Run From Your Success

Run From Your SuccessDon’t worry about your biggest competitor – they’re not your biggest competitor. You’ve not met your biggest competitor. Your biggest competitor is either from another industry or it’s three guys and a dog toiling away in their basement.

Certainly it’s impossible to worry about a competitor we’ve not met, but that’s just what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to use thought-shifting mechanisms to help us see ourselves from the framework of our unknown competitor.

Our unknown competitor doesn’t have much – no fully functional products, no fully built-out product lines, and no market share. And that’s where we must shift our thinking – to a place of scarcity – so we can see ourselves from their framework. We’ve got to look down (in the S-curve sense), sit ourselves at the bottom, and look up at our successful selves. It’s the best way to move from self-cherishing to self-dismantling.

To start, we must create our logical trajectory. First, define where we are and where we came from. Then, with a ruler aligned to the points, extend a line into the future. That’s our logical trajectory – an extrapolation in the direction of our success. Along this line we will do more of what got us here, more of what we’ve done. Without giving ground on any front, we will protect market share and build more. We’ve now defined how we see ourselves. We’ve now defined the thinking that could be our undoing.

Now we must force enlightenment on ourselves. We create an illogical trajectory where we see ourselves from a success-less framework. In this framework less is more; more-of-the-same is displaced with more-of-something-else; and success is a weakness. We know we’re sitting in the rights space when the smallest slice of incremental market share looks like a big, juicy bite – like it looks to our unknown competitor. The disruptive technology created by our unknown competitor will start innocently. Immature at first, the disruptive technology will do most things poorly but do one thing better. Viewed from our success framework we will see only limitations and dismiss it, while our unknown competitors will see opportunity. We will see the does-most-things-poorly part and they’ll see the one-thing-better part. They will sell to a small segment that values the one-thing-better part.

In another variant, an immature disruptive technology will do less with far less. From our success framework we will see “less” while from their scarcity framework they will see “more”. They will sell a simpler product that does less for a price that’s far less. (And make money.)

Here’s the one that’s most frightening: an immature technology that does all things poorly but does them without a fundamental limitation of our technology.  From our framework the limitation is so fundamental we won’t let ourselves see it. This limitation is un-seeable because we’ve built our business around it. (Think Kodak film.) This flavor of disruptive technology can put our business model out of business, yet we’ll dismiss it.

We’ll know we’ve shifted our thinking to the right place when we see our unknown competitors not as bottom-feeders but as hungry competitors who see our scraps as a smorgasbord. We’ll know our thinking’s right when see not self-destruction, but self-disruption. We’ll know all is right with the world we’re working on disruptive technologies to disrupt ourselves, disruptive technologies with the potential to create business models so compelling that we’ll gladly run from our success.


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Mike ShipulskiDr. Mike Shipulski brings together the best of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, Axiomatic Design, TRIZ, and lean to develop innovative products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.

Mike Shipulski




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