The best single example of how yesterday’s decisions can kill a business today

pension

If there is one simple example of how what was a good decision yesterday can kill a business today, then it is this. The retirement age and the old age pension:

“When the Government instituted an old age pension for retirement back in 1908, the pension kicked in at age 65. However, the life expectancy was under the age of 60.”

At the time, it was a great decision for the Government. No doubt it was popular, and easy to make the numbers work. Fast forward to today, 2015, and the life expectancy in Australia is 84.2 years for men. It’s now clear there is a problem.

The early decisions organisations make are often what sets them up for long term success. The problem is that sometimes the truth changes. Sometimes the truth on which we set our plan, strategies and even our infrastructure changes. It used to be true that most people didn’t live long past the ‘pension age’, and now it is true that peoples life in retirement could be half as long as their working life. If the government had to make the same decision today, I doubt that they’d come up with the same age to receive a pension.

Many established businesses are like this. They have built successful systems on great decisions made ‘yesterday’. Systems which include offices, staffing, manufacturing, distribution, advertising, new product development, revenue streams, most everything… And so the best question any company facing change can ask is this:

What would we do if we started today?

Why petrol cars will not exist in 10 years

tesla charging

If you haven’t already realised, cars are no longer machines, but rolling computers. This also means that cars will move from being powered by fossil fuel engines to electric motors. It’s already started, and it is going to happen much more quickly than we anticipate. I’d go as far to predict that there will hardly be a petrol car on the road in 10 years. Here’s why:

When cars transition to rolling computers, the Law of Accelerating Returns applies. Innovation goes from incremental and factory-based to curve-jumping and technology-driven. You’ve probably heard of Moore’s Law – the maxim that states that computing power will double roughly every 18 months while prices halve. This maxim and many other accelerating technology laws will apply to the production of cars, laws which make the end product better and cheaper by significant degrees. The revolution which transformed smart phones, cameras, laptops, solar panels and flat screen TVs is about impact the auto industry.  Let’s take the pricing example of the Tesla Electric car range:

1st car – Tesla Roadster:  $109,000 (released 2006)

2nd car – Tesla Model S: $75,000 (released 2012)

3rd car – Tesla Model 3: $35,000 (projected – release due 2016)

Not only has each model been progressively cheaper, but also far better in terms of range (distance per battery charge), safety and features.

It’s the same pricing pattern we saw during the personal computing revolution. Here is where we get an entire curve jump. The Tesla model 3 is so cheap that an electric car is no longer a plaything for Silicon Valley types, but a viable new car option for everyone. This is because the switching costs get very close to zero. Why? Because the running costs of having a Tesla Electric car does not include the cost of petrol. (Tesla already have 453 free super charging stations and the cost to fully charge the battery at home is around $3). This means the average consumer can use their saved petrol money towards acquiring a brand new car without increasing their weekly expenditure. For example:

Model 3 Tesla

  • Cost to buy = $35,000
  • Avg petrol p.a. = $3,120
  • New funds available = 8.9% of purchase price.
  • Avg Cost new car finance = 6-7% unsecured interest rate.

When the Model 3 arrives, it only takes some creative financiers to change the landscape of the auto industry virtually overnight.

Want a new car at no cost?*

*Just give us your weekly petrol bill and drive away in a sexy new high tech Tesla!

It’s when this happens that we transition to an all-electric car world. The transition will be as swift as the smart phone – in a few short years, non-electric cars will be a lot like feature phones.

This is exactly how disruption happens. It’s not the product itself, but often the change in the business model around it which leaves industry incumbents blindsided. When there’s an opportunity for consumers to get into a superior product with low or no switching costs, they will always take it.

Buckle your seat belt.

Australia’s top rated TV show – Do you know it?

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This is Troye. He is the host of Australia’s top rated TV show. He gets more than a million viewers every week. He has been around for a few years now and yet I never see him featured in the Nielsen ratings. I find it curious.

Sure Troye isn’t on channel 7, 9, 10, ABC, SBS or even on Foxtel. He’s on Youtube. But tell his 4.3 million subscribers that he isn’t on TV and you’ll get a dumbfounded look. They might even tell you they already watch it in their lounge room, stream it from their phone to the family flat screen, watch it on their laptop or on any audio visual enabled device. And that’s exactly the point, what is TV? A screen in a lounge room, or something which serves up audio visual content?

The easiest way for any company to get disrupted is to define the market by traditional infrastructure instead of how needs get met.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.

The hidden asset base

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I was speaking with a friend about some of the great quotes from long gone captains of industry. J.D Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Benjamin Franklin and cohort. One quote that got me thinking was this:

“If I went broke, just give me my 5 best people, and we’ll be double the size in 5 years.”

I searched Google, Wikiquotes, Brainyquote and all sorts of places to find who it was with no luck. My buddy said it was JD Rockefeller, but I can’t confirm it is, or even find the quote. In the end it doesn’t even matter. What I do like about it is the layers it carries. Some of which are pertinent in an age of technology disruption.

  • The people around us are more important than ourselves.
  • The business is the people and the culture, not the infrastructure.
  • Business is ephemeral, skills are enduring.
  • It’s easier to grow with a fresh start, than with legacy constraints.

But above all it reminds us that our most valuable asset is what we know. Something which can’t be taken away from us, even when a business falls apart.

Yes, the robots will take your job, but…

Bison Hunter

…there are not that many bison hunters any more.

This is a very short way of saying that all jobs eventually get replaced by technology. Technology will take the role of many white collar jobs, just like machines have taken away many blue collar jobs, just like the plough took away many farming jobs. Technological Unemployment will always be a fixture in human existence – and always has been. It just so happens that it doesn’t sell newspapers (or provide click bait) to tell the truth that new jobs will be created. But it seems like a week doesn’t go past without a new report flagging the end of millions of jobs. So here’s a counter mind jam of some new jobs recently created that no one is writing economic reports on:

UX Designer, App developer, Drone Pilot, Crowd Funding Advisor, Smart Phone Game Developer, Blogger, Podcaster, Social Media Specialist, Wikipedia Moderator, Content Curator, Community Manager, Uber Driver, Airbnb Host, Web Videographer, Youtube Content Creator, Vine Artist, e-Book Publisher, Bitcoin Trader, Bitcoin Miner, E-Commerce Consultant, SEO Specialist, Genetics Counsellor, Sustainability Advisor, Citizen Journalist, MOOCs tutor, Big Data Analyst, Cloud Services Specialist…

And this list is just small sample set from my perspective. I’m sure your industry or worldview could make the list much larger. In fact, there are currently more than 500,000 app developers in the USA alone. A job that didn’t exist pre smart phone.

A simple economic fact is that if a person has $100 in their wallet, it still gets spent. In 1995 $10 of that $100 might have went into getting filmed developed. Now it goes elsewhere, maybe towards the cost of a smart phone monthly fee. The money always gets spent, saved or invested. The allocation just changes. And so do the jobs around those expenditure allocations. If you want to be future proof, I suggest you pay close attention to what your friends are spending their time and money on. It’s always where tomorrows jobs and startup opportunities lie.

The crazy thing about all those ‘new jobs’ above is this: They are all learnable, and mostly for free. All you need is these two assets: (1) The ability to read. (2) A connection to the internet (I’m guessing you have these). But yes, they all take effort. And no, the Government or your Boss won’t save you, or pay you to learn any of them. No one can do your push ups for you. But if you’ll make the effort, the rewards are there. The new jobs, and more importantly ‘business opportunities’ around them are ripe in these realms and they often pay more than job X did yesterday. Guess who earns more: A small screen UX Designer, or a Graphic Designer doing page layouts for a print magazine? Same realm, but a different iteration and attitude to learning. It’s really just a choice between taking advantage of the opportunities, or wishing the world was like yesterday.

Yes, the pace of change is scary. Yes, things are changing at a rapid pace, but it’s never been more possible to up-skill, re-skill or new-skill in the history of humanity. So next time you read a report on the impending doom of your industry, job or financial future, just remember that it is your decision on how it will affect you.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.

The leadership secret no one ever talks about

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And it is this simple maxim:

If you want to be leader of many, then you must first be faithful with few.

One of the most important sentences I learned from the late great Jim Rohn. And it matters in all walks of life and business regardless of our ambitions. The picture above is from an after dinner talk I did recently at a local Rotary Club. One of the things I have done a lot lately is deliver speeches on the technology revolution we are all living through. This is mostly the result of my book. Sometimes I get lucky and get paid to do it at a conference. But often I am also asked by local community groups who are interested in some of my stories. Which is what happened with Essendon North Rotary. It’s events of this size where I first got asked to share a few ideas and learn the craft of public speaking. In the startup community many times I’ve shared some lessons with new entrepreneurs. For more than 10 years I did unpaid speaking with tiny audiences… that is, the few people who had enough faith in me to give me their time so we could both have a valuable exchange. If it wasn’t for this, then I’d never be able to present in larger audiences like this. But on the flip side, we should never forget the few, even if we have the attention of the many.

It raises a few question of how we might behave in a startup:

Do you love the customers you do have? Are you faithful with those who gave you a try before you have any scale? And if you have many followers, do you still take the time to reply to the few who reach out? Do you still support the low profile few who made what you do possible, or just gravitate to the high profile few who you now have access to?

An easy way to test this is to tweet a famous person or brand and see if they respond. If they don’t, then they should be clear they won’t on their profile. I’m not saying every web tool can scale, I’m just saying we should be clear with our audience on what to expect. If you think it isn’t possible, I can tell you that Seth Godin still answers every email himself (he doesn’t tweet). I can also tell you that Cory Doctorow advises in his twitter profile of better ways to reach him. I can also tell you that Skype answers every tweet you send to them.

In the end leadership is about giving thanks and paying homage to the trust you’ve been granted by those prepared to take the journey with you, from the start. But it’s also about not be too ‘big’ to engage with those who helped you get there once you’ve arrived. It’s not easy, but the real job of leaders in the pre and post success era is to bethink both the few, and the many.

Twitter vs Facebook vs Linkedin – is the medium still the message?

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The medium is the message, first coined by Marshall McLuhan has been a staple belief in the world of advertising and communications for a very long period. During the heady days of Mass Media, being seen on TV itself was beacon of success. Products on the shelf would proudly beam ‘As seen on TV’ on their packaging. For only those who sold a lot of their product could afford it, or was it that if you were on it, you’d sell a lot of product? Regardless, the channel a brand appeared in said a lot about its place in the commercial world.

While, it feels like the now infinite number of media channels might make this maxim less true, I’m certain it still applies to a large extent. Ofttimes the context shapes the content.

As far as this blog goes there are some clear patterns. If you’re a regular reader you’ll notice that I have only 3 social sharing buttons at the bottom of a post. One for Twitter, one for Facebook and one for Linkedin. I ditched Google+ because it was just too embarrassing have a share button with no shares. Here’s what I noticed with the sharing of my posts:

Twitter – always gets more shares if the post is tech, startup heavy, recent news commentary or political in nature.

LinkedIn – always gets more shares if it’s about escaping a corporate position, about becoming an entrepreneur, industry disruption, human motivation, selling and horrible bosses.

Facebook – always gets more shares if it’s about personal finance, goal setting, hope, criticism and social issues. Yet, I’m connected to the same people in all these channels.

My takeout of all this? For startups or any business using social forums trying to reach an audience, it is far less about the demographic and for more about the ideology and topic of the particular post. The interest graph is far stronger than the social graph. Now the only question on my mind is what category does this post fall into?

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.