why so few companies are able to survive the innovator’s dilemma. Even if they know about it, they think they can wait. They think that they shouldn’t invest heavily in those new technologies and new markets until there’s a clear path to profitability, or a clear plan for how it “replaces” what’s already there. The problem is that by the time they have the answers to those questions, it’s too late.”

As the media landscape continues to shift, each company, each employee will have to confront their own comfort level with new ideas, with whether the future will look anything like the past.

Let me know if you think I can help.