Sep 24, 201301:37 PMPoint of View

An Era of Choice

An Era of Choice

Courtesy Chris Smith/ Out of Chicago

(page 1 of 4)

We’re well into a knowledge era, but its full effects may not yet be upon us. We need new lenses to chart the course for a new era.

Like the industrial revolution before it, the knowledge revolution is already changing our lives in profound and unexpected ways. We now understand that much of the information technology revolution has merely allowed us to do old things in new ways. Much more needs to change. It’s helpful to know where we’ve been and where we might be going.

The industrial revolution led society out on era of scarcity into an era of abundance. Companies were built for scale, employing the technologies and strategies of the day to create enough supply to meet a rapidly growing demand. That revolution took many years, largely because of slow communications. Today we don’t have that problem. In fact our technically advanced societies are rapidly coming to the close of the industrial age.

Technology and globalization are carving out new landscapes. Web era darlings like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Twitter are easy examples of companies writing a new playbook. Meanwhile, brand leaders like Nike, Apple, Starbucks, and Disney are 
doing something similar – experimenting with new models for creating and delivering value. It starts with selling books or music online, but it ends up transforming publishing and music. The promise of ubiquitous mobile computing and Internet-enabled objects, self-driving cars and mapping the human genome, offer new opportunities for how we live.

Like a frog in water coming to a boil, these seismic changes can be slow motion shocks to a business, until they kill it. Many companies show symptoms of stress as they experience stiffer competition, higher customer expectations, and changing market dynamics. Strategic planning has moved from 10-year horizons to 3 years, to today when we question if strategic planning can help at all. A default mode is to pedal harder. While this strategy may work for now, it’s not sustainable.

Strategic models are useful lenses to enhance understanding, but too often models get confused with reality. The map is not the territory. Strategic planning may be in question because the strategic models are out of date, or need to be updated.

Just do it: Nike’s FuelBand represents a category 
reframe from shoes to athletics, enabling 
a new kind of offering.



A common denominator is that these firms are not bound by their category. Industry language and measurement often define, and result in, limiting a company’s perceived ability to change. While not every industry has the fluidity of the tech sector, category boundaries are often self- imposed. Indeed, how to reframe one’s category or industry to better contextualize and optimize for today’s customer is a key objective for company leaders today.

When Nike acquired Cole Haan, it thought of itself as a shoe company. Today, it has divested itself from a tangent shoe segment in order to pursue athletics directly. Its mission is to bring “inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” Identifying its user’s terrain (athletics) and marking its territory (inspiration, innovation, global), enabled Nike to move into consumer electronics (Nike+), or even health. Customers choose Nike because it’s about athletics, not just shoes.

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