Do You Really Know What Business You’re In?


Stop and think about the computer you’re carrying around with you right now.  Not your laptop, your phone.  Actually, maybe calling it a computer is selling it a bit short.

Check this out:



The picture is from here, and it raises several important innovation points:

  1. Your market is never stable.  Did phone makers think they were in the camera business in 1993?  What about camera makers?  We’ve seen an incredible collapse in categories as many different industries become increasingly IT-based.  When something like this is happening, you need to be thinking about your business model.  As your market changes, it opens up new opportunities for collaboration and value creation, as well as new threats. There is a pretty good chance that your business model will need to change as the boundaries of your market shift.
  2. We’re all in the knowledge business now.  The control room for a mine looks identical to the control room for a space shuttle launch.  Construction companies now are more concerned with getting the right data to the right people at the right time than they are with traditional logistics.  Again, this means that you need to be thinking about your business model.  It’s getting increasingly difficult to build a competitive advantage based on keeping your customers ignorant (think of the way cars were sold pre-2000 or so).  Even if you’re making stuff, knowledge flows are really important.
  3. It’s pretty cool!  I don’t know about you, but I think it’s pretty cool to have all that capability packed into one device.  Yes, it has downsides.  It’s dumb to be checking email right when you wake up like I nearly always do.  But that’s also part of figuring out the best way to use new tools – do dumb stuff until you find the best applications.  Even though some say that we’ve run out of big ideas, I think that we live in pretty amazing times.

The transition from brick-sized handsets to palm-sized supercomputers would have been unimaginable for most of us in 1993.  On the other hand, as William Gibson said, the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

So what ideas that will be transformational by 2033 are here already? What impact will these ideas have on the business that you’re in right now?


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Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

8 thoughts on “Do You Really Know What Business You’re In?

  1. Hi Tim
    Just found your blog. I have joined your email newsletter & Twitter. Quiet impressive the device convergence two pictures. And very inspiring your thoughts.

    Only one remark: I like to start workshops or conferences about innovation with one reminder: we are all in the business of making money. The rest is just talking about tools, markets and philosophy. If a business is not profitable it will die. Not sexy but straight reality.

    And few people are aware of the point you rise about knowledge. There lies the competitivity.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

    Alberto Losada

    • Thanks Alberto – I appreciated the feedback.

      I agree with your approach to link innovation to outcomes – it is important, and often overlooked. Back when I managed marketing teams, I always had to remind them that creating customers was their metric, not getting attention. Same principle.

  2. Hi Tim,

    Got an interesting one going on at the moment. Seems like you’re making inroads into the Canberra Cave. Alex is quoting you (and I’m responding) .

    One thing which i’m trying to suggest in the is that, just because girls and boys are employed by a, doesn’t mean they are “professional” public servants. They might have professions – writer, teacher, librarian, etc. But the most “professional” public servants would be a Aristocrats. Seems in, there is a belief such an animal can exist. And there i was think we lived in a democracy. Duh!

    Taking the Aristocrats perspective, in a globalizing world, qualifications for a ‘national public servant’ will require a lobotomy, and ignorance of anything (on the web) outside of the domain. Seems a bit severe don’t you think?

    Do you think there’s anyway to convince a that, if they put up something on the web, they are in the media business? Seems like some them think they are in the ‘business’ of government.

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