“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” – Flannery O’Connor
I recently conducted a workshop for a group of business people whose industry is in the midst of very rapid, radical change. Without exception, this group has been very successful over the years, but the changes they’re currently experiencing cast some doubt about their ability to remain independently viable in the intermediate to long range future.
As we worked through the afternoon, three clear (and different) schools of thought emerged. About a third of the group felt that the services they provided and the way they provided them were simply perfect. They believed that the customers in their market had lost their way and had forgotten what it was that made the group’s services special. They were pretty certain that because of this, in the long run nobody would want their services (or would want them in a different way) and therefore their industry was doomed.
The second school of thought was that there would always be at least a few people out there who wanted the traditional products via the traditional delivery system and therefore there would always be room for people who delivered that. When it was suggested that the pool they were referring to was shrinking fast, their response was simply that eventually customers would return when they “saw the error of their ways.”
The final third of the group had a different outlook. Their viewpoint was that it really doesn’t matter what you think is special about your service, or how you think it should be delivered, or what you think the customer should value about your service. What matters is what the customers think. They view their long term challenge as trying to understand what customers in their industry want, how they want it, and how their businesses can provide that to them. Guess which group I agreed with?
How do you view the future of your business & industry? Are you a leader who thinks there’s nothing that can be done about your future? Are you a leader who thinks you don’t need to do anything because eventually the customers will be as smart as you are and buy what you’re selling? Or are you a leader who recognizes that markets and industries and customers change, and you have to identify and respond to (or better yet, anticipate) those changes if you want to succeed? Be honest about your future, and be honest about the fact that you can change it. If you honestly do either of those things, then prepare to have your business meet a less than ideal ending.