Most of us know the story of Rip Van Winkle, the up-state New Yorker who fell asleep for twenty years, sleeping through the American Revolutionary War and awaking to find shocking changes. Living today and thinking about “Internet Years,” perhaps the amount of change that Rip Van Winkle experienced in twenty years would now occur in just three years, perhaps even less! If you do not think that drastic changes can occur in just three years, look around at the gadgets in your home or do a quick Google search reading about unexpected current events that happened within the past three years. Did you know about Uber or Fitbit three years ago? There is no reason to believe that the rate of change will decrease over the next three years. In fact, it probably will accelerate.
There is no reason to believe that your customers and competitors as well as the entire business climate will not experience changes during this time. Your company will, by default, also experience changes. Those changes may be based on your actions or your inactions, or they may be caused by others. As described in a number of other articles in this collection, a coin flipped in the air is only stationary for a brief period of time between the time it stops moving upwards and then begins to fall to the ground. Gravity is constant, but there is no guarantee that the competitive landscape will be constant. Quite simply, stagnation, as defined as the lack of movement, rarely occurs. Will your market share and revenue be increasing or decreasing? What about your profitability? Will you be relying on the same customers, selling them the same goods and services? Will your customers be moving into different markets, products, or applications? Will you be competing with today’s competitors or will new competitors appear in the market? Finally, will your current competitive advantages and core competencies still be differentiating factors that you can rely on?
All of the previous questions should make you stop and think. Of course, it is not possible to predict the future with 100% accuracy. On the other hand, ignoring the fact that change is inevitable makes no sense. The articles in this collection, “What Just Happened” and “Blindsided” also discuss this topic and the inevitable fact that changes that will occur whether you consciously or unconsciously decide to consider them or not.
One of the most overlooked key indicators about the future is, quite often, readily available to you. It involves simply asking your existing customers about their views of their future. It is remarkable how forthcoming most customers will be if you simply ask them about their plans. Of course, you should not expect them to share detailed information of their strategic plans. However, if you phrase your request in terms of trying to understand how your company can better serve them, they are likely to share insight with you that you could easily have missed. The more your customers view you as a business partner or trusted advisor, the more likely they are to share information with you. Don’t rely on your dreams or discovering what has happened when you wake up to the new reality like Rip Van Winkle. Stay awake and, in a business sense, stay alive.