Sink or swim: How to survive waves of change in a fast-paced industry
Here's how to best position yourself for taking advantage of the unexpected.
RITA GUNTHER MCGRATH: A strategic inflection point, as I define it, is something in the external environment that changes the assumptions upon which a business is based. It's often technology but it doesn't have to be. It could be a change in social norms. It could be a change in a company's reputation. But the reason it's so important to see these things is that we all develop a view of the world and our view of the world is really based on the assumptions that may have been true at one point. But those assumptions guide what we think is going to drive outcomes in our business. When something happens that changes those assumptions all of a sudden it's as though our radar was off, you know. We don't really see what's going on in truth. And the longer an inflection point goes the more wide the gap is between our current understanding of what's happening and what's actually happening.
Now the reason for spotting them early is, firstly, obviously if they're going to change your assumptions you don't want to let that gap persist for too long. But secondly, if you get it right it can take your business to new heights. If you get it wrong it can be very destabilizing. And we've seen so many examples of companies that everybody thought were at the top of their game and within a couple of short years were just out of business or irrelevant or had to dramatically change what they were doing. Blackberry comes to mind in the handset business. They're still there. I mean they're still somewhat relevant but as the driving force in that sector they are no longer really in charge of their own fate. And that's what happens when you get an inflection point wrong.
You can make super smart, very intelligent decisions and still have a bad outcome. You can make horrific, idiotic, stupid decisions and still have a good outcome because that's how unpredictable things are. So I think there is a big distinction between forecasting and what I'm talking about here which is picking up weak signals, opening your mind to different possibilities and having the foresight to say, hey, maybe that's worth putting a small bet or a small investment or maybe it's worth going to that meeting or doing that experiment. I think it's more positioning yourself to be better able to take advantage of the unexpected than it is predicting what's going to happen. I think a lot of people who've made predictions have come to regret that because it's so uncertain. How do you absolutely know for sure what's going to happen?
So a lot of really interesting competitive opportunities are opened up when someone sees a change in the environment and moves to capitalize on it as an opportunity. A great one that is by now pretty well known but I think still illustrates the point nicely is the transition from movies that were sold on cassette tapes to movies that were able to be sold on DVDs. And if you think about it a cassette tape—now you're going to have to go back in history but a cassette tape movie could cost $50 or $60. We've forgotten that by now. We're so used to very inexpensive digital offerings we fail to remember that at the time that Blockbuster, for example, got going their selling point was that for much less than that you could rent the movie for a night or two and enjoy watching it and then return it and then they would re-rent it to other people. And the catch phrase at the time was 'Be kind, rewind.' —rewinding these cassette tapes.
So the beginning of the inflection point that eventually gave rise to Netflix was two things. The first was a technological shift which allowed an entire movie to be published on a DVD. And a DVD was a completely different form factor. It was light, it could fit in an envelope. And even though it was still pretty expensive the costs were already starting to come down relative to what it took to create a product. The second thing that led to Netflix being an inflection point is actually an evolution of digital business models. So the content creation people always had a very rigid system for say movies where the movie was first shown in theaters where people had the highest willingness to pay. Then it kind of went the rental route. Then it kind of went into movies you could have of your own. Then it was residuals. And in the early stages, production companies really didn't have a lot of ways of making money off residuals. Netflix said, hey, you sell us the rights to your residuals and we will pay you. And it became an addictive additional revenue stream for a lot of the content producers.
So that gave Netflix the ability to have all this content, some of which was pretty popular, some of which was pretty niche oriented, to really fuel the beginning of their subscription model. Now as we have seen plenty of people now observing the production companies have regretted that for a long time. And what they're now doing is they're going into competition with Netflix developing their own streaming services. So I think we're yet again seeing this inflection point coming around to possibly undermine Netflix's model where Netflix is now in the business of having to create hugely expensive content in order to keep people on their service, to keep people subscribing.
- Why are companies like Apple on top of the world while others like Blackberry have been relegated to a minor market share? Why is Netflix king and Blockbuster extinct? Netflix spotted a strategic inflection point and capitalized on it, says Rita Gunther McGrath.
- A strategic inflection point is a shift in the external environment that changes the assumptions upon which a business is based—it could be technology, social norms, or a company's reputation.
- People and organizations who see inflection points early and respond to them with a small investment or an experiment have an advantage. They will swim while their competitors may sink.
- Transform Now…or Struggle To Survive - Big Think ›
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.
Scientists regenerate damaged spinal cord nerve fibers with designer protein, helping paralyzed mice walk again.
- Researchers from Germany use a designer protein to treat spinal cord damage in mice.
- The procedure employs gene therapy to regenerate damaged nerve fibers that carry signals to and from the brain.
- The scientists aim to eventually apply the technique to humans.
What is a spinal cord injury?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="88b8d4e44e46b7d5fe49d1f3bca56078"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dKtBC2Sg_Bg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
Cold hands and feet? Maybe it's your anxiety.
- When we feel anxious, the brain's fight or flight instinct kicks in, and the blood flow is redirected from your extremities towards the torso and vital organs.
- According to the CDC, 7.1% of children between the ages of 3-17 (approximately 4.4 million) have an anxiety diagnosis.
- Anxiety disorders will impact 31% of Americans at some point in their lives.