Every industry in the history of the world has been upended in some form or fashion. Whether it’s utter annihilation — like, say, horse-drawn buggies vis-a-vis automobiles — or a recalibration in how business is conducted — for instance, Uber changed how we think about, order and pay for on-demand car services/taxis — almost every industry has faced its fair share of insurgents. And, the insurgents often either win outright and displace the incumbent, or the incumbent catches on in time, innovates themselves and quashes the upstart. Or, as is becoming more and more common these days, the bigger companies simply buy the insurgent to quell the uprising.
As the pace of innovation and development has increased, and as the world and its companies become ever more interconnected, this conflict is ever more common for the leaders of their respective industries. It no longer requires decades to overturn an industry — it can be done in months now. So where does that leave companies fighting for their corners of their markets?
For the best ones? It leaves them paranoid. And that’s a good thing.
Innovation is status quo now. Every company is growing and researching and building and learning all the time. Even highly regulated, legacy industries are seeing the influx and improvement only technology can bring. The companies prepared for this reality, who embrace constant change, are poised to come out on top in a big way. And when innovation is commonplace, complacency is anathema.
Now, that’s not to say you should be willing to abandon your core product offerings loved by customers at the drop of a hat — what makes your business you should always be central to your mission. But, the second you lose sight of optimally serving the customer is the second you’re in trouble.
That’s why the best companies are paranoid.
They think of every new technology and rising startup as both competition and a learning opportunity. Anyone with the right combination of product, people and purchasing power can eat your lunch for you if you’re not alert and careful. Every new technology could be your undoing… if you’re not paying attention.
On the other hand, though, those same technological assassins can be your greatest weapon in the market; if you figure out how to harness them in a way that delights stakeholders (customers, employees, shareholders, etc.), they can be massive assets. AI could decimate your company, for instance. Or, you can get out in front of it and figure out how to harness and implement it in such a way that it becomes a competitive advantage over your economic rivals.
The best startups seek to leverage a new technology or service to make users’ lives better, specifically in a way the incumbent players aren’t, or haven’t thought about. The best industry leaders take stock of every new technology and startup to assess how to best react to that new idea or company.
In a world where disruption is imminent, complacency is a silent killer. If innovation is the new status quo, then revolution is always a possibility (I mean a revolution in technology or services, not a military or populist revolution per se). That’s why the best startups go for broke, and the best incumbents maintain a healthy dose of paranoia at all times.