Look for the Next Curve
Originally published: 10.01.15 by Pete Grasso
I had the opportunity recently to hear Guy Kawasaki speak at the FUEL: Cleveland leadership conference. As a former Apple fellow and evangelist, Kawasaki was one of the individuals responsible for the success of the Macintosh computer, and has written numerous books and articles on business (including a regular column in HVACR Business for several years).
He's an accomplished, seasoned Silicon Valley veteran who has a wealth of knowledge and advice to share — but on this occasion, it wasn't his own wisdom he chose to share with the crowd.
Instead, Kawasaki's 40-minute presentation was an enthralling look at the 10 lessons he learned from the late, great Steve Jobs. Many people have explained what can be learned from Jobs, but few, if any, of these people have Kawasaki's first hand knowledge of what it was like to actually work with him.
Among the 10 lessons were Less is More, Changing Your Mind is a Sign of Intelligence and A Players Hire A+ Players.
One of the lessons Kawasaki shared that really struck me, however, was this: Innovation Happens on the Next Curve.
How many times have you made it your goal to stay ahead of the curve? To be the best at what you do? But, his point is that it isn't enough to stay ahead of the curve.
True innovators, such as Jobs, look for the next curve. And then the next curve — never becoming complacent. Here's an example.
During the 1900s, before the days of refrigeration, ice was big business. Entrepreneurs during this time would take their wagons out to large, frozen lakes and cut blocks of ice to bring back and sell to customers. Kawasaki calls this Ice 1.0.
During this period of ice harvesting, 9 million pounds of ice was harvested in the US. 30 years later, however, we have the development of ice factories.
Ice harvesters were so focused on the best, most efficient ways to cut and transport ice from frozen lakes, they totally missed out on this next curve, or Ice 2.0.
During the factory curve, you no longer had to live in a cold climate to be in the ice game because you could freeze water centrally at any time and in any location. Ice factories provided scale to the sale and delivery of ice, thus negating the value and practicality of ice harvesting altogether.
Then came the next curve, or Ice 3.0. Another 20 years after ice factories disrupted the ice harvesting business, refrigerators came along, effectively creating personal ice factories for every consumer.
Though the introduction of technology was clearly a disruptive force in the ice industry, Kawasaki notes that throughout each generation of the ice industry — ice harvesting, ice factories, and refrigerators — very few businesses made the jump from ice harvester to ice factory to refrigerators.
Instead, most businesses that started as ice harvesters only innovated within the ice harvester curve. They defined their business as ice harvesting and, as a result of the next curve, died as ice harvesters. Those in the ice factory business ultimately suffered the same fate when refrigerators came along because they were too busy innovating within their curve instead of beyond their curve.
Kawasaki provided a handful of other examples from more recent business history, such as Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., who in 1977 said, "There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home."
The best leaders are innovators. The best companies are innovators.
I've spoken with many contractors over the years and the one thing all the successful ones have in common is that they're innovators. They implement solutions to problems that don't even exist yet — they set the pace so that their competition is always chasing them to the next curve.
Think about Kawasaki's ice example the next time you meet with your managers to plan the coming year.
Do you merely want to be better than your competition, or do you want to blow past them by jumping to the next curve?