Game changers shape markets in their own vision, defining the space and rules, practices and value perceptions, to their own advantage. Then they set about designing the right business model and customer experience to win on their terms.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Abraham Lincoln
The best opportunities for business—to find new growth, to engage customers more deeply, to stand out from the crowd, to improve their profitability—can be seized in changing markets.
The best way to take advantage of these changes is by innovating—not just the product, or even the business itself, but by innovating the market.
In the old world businesses accepted markets as a given—the status quo—and competed in them, with slightly different products and services; usually, businesses were competing on price. New products were quickly imitated, leading to declining margins and commoditization. Most companies now recognize that this is not a route to long-term success in a rapidly changing world.
Fast-changing markets demand fast-changing businesses.
Winning in this new world requires a bigger ambition: to change the game, not just play the game. Winners recognize that markets are malleable, geography is irrelevant, and categories are outdated, that boundaries blur and new spaces emerge, and that you can shape practices and perceptions to your advantage.
These “game changers” innovate their market and then innovate their business with exponential impact, like WhatsApp creating $19 billion in three years, and Uber creating $60 billion in five years. They start from the future back: making sense of change, seeing the new patterns and possibilities, harnessing the power of ideas and digital networks to win in new ways. Innovating the market requires new leadership thinking, and for the whole business to grow.
10 Times is Not 10 Percent Better
It all starts with an idea—indeed, you could say we now live in an “ideas economy”. Game changers typically have big ideas, not ones that can be copied by others. Most ideas are incremental, and most ideas in business are usually around product functionality.
They are audacious. They make things 10 times better, not just 10 percent better. They think beyond the product, to the service and channel, the business model and customer experience to ultimately how the market works.
Read on to discover four impressive game-changing examples.
Game Changer #1
Aeromobil, the World’s First Flying Car
Searching for examples of the world’s best game changers, I found myself in Bratislava, Slovakia. Stefan Klein, a retired Volkswagen car designer also has a pilot’s license. He had the vision to combine his expertise and passion, and set about creating a flying car.
After seven years, his third version of Aeromobil scooped the top prize at the Vienna Motor Show. On the road, it’s a two-seater roadster. But when it arrives at the airport, driving onto the runway, the doors become wings and Klein can fly for nearly 250 miles at 135 mph. With investment (and more importantly technical expertise in production) from Boeing and NASA, Aeromobil will soon be production-ready with price points around $300,000. The company wants to create a new category for people who want to avoid traffic jams or just get one up on their neighbors.
Game Changer #2
How ARM Outsmarted Intel
While game-changing might seem more suited to entrepreneurs, it is big businesses that can redefine markets with the most impact. ARM, the UK-based semiconductor company, has outsmarted Intel in recent years by thinking differently.
While Intel was wedded to producing leading-edge standardized chips for computers, ARM set about designing chips for the world’s smartphones and mobile devices, a faster-growing market.
ARM works with each business customer to develop more relevant, distinctive solutions, and then engages an ecosystem of partners to develop and produce them under license. The relatively small team in Cambridge has transformed how the market works, and in so doing has become the world leader in an incredibly fast-growth market.
Game Changer #3
Nespresso is All About the Pods
Swiss food giant Nestle recognized that the future is much more about aspirations and experiences than products and needs. Nespresso is single-handedly responsible for increasing Europe’s annual household spend on coffee by over EUR $800. It does this by allowing people to make great coffee.
The brand is inspired by George Clooney and enabled by its exclusive machines, made under license by Krups. Once you’ve bought the machine, you join Le Club and subscribe to a regular flow of pods delivered directly to your door.
Compare this to other business models for coffee. The low-cost machines available through retailers are accessible to everyone, but then the direct subscription model is incredibly efficient and profitable.
Game Changer #4
Tesla’s Supercharger Network
Think about electric cars. The challenge for Elon Musk and his team of innovators was not simply to create a great electric car, but to create the market for the car too.
Developing this market means creating demand, competition, and infrastructure. Tesla works hard to create a vision that engages people emotionally in the benefits of carbon-free travel. They started with a high-end niche roadster to build aspiration, then introduced mid and lower-end models for the “masstige” market.
Tesla gave away much of their IP to encourage competitors to grow the market with them, and with their sister business Solar City, they are creating the world’s largest electric charging network.
In the future, Musk believes we will choose to join his Supercharger network as the default solution to better driving. Of course, Tesla could just have waited for somebody else to do this. But the company wanted to create a new “game” it could shape. They wanted to create the future of automotive in its vision and to define the rules (the infrastructure, the standards, the expectations) to its advantage.
Most companies like to focus on the “what”. They seek to innovate products and services within the existing game. Most of their solutions are similar to competitors—small differences to design and functionality, and small differences in prices. Eventually, it leads us to sameness: to commoditization, to price discounting, and to diminishing profits.
By first thinking about the “why” and then the “who” and “how”, you can reframe what you are about: redefining the market on your terms.
This is what Apple did with the personal computer market. This is what Dyson did with the home cleaning market. Or Finland’s Supercell did in the gaming market. Or Spain’s Desigual in the fashion market. They stopped to think: and thought bigger and smarter.
Right now you can see game changers in every field—23andMe in healthcare, SpaceX in space travel, OneWeb in global Internet, DJI in drone delivery. All of these companies are introducing new ideas for new markets.
Competitive advantage in today’s fast and crowded marketplace is not about being slightly better or slightly cheaper: it is about having a better vision, a better view of the market, and an idea about how you can make people’s lives better. It is about outthinking the competition.
The innovation process is about creativity, divergence, and commercialization, and convergence to turn big ideas into exponential impact.
Be the game changer!
Today’s winners, existing companies seeking to find a better future, or startups looking for their space, create the future in their vision, rather than living in the shadow of others. Think how you can shape the future to your advantage, to make sense of change, and define your own destiny.
Don’t just play the game, change the game.
5 Winning Actions
“Game-changing” is a strategic challenge for the whole business. It requires the full engagement of business leaders, as well as people with expertise and imagination in all departments of a company. These creative techniques are particularly useful in opening up our range of thinking, while also building courage and commitment to make them happen.
Deep diving to understand the needs and aspirations of customers is imperative—not just for existing products, but to redefine the problem and opportunity to make their lives better. Businesses will have to spend more time with people, explore their worlds one by one, and solve real problems in new ways.
This approach is far more insightful than the old ways of doing mass market customer research, which was limited by the questions asked, and the statistical analysis of which resulted in common solutions for average people. The new approach is to be more selective, more intuitive, and more exploratory.
Most good ideas are already out there, but often in different places. The same consumer, who buys your sports shoes, also buys food, cars, phones, games, travel, and much more. Look at other parallel markets to see how the same people are responding to ideas in other sectors.
If they sign up to annual contracts for their phones, maybe they would do similarly for sports shoes. Or pay for the gym and get the shoes free, like in banking. Or pay per use, or by subscription, like in gaming. Don’t be obsessed with competitors, look to what your consumers are doing, and liking, in other places, then “copy, adapt, paste”.
The most powerful strategic tool is to redefine the context in which you see your market and your business. Most people define the same playing field, as competitors, and so end up playing the same game. By framing your market around customers, you have more opportunity to be relevant and different. Brazil’s Beauty’in combined food and drink with cosmetics to define a new category of “alimetics” which they could shape and grow. Time Warner redefined themselves as an entertainment company rather than communications company and saw and instant jump in share price.
Plan your execution from the future back. Having defined your future vision, decide when you want to achieve this, say in three years. Then define what it will be like regarding the experience for customers, the processes required to deliver, and the results for business.
Then work backward, concerning similar outputs at the end of year two and year one. You can start working towards each of these three horizons, prioritized by what is to be delivered, not what is easy. You can also build your brand story on how you will shape the future, and the practical deliverables each year going forwards.
Fast and Agile
Start fast, make mistakes, and learn: as you gain more insight and experience, pivot your business to where you see the best opportunity. Game changing requires a speedboat mentality—to stay small and fast, rather than trying to build a supertanker going in one direction.
The world’s largest white goods company, Haier, is a collection of 1,000 “speedboat” companies, each incredibly entrepreneurial. Small beats big, work in profitable niches rather than mass market share, and speed the ability to act quickly, be prepared to change direction, and to live without certainty.
Peter Fisk is a global business thought leader on growth and innovation, customers and marketing. He is a bestselling author, expert consultant, and keynote speaker, helping business leaders to develop innovative strategies for business and brands. He runs his own innovation company, GeniusWorks, and features on the Thinkers 50 radar of best business thinkers. Check of Fisk’s latest book, Gamechangers: Creating Innovative Strategies for Business and Brands, at www.theGeniusWorks.com.