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Facilitating change: Don’t confuse your product with your business

by Adrian Segar

How do you facilitate change? In this occasional series, we explore various aspects of facilitating individual and group change.

AAPL vs MSFT

At any point in time, our businesses have a range of products and services available to customers. We have worked hard to develop and market these products, struggling to create something unique that can be distinguished from those of our competition.

There is a trap that’s easy to fall into, a trap baited with a simple truth about human nature.

We fall in love with what we create.

The trap of falling in love
When we’re in love, we want everything to stay the same forever. Times are good, we have created something wonderful and we want it to last.

But in business (and life too) nothing stays the same. Our competitors see what we have done, and if it’s successful, copy it and work to co-opt, improve on, or commodify what was once uniquely ours.

The need for continual business growth
Just as the best human relationships are those that provide the possibility for each person involved to challenge the others to grow, the most functional and successful businesses are those that are able to challenge the current status quo they have made and build something new, even at the cost of moving on over time from what they once created and loved.

Consider Apple, maker of the iPod, the most successful music player. Did Apple, having defined and owned the category, focus on building better and better music players? No; they made incremental improvements while pouring energy into the development of the iPhone, a whole new product area that, while eventually cannibalizing Apple’s iPod sales, made far greater profits than if they had stayed with what they first built.

The same lesson holds in the world of consulting. As my mentor Jerry Weinberg puts it: “Give away your best ideas.” Novice consultants are often fearful of losing the secret sauce they have concocted. Veteran consultants—and there are many novice consultants who never become veterans—have learned that when you teach your clients to handle future similar problems themselves, they’ll appreciate your generosity and are more likely to give you further work or favorable word-of-mouth.

Fall in love with what you do
Since 1998, Microsoft put its resources into incremental improvement of its cash cow products, to the expense of its efforts to create innovative new products. The result—a stock price that has not changed significantly over the last fourteen years. (Apple, whose stock price has increased 50x over the same time period, will suffer the same fate if the company doesn’t continue to innovate.)

If you want to be successful in the long term don’t confuse your product with your business. Fall in love with what you do not what you create, and you will be able to move on from the successes of your past to the successes in your future.

  • Heidi Thorne

    Yes, this is a very tempting trap to fall into. (Been there, done that!) But here’s a good way to see the folly in it. Drag out or dig up some of the work you did maybe 5, 10 or 15 years ago–even 2 years ago–and look at it from the perspective of today. Is it even relevant? Does it even seem silly or nonsensical? I’ve done that and sometimes think, “What the hell was I thinking?” Sure, we can only make decisions with the mind and knowledge that we have at any given point in time. But creating cheaper, better, faster iterations is not innovation. Excellent post, Adrian!

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