For Tech Companies, Disruption Is the New Normal

An unpleasant reality for businesses of all sizes and shapes is that we live in completely disruptive times. One day you’re taking a taxi to get around, the next day you’re using Uber, Lyft, Sidecar or Zipcar. A decade from now–perhaps even sooner–Uber and other transportation services won’t resemble the services they are today. In fact, Uber is already testing autonomous vehicles.

We’ve already seen an array of once mighty companies disrupted out of business or forced to reinvent themselves in radically different ways. Eastman-Kodak once stood as a worldwide symbol of photography. Its glory days are long past. RadioShack once stood out as the place to buy various gadgets and gizmos. Today it is mired in bankruptcy. And then there are the likes of Blockbuster and Circuit City. Pouf! Gone!

Over the last decade, other companies, while continuing to play a dominant role, have whiffed on opportunities–and market share. Microsoft, for example, once stood as the unequivocal king of personal computing. But radical changes in computing–including a rapid uptick in mobile devices and the cloud–changed everything. Along the way, Redmond fumbled smartphones, car systems, tablets, e-books and media-streaming devices. Consumers have also clicked past Office and its browser, Internet Explorer, in favor of more innovative and open platforms.

The problem at Microsoft, and the problem every organization and CIO must focus on, is avoiding a protectionism mindset. At some point, business leaders wind up with a distorted view of their products or services and the marketplace.

Innovation suddenly takes a back seat, trends go unnoticed and thinking revolves around maximizing sales rather than building the best possible product. There’s no better example of all of this than Redmond’s debacle with Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for the iPad.

It appears that Microsoft is starting to get it and make business decisions that better fit today’s marketplace. We live in an era of open platforms, connected services and APIs. Innovation requires upside down and inside out thinking. Right now, I’m using a preview version of Office for Mac and it’s genuinely impressive, both visually and in terms of features. It’s also great to use the program on an iPad without heavy-handed restrictions. However, I’m pretty sure Microsoft would have captured greater mindshare and market share if it had recognized a basic reality a lot sooner: in the digital age, the old rules and conventional thinking no longer apply.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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