“This Is the Way We Always Do It” Is the Most Dangerous Phrase in Business
Updated: Feb 13
Businesses are in constant competition to come out on top. Find out why Elon Musk says constant innovation keeps you in the game.
Imagine that you’re in your regularly scheduled brainstorming meeting. The best creative minds you have to offer are together in one place to do one thing – come up with new ideas.
Yet, no new ideas are forthcoming.
Because you don’t want to do anything new. You’re determined to fall back on the old way of doing things.
After all, “This is the way we always do it.” And it’s always worked before, right?
Except the business doesn’t change.
Unfortunately, that also means that your business stagnates.
Like a river full of debris interrupting the flow of water, your “old ways” impede progress.
While you rest on your laurels like before, your competition flows right by you.
Eventually, they eclipse you and your business dies.
Many famously successful people dared to do things in a new way. They made their mark in history and kept their business on top because they committed to new ideas.
Innovator and genius Elon Musk has this to say:
“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”
So, what happens when you stubbornly stick to your guns about everything?
Take a look at how one successful business went under because they didn’t embrace change…
The Catalogue Shopping Model Collapses
Before the advent of big retailers and online shopping, people shopped with catalogues. And no one did the catalogue shopping model better than Sears, at least not in the United States.
But before you learn about Sears, you need to understand where they started…
In the mid-1880s Richard Sears was a station agent in Minnesota. He also sold coal and lumber on the side, which gave him valuable sales experience.
When a local jeweller rejected a shipment of gold-filled watches in 1886, Sears stepped in. He bought them, sold them at a profit, and even ordered more.
From there, he founded the R.W. Sears Watch Company and moved to Chicago. Sears eventually found a partner in watchmaker Alvah C. Roebuck and they were well on their way to success.
They started with a catalogue that featured jewellery and watches. But it wasn’t long before they branched out beyond their initial offerings and the iconic catalogue expanded to over 500 pages.
Farmers were Sears’ main customer base in the beginning. They didn’t want to deal with the overpriced and understocked general stores of that era. They found the convenience more appealing than going to a physical store.
With the advent of cars, though, came a roadblock in the Sears business model. Why would someone want to order by mail if they could drive to a chain store?
So, Sears compromised and opened retail stores in the 20s. By 1931, those brick and mortar stores outsold the catalogue.
In 1969, Sears had become a retailer mega-giant. But a series of miscalculations with the company’s strategies marks the beginning of the end.
Sears expanded into financial services in the 1980s and launched Discover Card in 1985. They also partnered with IBM and CBS to create the pre-Web online portal, Prodigy.
In 1992, Sears’ revenue was $59 billion so they decided to simplify the company’s structure. That meant that they dissolved their previous acquisitions and partnerships. And by 1999, they started the “return to retailing roots” strategy.
Kmart bought Sears in 2004, both had seen better days. But the combined resources could’ve put the brands above the competition. Yet it wasn’t to be…
Sears had its own niche and it was a community-based market. But instead of focusing on its consumer base, Sears decided to compete against Amazon. The rise of big retailers presented a threat, especially eCommerce stores.
And the Sears model looked increasingly antiquated to consumers looking for online convenience.
They kept doing things the same way that they always did. Eventually, doing “business as usual” worked against them. In 2018, Sears filed for bankruptcy.
Are you still doing things the old way? Check out five reasons why you may want to change that strategy:
Reason #1 – It Stifles Innovation
Innovation is the recipe for success. And there’s no better example of what happens when you refuse to change than looking at what Xerox missed.
In the 1970s, Xerox had its own research centre called PARC or the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. The facility developed many modern computing technologies.
But the shining achievement was in 1973 when they developed a small mini-computer – like a personal computer. They called it Xerox Alto. And it was the first personal computer that never made it to the market.
Senior management put the brakes on the project, proclaiming that the market wasn’t ready for it. They told the PARC team that they’d keep it on the back burner, but they never followed through.
A few years later, a young Steve Jobs took a tour of the PARC facility. It left a huge impression on him and he took that inspiration back to Apple.
As Xerox told Jobs, “We’re not in that business.” And they missed out on a tremendous opportunity because they refused to innovate.
Reason #2 – You Fail to Adapt to New Technologies
You may ask yourself, “Why fix something that’s not broken?”
But embracing change doesn’t necessarily mean that a strategy doesn’t work at all. Rather, it opens up your company to adapt to new technologies. And those technologies can lead to changes that can give you an edge over the competition.
Of course, change is scary. No one wants to do it. And it doesn’t guarantee future success.
But it is necessary for future growth.
Take a look at television, for example…
Since 1948, there were only the big three networks in the US. NBC, ABC, and CBS dominated the airwaves for decades.
But in 1986, a new player entered the stage. Fox became a fourth viable station, and the big three had to change the way they did things.
It didn’t stop there, though.
Cable programming, pay-per-view programming, and digital streaming changed the way consumers watched television. And the networks had to embrace new technologies to stay relevant in the market.
Reason #3 – You’re Telling Your People to Just Do as They’re Told (Rather Than Think for Themselves)
If your business culture rejects encouraging people to think for themselves, you’re missing out on one of the best resources you have. Your team has great ideas, but if you don’t listen to them you may be missing out on great opportunities for innovation.
Try listening to your people for some great ideas. And that extends beyond the leadership team and executives.
Everybody has the potential to offer up some great ideas. But you’ll never hear them if you don’t encourage them to speak up.
Reason #4 – It Prevents You from Examining Your Own Business Model
At the peak of Blockbuster’s success, it’s a household name and a leading authority on all things video rentals. But then in 2000, Netflix came on the scene.
When Netflix was still a new company, its CEO and co-founder had a proposal for Blockbuster’s CEO John Antioco in the form of a partnership. He wanted to handle Blockbuster’s online services. In return, he wanted Blockbuster to manage Netflix’s physical rental inventory.
As you can probably guess, Blockbuster’s answer was an adamant “no”. They wanted to continue focusing on physical rental stores themselves. They even turned down an offer to buy Netflix for $50 million in that same year.
Seven years later, there was a shift in business strategy and new leadership at Blockbuster’s helm. They wanted to get into the online streaming market, but by then it was too late. And in 2010, the company filed for bankruptcy.
Blockbuster had plenty of opportunities to embrace changes and innovate with the times. But they chose to stay where they were instead.
Reason #5 – You Fail to Meet the Needs of a Changing Market
Do you remember the cellular phone brand Nokia?
Back in 2005, it’s the number one company in mobile phone sales. But not for long.
iPhones and Android changed the way that consumers used their mobile devices. Nokia didn’t see this in time, though, to remain in the competition.
They continued to produce great phones. But they couldn’t compare with what other brands like Blackberry, Samsung, and Apple put out.
They lagged behind market changes and paid the price for it.
Remember that past success doesn’t guarantee that your business model will be successful in the future. The market is always changing. So, you may need to take a good look at your own organisation and see if there are necessary changes you need to make.
Grow and Flow to Scale a Business
The business model you started with may have led to your success today. But things change all the time. You need to prepare to change, too, to keep ahead of the competition.
That may mean that it’s time to embrace a culture of innovation for your business. Encourage everyone to come up with new ways of doing things. And follow through on those ideas!
It’s also a good time to re-examine your current business model. Take a look at the world around you. How has the market changed? What are you doing to stay relevant in these changing times?
Lastly, remember that there’s no guarantee that changes will lead to success. But stagnation is a definite road to failure.
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