Published on: February 7, 2008Now available on iTunes…
To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:
Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe. This is MorningNewsBeat Radio, now available on iTunes and sponsored by Webstop, your first stop for retail website design services.
I was reading the Wall Street Journal online the other day, and a headline leapt out at me. Eight words, and they encapsulated problems faces by many businesses:
In Battle for Dominance, Will Innovation Be Casualty?
In this case, the story was about the $44.6 billion bid by Microsoft to acquire Yahoo! The argument for the acquisition, as expressed by Microsoft in the story, is that such a deal “would lead to a more efficient marketplace by establishing a solid competitor to Google for Internet search and advertising.” Google, not surprisingly, doesn’t agree with that, and is looking for legal ways to prevent the acquisition from taking place…and the folks at Yahoo! seem intent on finding an alternative to Microsoft, though they do seem resigned to the fact that they’re going to be bought by someone.
Now, I gotta tell you, this antitrust stuff is way over my paygrade. But I have to admit that I found a piece in the New York Times last weekend to be persuasive. It argued that Microsoft’s essential business model hasn’t really changed in decades – it is in the software business, churning out new kinds of software in addition to new versions of old favorites, like Office. And, it said, because Microsoft couldn’t innovate its way into the Internet search and advertising business, at least not enough to be competitive with Google, it made some sort of purchase inevitable and even mandatory.
Dennis Berman, of Deal Journal, suggested that the acquisition is fraught with landmines, writing: "In a world where users -- not companies -- are continually innovating and upending the business world, creating an ever-larger bureaucracy does not seem like a guarantee of anything.”
In the broad sense, the general agreement seems to be that because Microsoft has been intent on world domination, it has found itself unable to innovate in areas that will make it increasingly relevant to consumers. The corollary, it seems to me, is that it is difficult, if not impossible, for innovation and dominance to coexist … mostly because dominance requires an entirely different sort of care and feeding than innovation does.
There is a pretty good argument, for example, that this is the trap that companies such as Wal-Mart and Starbucks have fallen into, and both retailers, to varying degrees and in different ways, are endeavoring to reconcile the two impulses and find ways to innovate within the dominance-driven cultures that have evolved. This kind of change isn’t easy.
But it can be done. And I think a pretty fair example of how it can happen was seen at last Sunday’s Super Bowl.
There you had the New England Patriots, bent on complete and utter domination of the competition…even to the point where the evidence seems to suggest that the coach, Bill Belichick, was willing to cheat to get an advantage.
And then you had the New York Giants, a team that few gave a chance to win the game. This is a team that a year ago was this close to giving coach Tom Coughlin his walking papers because he had grown so autocratic that the players hated him. The team was pretty good, but not Super Bowl-quality…and for a while it looked like he was gone.
But Coughlin stayed, and he changed. He became less tough, more open to suggestions, and seemed to have a better understanding that his players needed a different kind of coach than he’d been for so long. He became that coach rather than drifting off into autocratic irrelevance. And I think it is fair to suggest that one of the reasons that the Giants won last Sunday is that they were focused on innovation than dominance…and figured, at some level, that if they innovated enough, the victories would come. And they were right.
Let’s face it. We live in a culture that has long celebrated dominance. Whether you happen to be a football team, a software company, or a retailer, dominance always is the goal. But while dominance can be achieved, every empire comes to an end, and is replaced by something else, something different.
In 2008 and beyond, maybe we all ought to look at things from a new perspective, making innovation the foundational value for our teams, our companies, and maybe even our governments. Then, dominance may evolve from that position…but it will be a dominance that can coexist with the more important value of innovation.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
- KC's View: