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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Why winning means the race is never done

November 1, 2019 | By David DeWolf, Founder and CEO – 3Pillar Global @ddewolf

Remember the success of the Gameboy? It’s been 30 years since the first version came out in 1989, and Nintendo waited five years before releasing the next iteration of the product, The Super Game Boy, in 1994. This is a far cry from the pace of output of today’s Fortnite, which creates new missions on a weekly basis. Earlier this month, the release of its latest season was followed in real time around the world. 

It’s the new speed of change. Facebook went from a Harvard-only site founded in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room to a million-member social network available on mobile phones within two years. The first Uber ride was given in San Francisco in 2010; by 2011, the company had launched its international presence in Paris. Instagram grew so quickly that it was bought by Facebook within two years of its release. 

The pace of innovation has exploded over the past few years and shows no signs of slowing down. And this is not just change for change’s sake. This acceleration is a response to customer, market, and technology changes, and it’s an exciting time for both consumers and product developers. 

Keeping up with customers

However, it also means that companies can no longer take half a decade to develop their next product. In a world of such rapid-fire change, customers have come to expect products that evolve and change along with them. This means that companies that want to stay ahead of the market not only have to move fast, but they also have to realize that the race is never over. For companies to stay relevant to their customers, they have to excel at, and embrace, rapid fire change. 

Amazon is the classic example of this. Over the course of 25 years, Jeff Bezos’s trillion-dollar company evolved from being a bookstore for Seattle residents housed in a garage to our go-to online retailer and the producer of some of our most popular entertainment content. Bezos’s success lies in a certain kind of humility. He has a constant willingness to tweak his business model. He has not allowed any one path, design, product or program to be sacred. Instead, he listens to his customers and excels at creating the changes they crave, which in turn creates better business outcomes for Amazon.

Gaming the system

Back to Fortnite. Part of the reason players find Fortnite so addictive is because it renews itself a few times a year. Each new update is called a “season” and introduces a new map and new items for players to use. We couldn’t have imagined these game-changing forms of advertising a few years ago. And they only exist because the developers behind Fortnite are constantly looking for new ways to enhance the user experience. They find ways to push the boundaries of what players expect and redefine what “gaming” means. 

Other tech innovators have embraced similar tactics. Netflix and Spotify, for instance, not only keep users hooked by updating their content libraries regularly, but also by generating their own content, like original shows and playlists. Delivery apps like Grubhub and Postmates keep their eye out for new restaurants to ensure that customers have access to the food they want when they want it. Apple’s ongoing revisions ensure that we buy a new iPhone every few years to keep up. Harris Teeter allows customers to shop for groceries, place catering orders and reorder prescriptions on their mobile app. 

Change your mindset

So what does this mean for your company? It means you have to adopt The Product Mindset, with change becoming an integral part of the way your company operates. The most successful companies don’t fund research and development on a case-by-case basis. They incorporate it into their annual and monthly budgets, the same way they budget for sales or HR. That way, when a competitor releases a new model, or when research reveals unexpected consumer needs, a company is ready to respond. Its teams don’t need to wait for endless approvals or push forward on obsolete or ineffective initiatives. 

At first, this might sound overwhelming, even exhausting. We’re wired to appreciate certainty and clarity. If the product is never done, instability and change become the new normal. But with that instability and change comes opportunity – the opportunity to deliver on consumer desires more rapidly and effectively than ever before. And the good news is that any company, no matter its size or industry, can embrace this approach. All it takes is the humility to accept that there’s always room for improvement and the courage to chase that improvement, wherever it might lead.

About the author

David DeWolf is founder and CEO of 3Pillar Global and the author of the new book The Product Mindset: Succeed in the Digital Economy by Changing the Way Your Organization Thinks

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