In the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi thriller, Predator, a fearsome alien being utilizes sophisticated weaponry under a cloak of invisibility to systematically kill off a platoon of soldiers in the jungle.
Heavily armed with rifles, machines guns and bazookas, Schwarzenegger’s people seemingly are prepared for any type of conventional combat. But without warning this unforgiving foe appears out of nowhere and destroys everyone – except Arnold, of course.
Imagine a similar scenario in business. You’ve built a strong, successful operation and can hold your own against anyone. Then suddenly you’re ambushed by a competitor you never saw coming. Think Uber. The upstart wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen and now it’s putting a full-court press on the taxi industry.
A recent study from the IBM Institute for Business Value revealed that being sideswiped by a “digital invader” is the biggest nightmare for executives. The survey featured more than 5,200 C-suite leaders representing public and private companies worldwide.
“I can’t begin to tell you how much (they talked about) disruption that comes from an unlikely competitor outside of our industry before we can see the competition coming,” Linda Ban, IBM’s global C-suite study director, told the Washington Post. The number of respondents who expressed concern about outside influences rose from 43% in 2013 to 54%.
The threat is real. In his 2014 book, The Road to Reinvention, author Josh Linkner warns against complacency, suggesting that even the most successful organizations may unknowingly be contributing to their own demise. As an example, Linker cites Polaroid, the former instant film juggernaut that stubbornly refused to embrace digital photography and was forced into bankruptcy in 2001. If you wait to innovate, Linkner says, it’ll be too late.
Adjusting to the competition used to be relatively easy. You’d upgrade your products or services and maybe advertise more. But new technologies and increasing options for consumers have placed enormous pressure on firms to remain relevant. New competitors yet to be identified simply adds another layer to an already formidable challenge.
“Companies, communities and individuals fall for many reasons,” Linkner writes, “but one of the most common – and easily avoidable – is the failure to reinvent.”
While a reinvention mindset must become a part of every company’s culture, you can’t underestimate the importance of customer relationships. In IBM’s survey two years ago, 60% of the executives indicated that customers would be an enormous asset in helping to identify and explore “new trends and technologies.” Yet ironically, only 50 percent of executives in the current study say they utilize customer feedback.
“It’s time to create something fresh and compelling before your competition beats you to it,” Linkner says.
It’s a jungle out there. Just ask Arnold.