A recent article by an Austrian newspaper stated that the growth in sales of the ‘Christkindlmarkt’ (Christmas Market) Vienna exceeds the turnover growth of online shops by 30%. At the first instant, I was quite surprised by this fact. Why are traditional business models like of the Christkindlmarkt still competitive? Why are companies of the old economy like large banks still around even if not having radically transformed to innovative business models?
In my opinion, the best answer to these questions is given by the German philosopher Odo Marquard . His famous essay “Zukunft braucht Herkunft” (“Future needs Ancestry”) discusses why every innovation must be based on the capabilities that have evolved over centuries. In other words – if you are an elephant even years of training cannot make you a zebra. If you are the Vienna Opera even hundreds of Agile coaches cannot make you Spotify. If you are a big bank even thousands of consultants cannot make you a fintec.
After some contemplation, I asked myself questions like:
- Could it be that we admire companies like Amazon too much?
- Do we live in an age that believes too much in technology and progress?
- Are companies of the old economy aware of their tremendous strengths that still keep them in front of innovative startups like fintechs?
- Is the hype of digital transformation slowing down because of the reality of real, tangible assets that can not be disrupted by internet companies?
After answering these questions from my point of view I would give the following recommendations:
1.) Formulate a compelling vision that is based on your current strengths
2.) Define what you wanna be
- a high tech innovator? a first follower? a reliable, trustful conservative company?
3.) Do not follow the current new-tech innovation hype blindly. Ask yourself how much innovation you need to implement your vision.
4.) Classify your vision statement by three dimensions: run, optimize, innovate.
Conservative businesses that are based on tradition like Christkindl Markt need to run, but innovate only carefully and in small steps:
Company of the old economy (e.g. bank):
Classical enterprises like banks, need to run AND optimize their current capabilities/strengths AND start to innovate new capabilities. This lets them stay ahead of competitors of the new- and the old economy.
Company of the new economy (e.g. Amazon)
Companies of the new economy need to focus on speed and innovation to stay ahead of their competitors that – like them – are based on an adaptive IT landscape with only limited technical debt.
- Know who you are. Be proud of your strengths. The bigger part of the capabilities of most companies is NOT disruptable by startups.
- Define a compelling vision that defines what you wanna be. Adapt your existing business model accordingly and based on current capabilities.
- Adapt your capability model evolutionary (yes this takes time!). Disruption and revolutionary competitors appear, but not as often as the current disruption hype makes you feel.
- Don’t invest in point innovations in panic. Stay cool and let things evolve.