People often say that in today’s business environment where innovation is accelerating, competing in business is like running a race.
In a race and in business, there are winners and losers.
Actually, to be more precise, in every race there’s exactly one winner and many losers. The person who first crosses the finish line reaps the lion’s share of the glory and the prize money. To the runners-up go the scraps, and the competitors in the back of the pack may get nothing at all.
What often makes losing more painful is that the difference between winning and losing can be very slight. In real life, many races are won by the narrowest of margins.
It’s true—the winner is often separated from the losers by just one step.
In Rio in 2016, Usain Bolt won the 200-meter race with a time of 19.78 seconds. The second place finisher, Andre de Grasse, finished at 19.80 seconds. That’s two one-hundredths of a second slower—literally the length of one stride! And yet there was only one winner—one champion—and few people recognize the name of the second-place finisher.
Even marathon races can have amazingly close finishes. In the 2017 New York City Marathon, Geoffrey Kamworor, a native of Kenya, won the men’s competition with a time of 2:10:53, a scant three seconds ahead of second-place finisher Wilson Kipsang. After a distance of 26.2 miles, the victor won by just three seconds! But a winner is a winner, and Kamworer alone was awarded the crown.
Apple’s Incremental Innovations
Likewise, the difference between winning and losing in business can be just one step—even when it seems as though the leader has emerged from nowhere.
Consider the legendary Apple “1984” commercial aired during Super Bowl XVIII January 22, 1984, which introduced the Apple Macintosh computer. The sensational new product utilized a mouse-driven graphical user interface (GUI) instead of the user needing to type in commands on the keyboard. But despite the splashy marketing effort, the product itself was just one step ahead of its rivals. In fact, the seemingly revolutionary GUI technology had been pioneered by Xerox over decade earlier when its PARC division developed the Alto personal computer, the first to demonstrate the desktop metaphor and graphical user interface. But in the race for technological and market domination, Xerox—and many other competitors—ran just one step behind Apple.
Today, no one remembers the very narrow lead Apple had over its competitors. All we remember is that in the battle for the personal computer market, Apple won and Xerox lost.
What often passes for a great leap is more often the result of sustained, step-by-step progress. Races are often won by the runner who is one step ahead, and markets are captured by businesses that are just one step ahead of their rivals.
The Increasing Rate of Change and Disruption
Keeping one step ahead of the competition has always been challenging. It was challenging for Henry Ford a century ago, it was challenging for Bill Gates when he founded Microsoft in 1975, and it’s challenging for every business leader today.
With two big differences:
1. The rate of change in the marketplace—and the world—is accelerating.
2. The rate and severity of market disruption is increasing.
Innovations that once took years or even decades to affect the marketplace can now disrupt it in days. Seismic shifts in entire industries seem to happen overnight. This is why the LeaderLogic system teaches that innovation leadership must be a sustained effort geared towards always staying one step ahead of the competition.