How to avoid becoming obsolete

The following blog is made up of the best bits of editorial, articles and blogs that I’ve come across in my 38 years of working life, 30 of which I spent as my own boss at a very successful Creative Agency.

I thank all those that have inspired me to make (and write!) my own observations on these subjects. I now want to switch my focus to helping the next generation find the success that I did, and hopefully avoid a few of the pitfalls I didn’t!

There are many articles that criticise universities on the basic premise that, at the end of a three-year course, whatever you learned in your first year becomes obsolete. A challenging and intriguing proposition.

Another common argument points to the fact that many of the jobs which today’s children will go on to undertake do not exist, or have not yet even been imagined.

This is nothing to be alarmed about. In fact, the chances are that you will identify with either both of these statements, or at least one of them.

The world changes every year. Sometimes, these changes are dramatic and obvious, whilst sometimes those changes are more subtle. Take, for example, space flight as a dramatic and obvious change, compared to car design or the internet, which both involve more subtle alterations.

Space flight represents groundbreaking innovation, whilst car design and the internet involve changes and improvements of a more incremental nature. Groundbreaking innovation needs big R&D budgets, extreme risk-taking and, of course, a nerve. Incremental changes need a rolling process of business improvement and an open mind to change.

For example, take a car model that changes and improves its features, efficiency and design every three years by 25%. In a decade, it will be an entirely different car. The changes, however, are all relatively subtle, and we wouldn’t necessarily notice them unless the two different models were placed next to each other for a direct comparison.

Every successful business should be, at the very least, micro-innovating every year. New processes, new staff, new services, new markets - all of these can and should be considered.

By doing this, you’ll always have something new to offer your existing clients. They’ll be pleased that you’re ahead of the game, and feel relieved that you’re not suggesting the same solutions to the new problems that they’ve encountered.

The by-product of this is that you’ll be able to keep your profits up. Selling obsolete services that can be compared to others offered by your competitors will only push the price down and your stress up!

Successful businesses use this knowledge and this formula to progress. They may not be groundbreaking or known for innovation, but they stay in business for a long time, become more profitable than the average organisation, attract the best talent and maintain and increase their client base.

I once spent a very rewarding day with the ex-Chief Executive of a £4 billion pharmaceuticals business. He said that they spend enough money on R&D to ensure that over a three-year cycle, at least one third of the inventory is new. This ensured that they always had new products to take to a first-world market that was looking for innovation, a market that could afford their products. Their older products, which had been copied or become generic, could still be sold into the third world markets at a price that was competitive and profitable. This business is now almost 170 years old!

The key thing to take away from this is that change is essential to keep a business successful. The qualities that are vital to any successful leadership team are an open mind and an attitude across the team that recognises this as essential.

GrowthJonathan Leafe