New Year, New Strategy  

POSTED BY Ben Little AT 8:15 A.M. Jan 9, 2012

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No new typewriters will be produced in 2012.  This may seem no surprise to most, except that this will be the first year with no new typewriters since the machine was invented.  The last production line closed down just this past year:

On the one hand, this shows quite poignantly why innovation is important.  All technology has a shelf life, whether it ends outright or becomes a commodity.  On the other hand, it shows that destructive innovation is not something that happens in a flash.  It takes a long time for some technology to meet an end.

While the fate of the typewriter may have been apparent for some time, other technologies out there have more obscured and ambiguous futures.  Computer storage faces the cloud.  Tablets, e-readers, phones, computers, gaming devices, and televisions are constantly stepping on each other’s toes.  Even business models, like just about anything in media, seem a bit up in the air.

So, how do you know if your product is a typewriter?  Do you have a plan?

Each situation is different, but I can share how some of our clients have gone about managing for the uncertainty of the future:

Technology Forecasting – There are some things you can’t know about the future of your technology.  However, there are several things you can know, such as what your existing competitors are up to.  Buried in the IP, company news, advertising, and product line is an expression of countless strategy conversations held by your competitors.  There is no reason you shouldn’t know about the things that are publicly observable.

Scenario Planning – Specific actions of competitors are one thing, but macro-environmental changes to your market are another.  Scenario planning allows you to test the flexibility of your business model.  Is your organization balanced and flexible enough to pivot towards whatever the future brings, or are you relying on particular outcomes to succeed?

Consumer Insights – Planning for unknown future competitors is not something you can do by keeping an eye on every potentially relevant technology or business model.  The thing about disruption is that you didn’t see it coming, otherwise you wouldn’t be calling it disruption.  The best place to observe this part of the future is to know your customers in a way that isn’t the traditional survey about how you’re doing.  You really need to understand what is driving them and what problems they face so that you can understand what might make them switch to an unforeseen competitor or technology.  Once you have that insight, you can start to compete against your future competitors, even if it means competing against yourself.

The problem with all of these approaches is that they are susceptible to contamination and every form of cognitive bias when you carry out the footwork yourself.  The natural momentum of strategy, especially successful strategy, can incline you against destructive or radical innovation.  Your momentum is one competitive advantage of your new-to-the-market competitor, who arrives unencumbered by success.  For the most honest answers to your questions about the future, ask for input from the outside.   Bring customers, collaborators, and experts into the process and, if you have the budget, add in professional skill sets like ethnographers and strategy analysts.  Use all that outside input to challenge your own view of the future, and build a more resilient strategy from the effort.

No typewriters were harmed in the making of this article.

ipCapital Group, Inc. (ipCG) specializes in the strategic use and management of innovation and intellectual property. If you'd like to learn more about our approach to technology forecasting and scenario planning, contact Ben Little at 802-859-7800 x256 or We can recommend some good ethnographers too.

TAGS: Disruption | Innovation | Strategy
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