I was not a believer in vision when I started my career as an entrepreneur in early 1992. At that time, I just wanted to go out and do something quickly. But a series of setbacks over the next two years made me realise that a random set of moves is not going to get me anywhere. It was then that I read CK Prahalad and Gary Hamels Competing for the Future. It was that book which convinced me of the importance, power and necessity of envisioning the future. Since those two days in 1994 when I read the book, I have always kept these words from that book in mind:
Competition for the future is competition to create and dominate emerging opportunities – to stake out new competitive space. Creating the future is more challenging than playing catch up, in that you have to create your own road map. The goal is to develop an independent point of view about tomorrow’s opportunities and how to exploit them. Pathbreaking is a lot more rewarding than benchmarking. One doesn’t get to the future first by letting someone else blaze the trail.
There is not one future but hundreds. Getting to the future first is not just about outrunning competitors bent on reaching the same prize. It is also about having one’s view of what the prize is. There can be as many prizes as runners; imagination is the only limiting factor. In business, as in art, what distinguishes leaders from laggards, and greatness from mediocrity, is the ability to uniquely imagine what could be.
In that context, a comment I made in a Tech Talk long ago still holds true: Other people and companies may have more resources, more money, more everything, but what you have as an entrepreneur is your vision, your imagination, your passion. Define what will be, define tomorrow, envision the future. And then make others play according to the rules you set.
I have been wrong more times than I have been right! But I view each failure as a very important input into the vision. Most of the time, it is not that I was wrong about what I had thought, but that I was too early. So, it is not about discarding the vision but ensuring that one takes steps to shorten the path to that future. I view experimenting (and at times, failing) more important than armchair thinking in enhancing vision. One doesnt set out to fail. But recognising that one has failed is important in the development of the vision.
My penchant is for competing in markets where competition doesnt exist. In other words, I like to create marketspaces. For this, I like to look at unmet needs and todays non-consumers. A book I am currently reading, Blue Ocean Strategy, captures this nicely. Here is a blurb from a Harvard Business Review article by the books authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne: Despite a long-term decline in the circus industry, Cirque du Soleil profitably increased revenue twenty-two-fold over the last 10 years by reinventing the circus. Rather than competing within the confines of the existing industry or trying to steal customers from rivals, Cirque developed uncontested market space that made the competition irrelevant. Cirque created what the authors call a blue ocean–a previously unknown market space. In blue oceans, demand is created rather than fought over. There is ample opportunity for growth that is both profitable and rapid. In red oceans–that is, in all the industries already existing–companies compete by grabbing for a greater share of limited demand. As the market space gets more crowded, prospects for profits and growth decline. Products turn into commodities, and increasing competition turns the water bloody. There are two ways to create blue oceans. One is to launch completely new industries, as eBay did with online auctions. But it’s much more common for a blue ocean to be created from within a red ocean when a company expands the boundaries of an existing industry.
Tomorrow: Blue Ocean Strategy
TECH TALK The Value of Vision+T