Built To Last

Suppose it’s just not even 20 years ago and you’ve built Prodigy.  You and Compuserve pretty much dominate the on-line world through your dial-in walled gardens.  There’s this new kid on the block – America On Line – who is off on the horizon and the three of you are all running what I like to call the “peep show” model:  the longer users stay connected, the longer the meter runs and the more you take in.  Great business.  Until it wasn’t.

Think it’s only the digital world where disruption is the norm?  I have a lampshade on my bedroom reading lamp.  It was built to stand high heat and repeated removal from the light bulb.  Here’s the thing – the shade wasn’t built with the notion that bulbs change.  But they have – energy saver bulbs have trouble with clip-on shades.  Built to last?

So what if we move to electric cars and we’re all refueling at home?  Do the gas stations shut down?  Probably not – but since they were built to last with a primary single purpose, what becomes of them?

I’ll ask the same question as the Dead in Built To Last

Built to last while years roll past
Like cloudscapes in the sky
Show me something built to last
Or something built to try

As we run our businesses, hard as it may be, we need to do estate planning – what happens after our product in its current form dies.  Even almost 15 years later, companies that are built to last as outlined in this book of the same name ring true to me. The successful companies in the book really had no master plan, and not a lot of structure. The best part was how few divas worked at them. These companies fostered environments in which bright people were encouraged to innovate – try a lot of stuff and don’t worry about the failures (as long as they had some successes).

We tend to be product-centric when we think about being built to last. Maybe we ought to be more focused on our culture and our people? Thoughts?

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