The times they are a-changin’

Dan-Bobinski

Change happens all the time, but sometimes it happens faster than others. This is one of those times. The tumultuous presidential election season has resulted in change, and wise is the person who keeps an eye on the horizon. In the business world, learning to adapt to change is often fundamental to survival.

Remember Blockbuster, the video rental store? They were at their peak just 12 years ago with 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees. But then Netflix and Redbox entered the picture, and now Blockbuster is a fond memory. All of Blockbuster’s corporate stores closed long ago, and, as of this writing, only 11 of their franchise locations are still in operation. 

Hollywood Video encountered the same winds of change, but they simply closed all of their stores quickly and let everyone go.

Perhaps you also remember Waldenbooks and Borders book stores. Just six years ago the company that owned these two brands had nearly 20,000 employees at almost 700 locations. But they, too, shut down operations because they couldn’t find a way to keep up with changes occurring in the book industry.

Then there’s the department store, Kmart. Twenty-five years ago they were the second-largest retailer in the country. Today Kmart is a ghost of its former self, with most of its stores closed and their annual sales are less than 4 percent of Walmart’s numbers.

The common thread in all of these examples I’ve listed is failure to make appropriate adaptations to changing market conditions. To succeed in surviving change, I firmly believe it’s necessary to have an attitude of focused flexibility. By this I mean staying focused enough on what’s working for you now while making contingency plans for how to change or adjust your operations based on emerging trends.

Take Apple, for example. Fifteen years ago they were known as Apple Computers, and they were struggling to gain market share against the IBM clones, the most predominant of which was Microsoft. Thinking long term, Apple Computers marketed heavily to school districts, giving discounts to that market in the hopes of raising up a generation that was familiar with and therefore preferred Apple’s computers. Microsoft took the route of marketing to government agencies. Why? Because if you did any business with the government, it pretty much had to be done on one of Microsoft’s platforms.

I recall an industry expert telling me at the time that Apple had only about eight percent of the computer market, and he was pretty confident they would never increase much beyond that.

As we now know, that industry expert was wrong. Steve Jobs had his eye on the horizon, and he shifted his company’s business model to capitalize on emerging trends in consumer electronics. In 2007 he even dropped the word “computer” from the company’s name because they no longer limited themselves to merely computers. As a result of Jobs’ vision, the world is now flooded with iPods, iPhones and iPads, and Apple has changed the world of computing – and the world of cellular phones – forever. And now, in 2016, Apple has 40 percent of the global market share in mobile phones and the iPod is the standard device for delivering mobile music.

Unfortunately for Apple, the iPad has not maintained its dominance in the market. Five years ago it owned the market with a 90 percent share of all tablet devices. That number is now down to 20 percent.  It would seem that Tim Cook, the new head of Apple, has not shown himself as capable as Steve Jobs when it comes to interpreting what he sees on the horizon.

All that said, we need to keep in mind that “the horizon” means looking at more than market trends. One must also keep an eye on changes in government regulations. For instance, the Affordable Care Act added new layers of federal oversight in the health care industry. Some things that health care providers used to be able to do are no longer allowed, and if they’re found to be doing them, the result is heavy fines. That can seriously impact an organization’s bottom line!

Government regulations can also be confusing. For example, the United States has approximately 56,000 retail pharmacies. These pharmacies are overseen by state regulations, but the companies that make and distribute the drugs sold by these pharmacies are overseen by two different federal agencies: the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. And separate from the regular pharmacies are the nation’s 3,000 compounding pharmacies. Interestingly, they’re regulated by all three: the states, the FDA and the FTC.

Whether one likes it or not, government regulations can appear and disappear with very little notice, and these changes can greatly impact the way one does – or does not do – business.

Here’s one thing that you can count on to be consistent: Change will always occur. Sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes it’s not. But if you think about it, most folks you know probably prefer traveling by airplanes and automobiles than by steam locomotives and horse-drawn buggies. And how many people would want to give up the Internet and email? How many want to give up mobile phones and go back to using only land lines with curly phone cords attached to a unit on the wall?

You can also look at your own industry. What improvements have been made in the past 10 years? The past 20? Would you want to go back to doing things the way they were done 40 or 50 years ago?

Along the way in these past decades, people have seen changes looming on the horizon and made adjustments to foster improvement for their organization’s survival as well as growth. This is what I’m saying we need to be doing now. The amount of change we’re experiencing these days is ever-increasing, so looking out at the horizon and adjusting accordingly is a necessary action for any company that wants to be around 10 years hence.

The times are definitely changing. Where will you put your focus? 

Dan Bobinski is president of Workplace-Excellence.com and Everything-Training.com. As a consultant, speaker, and trainer, he helps organizations of all shapes and sizes on issues of team building to create excellent workplaces. He is also the author of numerous books, including the best-selling “Creating Passion-Driven Teams.” Reach him at dan@workplace-excellence.com.