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Speed Kills.

These words are most often attributed to the late, great owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis. The game of football has evolved over the past 50 years to embrace this reality.

In the 50s and 60s, football was a gladiator sport; full of grinding and pounding. Players were big and bulky. Many were ex-criminals, who were allowed to do things on the field that they’d be thrown in jail for off the field. Offenses running the ball were obscured in a cloud of dust.

In the 80s and 90s, teams began to leverage speed as smaller, quicker players made defenses impenetrable. San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh revolutionized offenses with the “West Coast offense” that spread players out and leveraged quick, efficient passing plays. Today’s NFL teams leverage not just the speed of players, but speed of execution with the spread and hurry up offenses that have made it impossible for defenses to adjust.

Innovative strategies that leverage speed have helped the game of football evolve. Innovators have become champions, and the champions keep changing. The NFL is often recognized and celebrated for its parity (which means that anyone can beat anyone on any given Sunday)

The importance of speed and increased parity are equally as relevant in today’s corporate world.

I was reading a blog post from Tim Kastelle the other day. A quote within it caught my attention. “Competitive Advantage is Dead…or at least dying”

There’s absolute truth to that. I’ve often been quoted as saying “Customer Experience is the last bastion of competitive advantage” The other day when I heard that one of the largest enterprise software companies in the world had 80% of their revenue come from products that did not even exist 4 years ago. It also reminded me of a story that Nilofer Merchant shared about one of her first interactions with Steve Jobs:

One of the experiences I had really early in my career was working with Steve Jobs. I did a presentation to him and he told me that what I was doing was going to be eliminated. It wasn’t necessary, it wasn’t even part of the picture, he said, and I was looking at him, and thinking, “you are out of your mind” because, at that time it was delivering something like 20 percent of the total revenues of Apple, and 47 percent of the profit of the company.

He was right. Dead right.

In the business world, technological advancement and globalization have conspired to allow rapid connectivity and advancement that is leaving most leaders of organizations exhausted and falling behind.

Leaders face formative dual requirements:

(1) To keep pushing forward on execution of prior plans in an increasingly complex and competitive environment

(2) Seeing, predicting, and preparing for coming change, not only from their own industry, but adjacent and new industries as well.

Speed kills. By now, you’ve undoubtedly seen how the lifespans of S&P 500 have been shrinking. We’ve seen organizations go from concept to multi-bilion dollar valuations in just a few years. We’ve seen companies that have existed for well over a hundred years be declared extinct.

Everyone knows that we need to do more innovating, and we need to do it quicker.

How are you accelerating the speed at which you sense and respond?

- Evolving Market Needs
- Evolving Customer Expectations
- Engineering and Product Development
- Manufacturing
- Marketing and Sales
- Service and Support

Every organization operates by its own operating system. Most organizations have been following the playbook of the industrial economy. Make. Market. Sell. Ship. The focus (rightfully so) has been on creating efficiencies to enable scale; scale of marketing reach, scale of distribution. Automation has led to increased production efficiencies, and most often lower costs.

While these needs haven’t necessarily gone away, the speed required to compete is on an exponential path, and the landscape is no longer linear that allows for efficient organization and command and control hierarchies to manage the flow of information. The world is moving too fast for that. Speed kills.

Organizations are being forced to recognize what customers need now; where they are, via their preferred channel. There’s still a long way to go, but friction is being reduced everywhere. Mobile and digital technologies give us the ability to understand where a person is, who they’re talking to, who they know, what they’re trying to accomplish. Conversely, the same technologies empower consumers the right to quickly assemble and aggregate a world full of offerings, prices, information, and expert and peer opinions in real time from wherever they are. Amazon and a host of other retailers are rapidly advancing towards same day deliveries. 3D printing allows nearly anything to go from concept to design in a day. Expect that the trajectory of all of these capabilities will advance, to the point of intelligent automation, leaving a wake of obsolete organizations in their wake. in order to avoid the relentless assault, you’ve got to look to harness these technologies to your benefit.

As the Digitization of Everything continues on its path, and the entire world becomes networked, what impact will speed have on your organization? Will it help it, or hurt it?

Speed kills.

This post was provided as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own and don’t necessarily represent, nor have they been influenced by IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.



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