“Hanging focuses the mind”

What do Kodak, Blockbuster, Nokia, Yahoo and Meccano have in common? Once mighty global brands, they’re either dead or loaded with debt and mortally wounded. The reason? Either they didn’t see the cliff coming or they chose to ignore the warning signs, according to Simon Corah, who founded one of Australia’s leading advertising agencies, M&C Saatchi, and now runs The Growth Mantra, a strategic growth consultancy. Corah’s team studied pairs of winners and losers in 12 categories ranging from books and fashion to children’s toys to determine why one competitor prospered and the other didn’t. Their key finding: successful companies are masters of business model reinvention. Not only that – they fundamentally reinvent whole categories. Some on the list chose to take big risks early; others, like Lego, teetered on the edge of bankruptcy before overhauling their business model and investing seriously in innovation. “Hanging focuses the mind,” Corah says. “You’ll see increasing numbers of companies reinventing themselves, or being reinvented.” In the case of Lego, it’s worked beautifully. Facing “certain death” in 2003, Lego is now a powerhouse employing nearly 10,000 people around the world. Its success is in stark contrast to Meccano, one of the great historic names in the toy business now reduced to a rump of 50 staff in regional France. “Where people come unstuck is they don’t see the cliff coming,” Corah says. His list of winner attributes includes a commitment to continuous, whole-of-business innovation, deep customer knowledge, a disregard for history and convention, an appetite for big stretch goals, a willingness to invest in new opportunities, and a culture of challenge and support. Oh, “and they celebrate instead of holding meetings,” he adds.

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