“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin
I remember a certain case study from back in business school. The narrative revolved around one of the most successful slide rule companies Pickett Eckel, Inc and how they were blindsided by a technological change. At their peak, they were one of the best producers of slide rules, an ancient technology for making calculation that you may have heard of.
Anyone who job involved mathematics or engineering used a slide rule to improve accuracy and to increase the speed of calculations. In the 1960’s, slide rules were the gold standard in computing and they were even used in the Apollo missions to the moon alongside computers with less power than yesterday’s cell phones. At that time, companies in the slide rule industry had already perfected the manufacturing and technology, and they were merely fighting it out for brand preference and market share.
Perhaps they were too comfortable or naive, but it appears that they failed to realize what they offered was not the best slide rules- they offered the best calculators. Though it is extremely complicated to change direction with so much time investment in one direction, it’s necessary for survival. You see customers have always wanted the best and most affordable technology to aid in their everyday lives. For computing into the early 1970’s, slide rules were the go-to. Had Pickett Eckel taken the time to do a regular inventory of their competitive advantage and threats, they would have smelled electronic calculators from a mile away…
“In the July 1968 The Electronic Engineer, authors Hermann Schmid and David Busch wrote about: ‘An Electronic Digital Slide Rule – If This Hand-Sized Calculator Ever Becomes Commercial, the Conventional Slide Rule Will Become Another Museum Piece.’ The article goes on to say: ‘The Electronic Digital Slide Rule (EDSR) of the future not only will be smaller and easier to operate than the conventional slide rule, but it will also be more accurate.'” Source
They knew everything about their technology and nothing about calculators, which would be their undoing. By the time they were listening, it was too late and their technology was relegated to museums.
Whether you’re a small fish in a big pond, or the top dog in your industry, this sad story doesn’t have to become your story. Through the internet, you now have access to the advent of technology. Any blindsiding technology in your industry can be anticipated with a keen eye for change and the willingness to do what it takes to roll with it. There’s are reason why Microsoft is focusing on mobile with Windows 8 after decades on top of the desktop marketing, or why Facebook is scrambling to monetize their mobile apps. They see the mobile threats coming and aren’t sitting idly by.
Spend the time to leverage the information superhighway and read from the millions of sources around the globe about what is coming. The collective mind shapes the world of the future and it is smarter than you are- trust that being a “know it all” will be your undoing. In the words of Socrates, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Start from there, see the calculator coming, and adapt to the world before your smaller and more agile competitor knocks you off the pedestal.