I recently read an interesting article in the Guardian on the importance of having a Chief Futures Officer. After my immediate “What?!” it suddenly dawned on me. What do the disruptors (Netflix, Vimeo, Amazon, Uber) of the world have in common?
These companies think forwards, so far into the future that I’m probably not even alive in their future vision. They’re thinking about the next big thing, the next piece of technology that will captivate the world. Apple’s rumoured to be looking to developing a car, well that’s years away. Uber probably wants driver-less cars. I can’t wait for that.
So I started thinking about what made Netflix different to other companies who were around when they entered the mainstream. Rewind a few years and Blockbuster was their biggest competitor at the time; they both let you rent movies, it’s just that Netflix was mail order and Blockbuster was in-store.
Then something crazy happened. Netflix launched a streaming service. 2007 for Netflix was not like 2007 foreseen by Blockbuster. Shades of Orwell’s 1984? At the time, Blockbuster was a 22 years old company and in the midst of turmoil as the directors argued over unpaid bonuses, totalling around $7 million.
Just a few years later, and with $1 billion worth of debt, Blockbuster is on the brink of collapse as the then-Director Carl Icahn sells off almost all his shares.
We can learn a few lessons from the demise of Blockbuster, but we’ll only talk about one aspect, agility. The fact that Netflix turned the movie rental market on its head in effectively one day, shows their agility and their determination to succeed as a brand.
The fact that Blockbuster once tried to buy out Netflix for a mere $50 million is a testament to the fact that they were doing something right. Netflix is now worth over $7 billion and is winning awards left, right and centre for original content such as Breaking Bad and House of Cards. This shows that to succeed you have to have the right people, the right culture, but most of all you have got to be agile.
Fast forward a few years, it’s 2015. Amazon and Vimeo are now producing original content - what a surprise - spurred on by Netflix with their multiple awards and press attention. A once online store, Amazon, is now making TV shows.
We have this same agility in our app development & design industry. At Dreamr, we specialise in mobile app development and we are experiencing a shift in how consumers and even our clients consume content and make purchases. Companies who once came to us wanting an on-line store now request mobile apps.
Walk down the street on an average day and you see every Tom, Dick and Harriet glued to their phones, buying things, keeping in touch with friends and consuming their daily lives through a little portal of data.
Sole Supplier, one of our trusted clients, had its market place for trainers, Sole Exchange, created and published on the Apple App Store before even having the website live. Why? Sales made on phones to PCs were 60/40 in 2014. That’s why. The Telemetrics 3rd Annual Mobile Path to Purchase Report detailed 10 billion online visits made on phones in 2014, versus 5.8 billion on PC.
Consumers now have our products in their pockets, they sleep with our products, work with our products, some even shower with them, with an iPhone app allowing you to make instant purchases of electronics, games and even fish food.
You could say that the director of Sole Supplier, George Sullivan, has taken a leap of faith. Actually the fact of the matter is, if he didn’t do it now, someone else would and that’s scary. You have to pause and think of poor Blockbuster, who clearly didn’t take that leap of faith.
It’s not realistic for every company to make uninformed leaps of faith, and as a business owner myself I know that’s not the best thing to do. Making informed decisions about the future is pretty difficult, but that is something a Chief Futures Officer could probably help you with.
When thinking about the future, it’s important to understand that we just don’t know what will happen next and how things will play out, and no matter how much research you do, things can change at the drop of a hat. Competitors can suddenly release a new product (Netflix) and next thing you know, you’re old hat (Blockbuster).
What we can do is keep our finger on the pulse, know our market, know our customers. Be prepared to do or be the next big thing. Otherwise, the future looks bleak. What would you do tomorrow if your competitor launched a product or service bigger and better than yours?
If your Chief Futures Officer could tell you what to do, they would tell you to hire them.
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