Most businesses focus on making themselves indispensable. A better tactic is to go in the opposite direction. Try continually making yourself obsolete.

There are many businesses who are first to market but fail to adapt to changing conditions. When was the last time you ran a search on Altavista? Why haven’t you used them? If you even remember them, you’ll know they were made obsolete by Google. Think of yourself in Alravista’s place. Which is better: be made obsolete by Google or develop your own service that makes your old one obsolete?

No matter what business you are in, eventually you will be obsolete. It can be because of a superior offering from a competitor, as in Altavista’s case or it can be a shift in an entire industry (think buggy whips). Wells Fargo and American Express both started out as shipping companies. They were rendered obsolete by the U.S. Postal Service, who in turn is struggling to stay relevant in the face of email.

It is not easy to embrace what will make your existing products obsolete. Kodak had the opportunity to lead the industry in digital photography, but they did not want to give up the money they were making in film. While they had short-term gains from film, in the long run their competitors took the lead in digital.

Given that you will be obsolete at some point, isn’t it better for you to develop the product or service that makes you obsolete? This way you have improved your offering and move forward before obsolescence forces you out of business.

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