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When I ask this question of clients, I usually get one of two answers: “my largest competitor” OR “the economy”.   Either of those might be your biggest fear, but your biggest fear should be…what you don’t know!

Why is the unknown something to fear?

Most big shifts in the economy or society, the kind that put companies out of business or are transformative for an industry, are usually in blind spots.  They come from companies that weren’t previously in our space or are using new business models, often driven by new technology.  They are disrupters that you don’t see coming.  Here are some events that changed, or are still changing, the future for other companies:

  • FedEx transformed how we ship packages and hit USPS hard. Not only did no one see it coming, the business plan was laughed at when submitted in a college course.
  • Publishing companies are struggling with the advent of digital communication.   Printed greeting cards, invitations, newspapers, magazines are all significantly challenged by digital access to information.
  • Traditional religious denominations are threatened by declining membership, as people are either becoming unchurched or flocking to non-denominational churches. This trend appears greatest with young people.
  • Senior living care facilities are struggling to re-define their models based on changes in attitudes and needs of their customers (which include a commitment from seniors to retire on their terms and not live in an “old people’s home”). To date, the market is open, as there doesn’t appear to be a clear winner in a new model.
  • Ebay and Craigslist are the new want ads.
  • Apple now has the most popular phone, although they originally were in the computer industry, not the cell phone business.
  • Netflix and Red Box replaced Blockbuster

Why don’t companies see these coming? And if they do, why aren’t they responding in a significant way? It is important to keep an eye on the horizon for trends and shifts that will impact your industry and always be willing to challenge the status quo.

How to avoid becoming obsolete

One way to avoid being blind sided by such shifts is through data collection and analysis. You know the problems that you can solve for people; you need to know how people prefer to solve those problems now, and what is changing.  If, for example, Blockbuster had been paying attention to how people went about bring entertainment into their homes, they might have started paying attention to the internet, and the new kind of content that was beginning to appear there.

Define your business as the problems that you solve for people, and make sure you know what other options are available to solve that same problem.  What was available yesterday may not be as appealing as what is available today, or may soon be available.  Have confidence in your data, and avoid the blindspots.

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