Published on: April 14, 2015by Michael Sansolo
There was something interesting about the juxtaposition of articles on the front page of the Washington Post one day last week that highlighted the challenge we all have in separating incremental change from disruption. There’s a distinction - we can deal with incremental change, but true disruptions are unsettling, illogical and frequently fatal to the status quo.
It is a distinction to which businesses should pay close attention.
Let’s start with the articles. The first, the lead story in the paper that day, was about Sen. Rand Paul launching his campaign for president. Now I’ve got no skill set to properly judge the senator. I can’t say with any certainty if he’ll meet with success or even if his ideas are truly distinct.
Yet I thought it ironic that he positioned himself as a candidate running against the system even as he started his bid to win clearly inside the system. Remember, he, like his father before him, is seeking the Republican nomination. Paul might feel that is the only path to possible victory, but either way, he’s playing inside the system.
The article below his demonstrated something completely different. It was an examination of the problems cable television companies are starting to encounter at an alarming rate. The problem is the percentage of young people simply cutting the cable and getting television programs through Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, with more choices coming daily. This is something to which we pay a lot of attention here on MNB, because it seems to reflect the kind of change that is taking place in many industries.
It isn't just change. It is disruption, and it is happening precisely because some companies are endeavoring to win by playing outside the established system. (In this case, "system" is exactly the right word, because it is the cable systems that are under attack. In the end, I think it is because the cable companies have delivered a product that has not generated significant levels of customer satisfaction. Though I have to wonder if people are less satisfied with their cable choices or their choices of politicians...)
I think there is a strong parallel between cable companies and food retailers. Think about it: Cable stations offer a stunning array of choices for viewing, but most of us watch barely a handful of stations. I love sports, but even I can’t wade through all the choices of non-stop sports programming I face daily no matter how fast I surf.
Increasingly, my range of channel decisions gets reduced to the same group and the rest become invisible. (Really, I am never going to make it channel 986!) It’s like my trip through the supermarket where, like most people, I buy a small fraction of the 40,000 SKUs available.
That’s why I think the cable disruption is one we need watch. Consumers are finding a way to overturn the system. They are becoming their own curators, essentially building their own collection of channels and programs and eliminating all else.
Self-curating may be more difficult when it comes to buying food, but the growth of limited assortment operators from Trader Joe’s to Dollar General and the looming specter of competition with Amazon has to make you wonder what the next challenge will really be.
What’s more, can we successfully and profitably respond or do we just behave like politicians and talk about it.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, “disruptive is as disruptive does.”
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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