Having worked in the technology industry for the past 20+ years, I have seen a few significant changes and technological breakthroughs. Most of the time they are unexpected – there is a reason why these are called “disruptive.” Few can truly see it before it happens.
According to Wikipedia, Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term “Black Swan” as a theory to explain:
- The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology
- The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities)
- The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of the rare event in historical affairs
The bottom line is you won’t see it coming, and the announcement that brings it to light will be shocking, to say the least.
A Microscope for the Masses
One of these events just occurred last month. I read about it on Yahoo! News on March 24, 2014, where it was announced that Manu Prakash, a professor at Stanford University and his students have developed a new microscope that is literally “built” out of a flat sheet of paper, a watch battery, LED, and optical units that when folded together, much like origami, creates a functional instrument with the resolution of 800 nanometers – basically magnifying an object up to 2,000 X.
Adding further impact to this breakthrough, apparently it is unbreakable, can be transported to literally anywhere in the world, and, could retail for $.50 each.
What do you do if you work for Carl Zeiss, Leica, Nikon or Olympus, some of the leading microscope manufacturers in the world? I suspect these companies are right now doing their very own business plan evaluation to try to answer this question.
How Would you Respond?
I suspect that the day the news announcement was made, there were a few “oh sh%@” comments that made it through the halls of these manufacturers! No one likes to be surprised, and everyone usually, at least initially, thinks the worse.
To start, this is an interesting case study that will unfold before our eyes. The reason is that from a humanity perspective, this really is a good thing. Now under developed countries might have a way to scan for blood diseases, in locations that were never before deemed possible. New medical breakthroughs might even result. Lives might indeed be saved from this invention.
So, from a public relations perspective, the last thing a company should do is to attempt to discredit the competition, or in any way try to make the product sound inferior or to be avoided. In fact, words of congratulations might even be in order, almost from a peer-to-peer perspective. Here is where crisis PR avoidance tactics should be studied and adhered to.
Simply stated, what these microscope manufacturers might now have to do is to redefine the marketplace such that their product line is differentiated enough from this new competitor that there is still a need for purchasing their product. This is one of those “easier said than done” statements. The classic case is the buggy whip manufacturer story. The disruptive event of inventing the “horseless carriage” or automobile basically wiped out their industry – leaving the only defendable segment being that to provide Hollywood props for movies such as the Indiana Jones series.
According to Mindspring.com in their review of the Microscope industry, Carl Zeiss and the E. Leitz component of Leica are mostly German made. They tend to be more expensive than the Japanese made Nikon and Olympus. Their segment is the very high end, likely for researchers. Sometimes they are worth the extra money and sometimes not. In the bio-med market, Nikon and Olympus are the real powers, likely due to either features offered or a reputation they have developed within this industry.
In my next post I’ll offer some strategic tips on how one might tackle such an event, and how that strategy might be part of the foundation of what your business plan story should tell.
Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.