Going off piste, the benefits of experimentation
I’m not sure if sliding down a mountain is a great analogy for making a case about changing the way you do business, but bear with me, because at the end of the article it’ll all make perfect sense.
"When you're finished changing, you're finished."
Not a quote from the latest tech startup, but the words of Benjamin Franklin. The idea of changing the way a business operates to stay ahead isn’t a new one, it’s just more pressing now. Markets are being disrupted by technology and being able to innovate (if you can forgive me using that word) is critical to survival. So why aren’t more companies doing it?
Change is expensive...
Lots of companies have a ‘this is how we do it; change means upheaval and that means cost’ mentality. The truth is, if you don’t keep moving you will most likely have a bigger cost to pay.
The music industry is almost the pin-up boy of disruption. The big players thought they were in the business of selling CDs when in actual fact they should’ve been in the business of selling music. Since then they have clung to copyright as their liferaft, but even this feels like an echo of DiCaprio’s final scene in Titanic as he slowly sinks into the depths.
Innovation however, can be seen everywhere, from players like Spotify and YouTube, through to artists, big and small.
Advertising and marketing costs to launch a major artist’s album are usually huge. The media space alone can be hundreds of thousands (or millions worldwide). The cost for launching Beyonce’s latest album was a 612 Pixel x 612 Pixel square image.
She announced it on Instagram and it went to number one everywhere. Admittedly this only works for about four artists on the planet, but it highlights the power and freedom a successful artist who understands digital can weald. Social reach trumped advertising spend, and having a gazillion followers on social media meant that it was a viable channel of experimentation.
Doing the opposite
Once you engage with the idea that change is an opportunity then anything is possible. I love the Wu Tang Clan’s recent approach. Just make one album, literally one album, then charge people to come to a touring exhibition where you can listen to it being played. Maybe not the future of music distribution, but a great news story.
Pivot and grow
It is interesting to see how lean and agile methodologies are creeping into mainstream business. They're being used as both an engine and measurable way of delivering change into a business. A big part of that movement is understanding customers. Not whether they like blue or black in a focus group but finding out what it is they’re trying to achieve. Henry Ford famously never said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” and this is used as a way of besmirching the idea of user research. However, if Henry had pressed on and asked Why do you want a faster horse? then they would’ve likely said “To get from here to there quicker”. Bingo - you have your job to be done. Now whether that's a Model T Ford, a bike or hyperloop - they all help complete this job for the customer. Innovating a way of doing this better than anyone else is what will give you a competitive advantage.
For the companies that don’t have massive social media reach or kudos within the industry, focusing on the job to be done allows change to be an engine of growth.
GoPro is now a huge company with avid fans and one of the most viewed YouTube channels in the world, it started out less than 10 years ago as one guy selling wrist straps. The reason for the growth is that the wrist straps were a way to fix a camera to yourself so you could film extreme sports like skiing. The job to be done was ‘How can I film stuff whilst flinging myself down a mountain?’. From wrist straps to 35mm cameras, from 35mm to digital, the change has been incremental, but always driven by a desire to make it easier to do the core task using the tools available. The tools and the times change but the goal is the same. If Kodak had concentrated on capturing memories, rather than flogging different types of film, they might have fared a little better.
No-one knows what the future holds but people generally want the same jobs to be solved, whatever the decade. What will change however, and at an ever increasing rate, is the way in which these problems get solved. If you’re not changing you risk being left behind. So why not experiment? Do something unusual and see what happens. Be like GoPro. Go off piste.