By the time we reach the point where we can read and comprehend, we begin to identify with measures of success. Perhaps, it is the success of a team in your favorite sport. When the word "dynasty" is added to the conversation, the level of success is elevated even higher. This typically translates into being proud to support the cause. With the sport metaphor, this is when even the casual fan begins to spend additional money on apparel or collectibles.
Unfortunately, it is at this same level where the negativity begins to creep on to the scene. Arrogance is typically the first to present its ugly head. I am sure most of us have that "friend" who doesn't need a reason to boast about his favorite team, product, or even technology.
This is no different in the corporate world. Below are some thoughts I recall hearing during my career in Information Technology:
"We currently have over 90% of the market and will be here for the foreseeable future."
Highly popular Network Operating System solution in the 1990s.
"On a nightly basis, each of our stores are dropping (insert huge number here) dollars into their drop safe across our 9,000 stores. No one will ever touch us."
Well-known rental establishment for a few solid decades.
"Most corporations around the world are using our devices, 80 million in all. The sky is our only limit."
Household name in the mobile device market.
While I won't name the corporations who's employees made these claims, it is probably pretty easy to figure out whom I am talking about. Like the sport metaphor I noted above, all three were leaders at the time. All three truly felt that nothing would ever bring them down.
In fact, their attitude made communications quite difficult. Evidently, this was considered okay, because they were the leaders — with no thought of a future where that would not be the case. In my role, I was reaching out to each for either support or reference information. In every case, the conversations were painful, simply because of their attitude and mindset. I believe a good portion of the conversation was hearing about their greatness, with a portion of the call dedicated to the actual reason for the interaction.
Where Are They Now?
These market leaders later faced challenges, which introduced a new reality for them:
Company #1, which maintained 90% of the Network Operating System market in the 1990's, no longer plays in that market. After market share dwindled, they stopped producing their software.
Company #2, which had 9,000 stores with 60,000 employees, simply no longer exists. They were initially aquired by another company, who also gave up on their concept.
Company #3, which had tens of millions of devices in use, is now considered a niche player with only a fraction of the market share they once maintained. Their market share continues to decrease year after year.
How Did This Happen?
While I don't think attitude is the reason why each of the three companies fell from being the market leader, I do believe the arrogance factor did have an impact on their ability to continue to innovate. When a lack of innovation is placed next to competitors driven to acquire market share, this typically equates to an unfortunate future for the once market leader.
I provided three examples that were almost household names, certainly household names for technical houses. But, I probably could have easily sited several more examples, in the Information Technology industry alone. Stepping outside of Information Technology only presents more examples that can be found. The crazy part about this whole concept is that history continues to repeat itself again and again.
Will Market Leaders Always Been Doomed?
Just because you are a market leader, does not always translate into falling a victim to the misfortunes noted above. In fact, there are some market leaders who have continued to remain on top for years, if not decades. While I have still seen an arrogance factor, the willingness to continue to innovate remains as the primary key to their success.
Research and advisory firm Gartner has created and branded their Hype Cycle to represent maturity, adoption and social application of technologies. At the end of the cycle, is the Plateau of Productivity phase, which eventually begins to fall as time passes. Without a new development or innovation in the Technology Trigger phase, the consumer will ultimately seek other options.
I believe this parallels what happened to the three companies I noted at the start of my article:
Company #1 was faced with intense competition in the Network Operating System market and failed to innovate their product to beat their competition.
Company #2 realized that their industry was changing too late and did not provide a manner to remain in the number one spot.
Company #3, like Company #1, could not handle the competition of a growing market and did not introduce enough functionality or innovation to hold their leader status.
I would enjoy hearing your comments and thoughts on this topic. Which market leaders did you think are in danger of falling victim to this horrible fate? Conversly, which market leaders do you believe maintain the right focus to remain as leaders in the future?
Have a really great day!