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If the issues of the sharing economy can be overcome, it could transform the business models on which the economy has relied for years

The emergence of peer-to-peer sites such as Airbnb, Lyft and EatWith has been one of the more intriguing web developments of the last few years. These companies are overhauling the traditional concept of business versus consumer by enabling anyone to offer up their apartments, cars or culinary skills in return for cash.

What began as a niche sector, brushed aside by sceptics, has blossomed into a whole industry. There are over 9,000 companies in on the game, according to Mesh, a directory for the sharing economy. With everything from peer-to-peer money lending to lift sharing now available, consumers have a whole new world at their fingertips and it’s sending shock waves across the globe.

PwC estimates five sharing economy sectors alone could generate a whopping $335bn in revenues between them by 2025. And, according to Nielsen, there’s high demand for the collaborative economy – especially in emerging markets, where it’s tipped to accelerate growth by giving consumers access to services they couldn’t traditionally afford.

The sharing economy has created markets out of things that wouldn’t have been considered monetisable assets before

Advocates claim the sharing economy is creating a stronger sense of community while cutting back on waste. Among the supporters is Shervin Pishevar, venture capitalist and peer-to-peer investor: “This is a movement as important as when the web browser came out”, he told Forbes. Timemeanwhile ranked the sharing economy among its “10 Ideas that Will Change the World”. The benefits are several, and could spell trouble for traditional businesses and economic models.


Rupturing tradition

The biggest change from traditional structures is the breakdown in the distinction between companies and customers, with peer-to-peer models giving consumers the opportunity to become businesspeople on a part-time, temporary and flexible level; whether by renting a pet-friendly room to a pooch-lover via DogVacay or offering up a neglected driveway via Parking Panda. Knocking down that consumer-producer wall is something social media has already, in part, achieved (with customers playing a more important role in marketing than ever before, for example) and the sharing economy seems a logical culmination of that gradual shift.

But it could mean bad news for traditional businesses that fail to adapt, according to Josh Goldman, Global Leader for Shopping Measurement at Nielsen. “These companies are creating new economic value and disrupting current established industry players”, he says. Lisa Gansky, author of The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing, agrees: “There is a massive shift occurring and I believe all industries will be or are already being affected.”

The impact of Uber on the traditional taxi industry is already evident: in San Francisco, for example, taxi usage has plummeted by around 65 percent, according to Kate Toran of the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency (Engadget reported), while, in New York, shares in Medallion Financial Corp – which lends money to the famous yellow New York taxi operators – have tumbled almost 30 percent in a year as demand for the traditional taxis has plunged, according to Andrew Murstein.


Cheaper, more efficient markets

The potential impact of peer-to-peer accommodation sites such as Airbnb on the hospitality sector has meanwhile sparked further attention. In a report, researchers at Boston University estimated that every 10 percent rise in Airbnb supply in Texas caused a 0.35 percent drop in monthly hotel revenue – equivalent to a fall in revenue of over 13 percent in Austin. They also found hotels had cut their room rates as a result of pressure from the lower peer-to-peer prices appealing to cash-conscious consumers.

As well as offering more affordable services to consumers, collaborative models are also arguably more resilient. While hotel supply is limited and any increase involves large-scale work, peer-to-peer accommodation is agile, its space limited only by the willingness of people to offer up their empty rooms. As Gansky points out, the world’s largest hotel chain, Intercontinental, offers only 65 percent of Airbnb’s current capacity. It’s clearly working: according to the UK Economic Impact Study, Airbnb generated £502m in economic activity in the space of a year in the UK, and over 30 million people across the world have rented a room through the site.

“People are attracted to this peer-to-peer model for economic, environmental, lifestyle and personal reasons”, says James McClure, General Manager UK & Ireland at Airbnb. “More broadly speaking, the sharing economy has created markets out of things that wouldn’t have been considered monetisable assets before.” That means making efficient use of excess resources and minimising waste, especially relevant as consumers become evermore conscious of its damaging consequences. Goldman certainly agrees: “This model is creating more efficient markets, period”, he says, adding it could help establish a better supply-demand equilibrium.


Hostile opposition

But there are several issues associated with this new model, and they’re sparking widespread controversy. While Uber has provoked protests and bans across the world, peer-to-peer accommodation has kicked off a debate in New York, with public advocate Letitia James arguing: “Airbnb and the illegal hotel operators it enables are contributing to the affordable housing crisis.”



Others have concluded the lax regulation of the sharing model could do more damage than good to economies. Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, believes peer-to-peer businesses are providing a loophole for “a small number of people… to cheat the system”. He wrote in The Guardian: “Insofar as Airbnb is allowing people to evade taxes and regulations, the company is not a net plus to the economy and society – it is simply facilitating a bunch of rip-offs.” He argued Airbnb apartments should be taxed in the same way as hotels and that they, like Uber, should be made subject to the same safety standards as regular players.

But increased regulation and taxes are likely to mean higher prices for consumers, in part defeating the object of peer-to-peer companies designed to cut costs and move business away from the hands of overbearing authority. It’s perhaps for that reason that a number of sharing economy advocates argue against regulating this new model; among them are senior research fellow Adam Thierer and his colleagues. “The key contribution of the sharing economy is that it has overcome market imperfections without recourse to traditional forms of regulation”, they wrote in a paper. “Continued application of these outmoded regulatory regimes is likely to harm consumers.”

Whether regulating peer-to-peer services is a good idea or not, these disputes need to be overcome if the sharing economy is to grow to the extent to which some have predicted it is capable. If it does – and it would seem a logical progression in a society characterized by constant connectivity – this model could eventually replace the traditional consumer-versus-provider structure. Key players must find a way to adapt effectively if they are to capitalize on its potential benefits.
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There are companies that are known for good customer service, and then there are companies that are obsessed with their customers. These brands take it to the next level by offering personalized experiences, amazing perks, and quality products. They also listen to their customers, take advantage of data and technology, and create a seamless experience that provides great service and support no matter how customers interact with the brand.
Here are the 10 most customer-obsessed companies of 2018 that are setting the gold standard for what it means to put customers first. These companies were the most cited in reviews and the business press and were included because of their industry-leading focus on customer experience 


Ritz-Carlton 

The name Ritz-Carlton oozes sophistication, and the staff makes sure the service matches the brand’s reputation. Ritz-Carlton is known for putting guests first and for creating incredibly personalized experiences. The company’s main focus is to build an emotional connection between guests and employees for the best hotel stay possible. 


BufferApp

Customers are such a focus at social media management app Buffer that the support team is known as the Happiness Team. By constantly staying in contact with its customers, Buffer can answer questions and address problems as quickly as possible. Customers come first in everything the company does, and every employee is always on the lookout for ways to “wow” customers. 


Trader Joe’s

Customers at Trader Joe’s are fiercely loyal to the brand, but it has to do with more than just those delicious Joe Joe’s cookies. The store ranks top in customer satisfaction for grocery stores because employees are hyper-focused on customers. From fast checkout to friendly service and product recommendations, Trader Joe’s puts customers first to create a personalized experience at each store and with each shopper. 


Harley Davidson 

Once a customer purchases a Harley Davidson motorcycle, they become part of the Harley family for life. Customers are encouraged to join the 325,000-plus member of Harley Owners Group, or HOG. The group connects riders with each other and with the brand and helps with maintenance and other bike issues. Harley Davidson knows that buying a bike is a big purchase, and it puts it customers first to create a brand they can stand behind forever. 


Amazon 

From free two-day shipping to streaming movies and grocery delivery, Amazon Prime aims to make customers’ lives easier in just about every area. The company is always innovating and finding new ways to solve customer problems. It also has a responsive service team that is empowered to provide gift vouchers and free months of Prime service if anything goes wrong. 


Costco 

By treating its employees well, Costco can create a customer-focused experience for everyone who enters the door. The store famously will take back nearly any return without a limit to when it was purchased or the state it is in. Costco also listens to customer feedback about items people would like in the store, makes it easy to save with automatically loaded coupons, and has been known to reach out to customers who purchased items that may have been recalled. The store offers bulk discounts, but it doesn’t come at the cost of customer experience. 


Zappos 

Zappos is consistently on the top of customer experience brands, and 2018 is no different. The company goes above and beyond to show its appreciation for its customers. It follows the model of surprising and delighting customers by always looking for ways to build a connection. Employees are known to do things like send baby blankets to customers when they hear a crying baby in the background of a service call. It also hosts a series of events across the country with live music and a happy hour to build relationships and reach out to customers.


Dollar Shave Club 

There is a lot of competition in the subscription beauty industry, but Dollar Shave Club stands out because of its focus on customers. The company uses a number of technology tools to understand its customers and what drives them to make purchases. All employees are focused on engaging with customers in any way possible and follow the company’s motto of “We don’t respond to situations; we respond to people”. 


Disney 

Disney isn’t necessarily an inexpensive brand, but customers are willing to pay higher prices for its merchandise, shows, and vacations because of the experience the brand provides. Disney employees are trained to refer to guests by name, especially with children. They go above and beyond to share the magic of Disney with customers of all ages and create unique experiences. 


Netflix 

The streaming giant’s obsession with customers is based on knowing them very well. Netflix collects a huge amount of data on customers to create hyper-personalized recommendations. It uses that data to help customers find their new favorite shows and to create award-winning original content that is exactly what customers want to see. By understanding customers and putting them first, Netflix can build on its knowledge and provide them entertainment they love.

 

 

 

 

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According to a Global Deloitte survey, over 80% of Deloitte Knowledge users indicate that sharing knowledge leads to competitive advantage and adds a real client value.
What are the advantages of adopting a knowledge management strategy?

Knowledge management prevents staff from constantly reinventing the wheel, provides a baseline for progress measurement, reduces the burden on expert attrition, makes visual thinking tangible, and manages effectively large volumes of information to help employees serve their clients better and faster.

 

Being a fundamental business enabler, knowledge management will help organisations:

  • Protect their intellectual capital
  • Focus on their most important assets: their human capital
  • Re-orient their culture by opting for an optimal knowledge sharing strategy
  • Link people to people by setting up collaborative methods
 

Knowledge management opens the doors to a new era of collaboration and sharing
Nowadays, with corporate mergers, employee turnover and global expansion, people must work differently: they need to collaborate with peers that are overseas, exchange ideas, keep current on global matters and have quick answers to their questions.

The power of Social Media plays an important role in knowledge management as it enables employees to collaborate, connect and rapidly access to experts and information.

Social networks also allow people to collaborate, to be human and to express themselves in the electronic environment. They have a solid foundation of trust and popularity among employees and they are part of the knowledge sharing culture.

Increasing company benefits with an effective knowledge management strategy

Knowledge management helps solve most of the common business problems and helps companies increase their benefits by:

  • Improving business decisions thanks to facilitated access to expertise and to leading practices

  • Increasing efficiency, productivity and work smarter by reducing cases of “reinventing the wheel”

  • Improving innovation through wider and borderless collaboration

  • Reducing loss of know-how by capturing explicit and tacit knowledge

  • Speeding productivity with on-board trainings and timely access to knowledge

  • Increasing client satisfaction by delivering value insights

  • Enhancing quality and ability to collaborate by standardising ways of working and enabling discussions with leading experts

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The best leaders understand that the current success of their business, and any future innovation, depends upon the “deep smarts” of their employees — the business-critical, experience-based knowledge that employees carry with them. Leaders with a passion for developing employees’ skills, and those who understand the need to transfer knowledge among generations of workers, know how important it is to link in-house education to strategic planning.

Take architectural and engineering firm EYP as an example. Leila Kamal, vice president for design and expertise, not only reports to the CEO but also is a member of the board. An architect herself, she brings great credibility and visibility to programs of learning and knowledge exchange. An early in-house program called A16 treated 16 junior architects to 16 weeks of intensive training, including knowledge mentorship from highly experienced architects. The educational concepts developed in that program have since evolved into a larger learning program called EYP University, which provides an average of 20 courses a year for architects, engineers, and a combination of the two. Instructors combine traditional lectures with hands-on activities, including challenging participants to solve a difficult problem before they are presented with the solution. This mode of learning embodies what educational researcher Robert Bjork call “desirable difficulty,” compelling learners to fully engage mentally to discover nonobvious answers to problems. Senior thought leaders who are mentors at EYP have to submit a learning plan for their mentees, describing not only goals but also specific tasks the learner will undertake, such as a client presentation. The learners, in turn, provide performance evaluations on their mentors’ skills as a mentor or on their ability to teach and share knowledge through the EYP U curriculum. Moreover, the mentoring flows “up and down” — from juniors to seniors, as well as vice versa. For example, new hires tend to come in knowing building information modeling from school, and can tutor experienced designers and architects in how to incorporate their deep practical knowledge into the software.

Despite its relatively small size (about 600 employees), EYP also supports in-house research projects proposed by employees, which are selected through a competitive process. These knowledge-generation projects, always aimed at solving a challenge faced by clients, are intended to help differentiate EYP from competitors. For example, one such project focuses on the interaction between a building’s functionality and the well-being and productiveness of its occupants. Another aims to create flexible environments that can be adjusted in response to information gathered by sensors placed around the building that record how people are using a given space. For example, temperature and lighting in a room could lower or raise depending on how many people are present and whether they are viewing a presentation or reading.

Contrast the example above with an organization where one manager noted: “I think we are very good at managing information, but not very good at managing knowledge.” It’s an astute observation. Knowledge differs from information in that the former is at least partially based on experience. Organizations that are proactive about managing the flow of knowledge focus on several potentially essential ingredients to future success, such as:

Retaining experience-based know-how, including not only technical knowledge but also so-called “softer” skills, such as project management and maintaining critical relationships inside and outside the organization that have been built up over years. For example, many top sales people know clients personally; subject matter experts know others in their field. Such trusted relationships facilitate communications and speed decision making.
Helping mentors pass along their expertise more effectively and helping mentees learn more efficiently. Mentors can teach through practical problem sets and hands-on diagnoses instead of lectures and presentations. Newcomers can learn more efficiently by keeping “learning logs” that chronicle their experiences and through scheduled feedback sessions with their mentors.
Encouraging reverse mentoring from newcomers to elders, such as having newcomers tutor experienced personnel in social media.
Generating new knowledge by conducting research, benchmarking, or bringing in “resident” artists or scientists whose interactions with employees can spark creativity.
Nurturing this kind of know-how is essential to maintaining the firm’s core capabilities, those unique innovations — whether in marketing, operations, finance, technology, or other areas — that are not easily replicated by competitors. At multiple levels in the organization, key personnel are responsible for such capabilities and hold much of the know-how in their heads. That’s why managing knowledge can be even more challenging than managing information.

The single largest obstacle to managing human knowledge is a lack of time. The more essential the know-how held in the head of an expert or highly experienced manager, the less time he or she has to pass it along to potential successors. Such valuable individuals are pulled into every important client meeting, problem-solving session, and innovation project. The only way that their deep smarts will be retained is if leaders recognize and address that limitation. Specifically, leaders need to:

Tie preservation of critical know-how to corporate strategy
Behave as if developing and retaining knowledge is truly important. Leaders who take time to teach in education programs, or at least start them off, provide visible evidence of seriousness.
Support incentives within the organization that both recognize current expertise and encourage it to be shared
If leaders do not show that knowledge development and preservation is a priority, then they cannot expect that managers lower in the organization will provide the necessary incentives, time, and resources to share, and thus preserve, knowledge across generations, geographies, and corporate silos.

innovationbusiness designbusiness strategydesignbusinessKnowledgeKnowledge Management
The luxury watch brand Rolex is the most reputable company in the world, according to the Reputation Institute's annual rankings
The Reputation Institute sorts companies according to the public's perception of their performance in seven areas: products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership, and performance.
The chocolate maker The Hershey Company is the most reputable brand in the US, but the brand is much less well known internationally, so it did not make it onto the list. Facebook did not even make it into the top 100. 

After the emissions scandal that engulfed the company last year, Volkswagen dropped from being the 14th most reputable company in the world in 2015 to the 123rd spot this year. 

To compile the rankings, the Reputation Institute collected more than 240,000 ratings from 15 countries.


 

10. Apple. RepTrack Points: 76.6.

A screenshot from the 2004 remake of Apple's iconic 1984 ad.
 Apple
Apple's reputation is getting worse, according to the study. The company has dropped from seventh place in 2014's rankings to eighth in 2015's, and it now sits at 10th. The tech company, however, came out on top in both the innovation and the leadership categories. 

Here's everything Apple announced at its Keynote on Monday, including its new, cheaper-than-ever iPhone. 

9. Sony. RepTrack points: 76.7.

REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
Sony proved to be a truly global brand. The company was among the 10 most reputable brands in 10 of the 15 countries surveyed. On this metric, it was beaten only by Rolex. 

This year Sony faced criticism over its failure to release singer Kesha from a six-album contract with one of its record labels, Dr. Luke's Kemosabe Records. Kesha alleged that her producer at the label, Lukasz Gottwald, sexually abused her. 

Aside from music, the Japanese conglomerate makes electronics and produces movies and video games. The company was founded in 1946 by Masaru Ibuka. 

 

8. Canon. RepTrack points: 76.9.

REUTERS/Toshiyuki Aizawa
Canon is the third most reputable brand in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. 

The world's biggest maker of cameras and printers has been expanding further this year. It just announced that it would buy Toshiba's medical devices unit for nearly $6 billion. 

7. Microsoft. RepTrack points: 77.0.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.
 Robert Galbraith/Reuters
Microsoft has returned to the list after it dropped out in 2015. It came out as the third most reputable brand in Asia. Microsoft is performing particularly well in the detachable tablet market, outperforming Apple. 

Microsoft is predicted to take a 74.6% share of the detachable tablet market by 2020. 

The company's biggest businesses in 2016 include the Windows operating system, the Xbox, and Microsoft Office. 

 

6. Lego Group. RepTrack points: 77.4.

Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr
Lego remains the most reputable brand in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. 

This year Lego faced a serious backlash after the company refused to sell artist Ai Weiwei a bulk order of its plastic bricks. The Chinese artist had planned on using them to make a political point, which went against the company's rules. The toymaker later reversed this policy. 

According to a report by Brand Finance, Lego is the world's second most powerful brand after Disney. 

5. Daimler (Mercedes-Benz). RepTrack points: 77.7

The Mercedes 300SL Gullwing.
 Mercedes-Benz
Daimler dropped from third place to fifth in the global reputation rankings this year. 

Daimler sold 2.9 million cars in 2015, up 12% from the previous year, it was announced at the company's annual press conference. 

The Daimler-owned Mercedes could soon become the car brand most closely associated with Uber, as the taxi app just announced an order for 100,000 Mercedes S-Class cars, according to Fortune. 

 

4. BMW Group. RepTrack points: 77.9.

REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
BMW dropped from first place in 2015, but it retains its lead on its fellow German carmaker Daimler. 

BMW celebrated its 100th birthday this year. To celebrate, it released the concept car it predicts everyone will be driving in 100 years. 

As well as producing BMWs, the company makes Mini cars and oversees productions of Rolls-Royce vehicles. 

3. Google. RepTrak points: 78.1.

Scott Brownrigg
Google came top in the performance and workplace categories this year, but it slipped from second place — which it had held in 2015 and 2014. 

The search-ad business has had another important year; in October it reshaped its corporate structure to form a new parent company, Alphabet. 

 

2. The Walt Disney Company. RepTrak points: 78.2.

EURODISNEY-SHAREHOLDERS/ REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
The Walt Disney Company came in the top 10 in each of the seven categories. The huge media and entertainment company came first in the citizenship and governance categories, making it unlucky to miss out on the top spot. 

The company is not afraid to stand up to things it disagrees with. On Wednesday, Disney Film Studios announced that it would boycott Georgia if the state brings into law a bill allowing officials to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages, The Guardian reports. 

The California-based company employs about 185,000 people across various divisions, according to its website. 

1. Rolex. RepTrak points: 78.4

Flickr/Alexandre Prévot
Rolex's position as the most reputable brand in the world is due to its incredibly high reputation for products and services. It was in the top 10 for every category. 

Luxury watch brands have suffered over the past year after facing a declining market in China. Consumers in the country bought 40% fewer Swiss watches — including Rolex, Swatch, and TAG Heuer brands — than they did in 2014, Sky News reported. 

The luxury watch brand was founded in London in 1905 before moving operations to Switzerland at the end of World War I.
innovationbusiness designbusiness strategydesignbusinessKnowledgeKnowledge Management
The ingredient that brought 3M and Apple from the brink of failure to achieve such an amazing record of success

In its early years, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, now known as 3M, was a dismal failure. After years of mining losses and red ink, company founders and investors came to a crossroads. They could close the business, or change course. 3M executives did what most successful executives do when faced with failure. They used it as an opportunity to find a path to success. We're glad they did. Today, the company generates nearly $30 billion in revenue selling over 55,000 products and employing roughly 84,000 people.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple after his twelve years of wandering, the company needed a controversial $150 million investment from "arch rival" Microsoft to stay afloat. Even worse, when asked what he would do if he were in Jobs's shoes, Michael Dell said, "I'd shut it (the company) down, and give the money back to shareholders." Rather than give up, Jobs was able to use these "indignities" to fuel an amazing comeback. In a very short period of time, Apple grew to the most valuable company ever.

What is the ingredient that brought 3M and Apple from the brink of failure to achieve such an amazing record of success? While there are several candidates, the one that both companies clearly had in common is innovation.

If innovation has this potential, how can you use it as a tool to power your company's success?

Create an Innovation Culture

To create an innovative culture, managers need to make sure that all employees know that innovation is a job requirement. It should be woven into the fabric of the business and given a prominent place in job descriptions, procedures, and performance evaluations. Innovation should be defined to include incremental as well as revolutionary improvements. In a Harvard Business Review interview, Katsuaki Watanabe of Toyota said, "There is no genius in our company. We just do whatever we believe is right, trying every day to improve every little bit and piece. But when 70 years of very small improvements accumulate, they become a revolution." Over a 35-year period, Toyota's innovation culture increased the number of annual suggestions per employee 480-fold from 0.1 to 48.

Create a New Product Development System that rewards Innovation

At 3M, employees are paid for spending 15% of their time creating whatever they want. Once employees believe they have a worthy invention, they can "run it up the flagpole" using 3M's "Champion" new product development system. The Post-It-Note was created by a couple of employees that used their 15% time to generate the idea and champion it through the 3M System. Google has adopted a similar system as part of their innovation framework since it pays employees for spending 20% of their time on whatever projects they want.

Embrace Failure

Innovative companies recognize that failure is an important step in the process of success. They understand that with each failure, the company moves one step closer to success. In this way, failure is given a positive value. For example, if a successful product brings in $1 billion in sales, and it takes 9 failures to achieve each success, each step in the process (including the 9 failures) can be viewed as bringing the company $100 million in additional business - a positive way to look at failure.

Look forward

Kodak invented the digital camera. It didn't commercialize this invention because it wanted to protect its film business. The Company had what I call the "FDH" syndrome. It was Fat, Dumb, and Happy with its success in film. It looked backward instead of forward. As Bill Gates is fond ofsaying, "Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose." To be innovative, you cannot be afraid to obsolete your own products. If you are, others will obsolete them for you. That is what happened to Kodak and many others.

Marketing Information System

The marketplace is constantly evolving and changing. To be successful, you need a system that continuously monitors the marketplace, collects feedback in real time, analyzes the feedback, reports the unvarnished truth to decision makers, and takes corrective action. What worked yesterday, may not work tomorrow, and the information about tomorrow is often available today. Companies need the right telescopes and microscopes to see what is going on and react swiftly once the information is properly analyzed and triangulated.

Passionate Pursuit of Improvement

The Lexus slogan the Passionate Pursuit of Perfection embodies the TQM (total quality management) mantra of continual improvement, or kaizen. This guiding philosophy has propelled Toyota to regaining its lead in global automotive sales in spite of self-destructive missteps and problems caused by the devastating Tsunami of 2011.

While Dell is not recognized as a product innovator, the company was very innovative in its factory processes, supply-chain management, and make-to-order e-commerce systems. Its efficiency strategies worked quite well for a number of years - giving Dell cost and quality advantages over its "IBM-PC compatible" rivals and Fortune 500 status. Dell got FDH, Michael Dell left for a while, and innovation went by the wayside. So did sales.

Necessity is not the only mother of invention

Companies such as 3M and Apple chose innovation at a point in their histories when they did not have much choice. For them, necessity was the mother of invention. 3M institutionalized their innovative ways. Time will tell if Apple will continue to innovate now that Steve Jobs has passed.

We should be most concerned about companies that are currently successful that do not have innovation ingrained in the fabric of their businesses. They are the ones that need to avoid the FDH (fat, dumb, and happy) syndrome, try new things and not rest on their laurels. They have to risk failure to continue to achieve great success. They should know that survival today requires more than treading water, and that many of the companies that were once great are now gone oron their way out largely because they stopped innovating. In fact, according to Forbes, the average lifespan of a successful S&P 500 Company was 67 years in the 1920's. Today it is 15 years. More companies need to innovate to improve these declining numbers.

The innovations do not have to be revolutionary or the exclusive domain of new or improved products. The improvements can be incremental as they are at Toyota, or they can be in business systems and processes as they were at Dell. Innovations can (and should) be in marketing as they have been at Procter & Gamble. Some may recall that the company invented the "soap opera" to sell its soap.

Wherever innovations come from, however they are done, and in whatever part of the business they occur, companies need to continuously innovate or risk dying.

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Adapting your approach to innovation to the problem at hand in an attempt to optimize the process.

One of the best innovation stories I’ve ever heard came to me from a senior executive at a leading tech firm. Apparently, his company had won a million-dollar contract to design a sensor that could detect pollutants at very small concentrations underwater. It was an unusually complex problem, so the firm set up a team of crack microchip designers, and they started putting their heads together.

About 45 minutes into their first working session, the marine biologist assigned to their team walked in with a bag of clams and set them on the table. Seeing the confused looks of the chip designers, he explained that clams can detect pollutants at just a few parts per million, and when that happens, they open their shells.

As it turned out, they didn’t really need a fancy chip to detect pollutants — just a simple one that could alert the system to clams opening their shells. “They saved $999,000 and ate the clams for dinner,” the executive told me.

That, in essence, is the value of open innovation. When you have a really tough problem, it often helps to expand skill domains beyond specialists in a single field. Many believe it is just these kinds of unlikely combinations that are key to coming up with breakthroughs. In fact, a study analyzing 17.9 million scientific papers found that the most highly cited work tended to be mostly rooted within a traditional field, with just a smidgen of insight taken from some unconventional place.

But what if the task had been simply to make a chip that was 30% more efficient? In that case, a marine biologist dropping clams on the table would have been nothing more than a distraction. Or, what if the company needed to identify a new business model? Or what if — as is the case today — current chip technology is nearing its theoretical limits, and a completely new architecture needs to be dreamed up?

In researching my book, Mapping Innovation, I found that every innovation strategy fails eventually, because innovation is, at its core, about solving problems — and there are as many ways to innovate as there are types of problems to solve. There is no one “true” path to innovation.

Yet all too often, organizations act as if there is. They lock themselves into one type of strategy and say, “This is how we innovate.” It works for a while, but eventually it catches up with them. They find themselves locked into a set of solutions that don’t fit the problems they need to solve. Essentially, they become square-peg companies in a round-hole world and lose relevance.

We need to start treating innovation like other business disciplines — as a set of tools that are designed to accomplish specific objectives. Just as we wouldn’t rely on a single marketing tactic or a single source of financing for the entire life of an organization, we need to build up a portfolio of innovation strategies designed for specific tasks.

It was with this in mind that I created the Innovation Matrix to help leaders identify the right type of strategy to solve a problem, by asking two questions: How well can we define the problem? and How well can we define the skill domain(s) needed to solve it?

Sustaining innovation. Most innovation happens here, because most of the time we are seeking to get better at what we’re already doing. We want to improve existing capabilities in existing markets, and we have a pretty clear idea of what problems need to be solved and what skill domains are required to solve them.

For these types of problems, conventional strategies like strategic roadmapping, traditional R&D labs, and using acquisitions to bring new resources and skill sets into the organization are usually effective. Design thinking methods, such as those championed by David Kelley, founder of the design firm IDEOand Stanford’s d.school, can also be enormously helpful if both the problem and the skills needed to solve it are well understood.

Breakthrough innovation. Sometimes, as was the case with the example of detecting pollutants underwater, we run into a well-defined problem that’s just devilishly hard to solve. In cases like these, we need to explore unconventional skill domains, such as adding a marine biologist to a team of chip designers. Open innovation strategies can be highly effective in this regard, because they help to expose the problem to diverse skill domains.

As Thomas Kuhn explained in the The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, we advance in specific fields by creating paradigms, which sometimes can make it very difficult to solve a problem within the domain in which it arose — but the problem may be resolved fairly easily within the paradigm of an adjacent domain.

 

Disruptive innovation. When HBS professor Clayton Christensen introduced the concept of disruptive innovation in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, it was a revelation. In his study of why good firms fail, he found that what is normally considered best practice — listening to customers, investing in continuous improvement, and focusing on the bottom line — can be lethal in some situations.

In a nutshell, what he discovered is that when the basis of competition changes, because of technological shifts or other changes in the marketplace, companies can find themselves getting better and better at things people want less and less. When that happens, innovating your products won’t help — you have to innovate your business model.

More recently, Steve Blank has developed lean startup methods and Alex Osterwalder has created tools like the business model canvas and value proposition canvas. These are all essential assets for anyone who finds themselves in the situation Christensen described, and they are proving to be effective in a wide variety of contexts.

Basic research. Pathbreaking innovations never arrive fully formed. They always begin with the discovery of some new phenomenon. No one could guess how Einstein’s discoveries would shape the world, or that Alan Turing’s universal computer would someday become a real thing. As Neil deGrasse Tyson said when asked about the impact of a major discovery, “I don’t know, but we’ll probably tax it.” To his point, Einstein’s discoveries now play essential roles in technologies ranging from nuclear energy to computer technologies and GPS satellites.

Some large enterprises, like IBM and Procter & Gamble, have the resources to invest in labs to pursue basic research. Others, like Experian’s DataLabs, encourage researchers and engineers to go to conferences and hold internal seminars on what they learn. Google invites about 30 top researchers to spend a sabbatical year at the company and funds 250 academic projects annually.

Yet one of the best-kept secrets is how even small and medium-size enterprises can access world-class research. The federal government funds a variety of programs, such as the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a series of manufacturing hubs to help develop advanced technologies, and Argonne Design Works. Local universities, which have a wealth of scientific talent, can also be a valuable resource.

Taking steps to participate in these types of programs can help small business compete in competitive markets. For example, Mike Wixom of Navitas, a four-year-old battery company that joined the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) as an affiliate, told me, “As a small company, we’re fighting for our survival on a daily basis. Becoming a JCESR affiliate gives us an early peek at technology, and you get to give feedback about what kinds manufacturing issues are likely to come up with any particular chemistry.”

So, clearly, being able to reach out to scientists on the cutting edge can help a business plan for the future, just as the other approaches, such as design thinking, open innovation, business model innovation, and others, can help propel a business forward if applied in the right context. But no one solution fits all problems.

If your innovation strategy is struggling or failing, consider whether it’s because you’ve locked yourself into a single approach. There are always new problems to solve; learn to apply the solution that best fits your current problem.

source hbr.org

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With the speed of technology adoption and a fast-paced global economy, companies rise and fall faster than you can say Alibaba.

In 1955, Fortune Magazine listed the 500 largest companies in a list that’s become synonymous with success. 60 years later, only 71 of those companies still remain.

With the speed of technology adoption and a fast-paced global economy, companies rise and fall faster than you can say Alibaba.

(And ummm, maybe they should've considered using Vocoli to understand their employee voice)

The Secrets to Innovation

So what’s the secret sauce to success (or more accurately, survival)?

First, a strong corporate culture is key, as we’ve talked about [herehere and here]. But in addition to a defined “perfect employee blueprint,” creating an innovatation culture and the ability to market solutions before your competitors is a difference maker.

In our experience, there are several reasons for stifled innovation:

  • Fixating on one successful offering without accepting something better can (and will) come along
  • Only focusing on the customer of today without anticipating their needs for the future
  • Failure to update technology and change with the times

We’ve highlighted 10 companies that had success but ultimately missed opportunities due to one or more oversights:

Blockbuster

It’s a shame that future generations won’t be able to understand the soul-crushing experience of a sold-out Blockbuster movie. Aside from the endless parade of late fees, Blockbuster was a weekend night tradition for most families.

Then Netflix happened.

Netflix sent videos you would’ve rented through Blockbuster straight to your home without due dates or late fees. Blockbuster was unconcerned and even had the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million in 2000. They decided to meander along and not change a thing for the next four years while Netflix became more and more popular, and eventually went from a mail-order service to a streaming one.

In 2004 Netflix finally offered an online option, but it was too late.

On September 23, 2010 Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy. But I still have a VHS tape that has their “Please be kind, rewind” slogan, just as a precious memento.

Xerox

In 1959, Xerox launched the Xerox 914 photocopier revolutionized the document-copying industry.

According to Wikipedia: “One of the most successful Xerox products ever, a 914 model could make 100,000 copies per month (one copy every 26.4 seconds, or ~136 copies/hour.)”

But most everyone knows the story of PARC (or the Palo Alto Research Center). PARC’s inventions include the mouse, the laser printer, and a windows/icon-based user interface (sound familiar?).And they gave it away. For years , Xerox management did absolutely nothing with their cutting-edge inventions and continued to profit off of the 914 photocopier.

Meanwhile, Apple, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard ”borrowed” their technology and made billions off of it.

Borders Books

When Borders Books launched its first store in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1971, the world was a different place. A kindle was a pile of sticks used to start a fire, and a nook was that tiny part of the kitchen in the corner where you eat breakfast.

40 years later, you can read books on your phone, on a tablet or via the web. And Borders’ competitors (Amazon and Barnes and Noble, to a lesser extent), saw this trend. They launched tablet devices to strengthen their relationship with readers.

On the other hand, Borders didn’t adopt any of new technologies (and according to this Time article, focused on music sales). In doing so, they wrote their obituary.

Blackberry

Do you remember your first “CrackBerry?” There was a time when the primary mode of business communication was BBM and everyone wanted to know your PIN. It was the phone to have in the mid- to late-2000’s (in 2007 it had more than half of the marketshare of phones in the US.)

But on June 29, 2007 the iPhone was released.

At first, Blackberry ignored touch screen based technology insisting their phones would remain the de-facto standard for enterprises especially since the iPhone struggled early with solid enterprise email security. But by dominating in the consumer market and slowly promoting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) standards within companies, Apple redefines the market and left Blackberry stumbling and blinded by their own success.

Their initial inaction snowballed into a succession of failed attempts to innovate. Blackberry currently has 0.8% of the Smartphone market share according to IDC.

Rumor has it that they are now working on a Siri-Like feature called Blackberry Assistant. They might be a little bit behind the curve on that one.

Yahoo

In 2005, Yahoo owned 21% of the online advertising market, #1 among all players. Yet today, they’re struggling maintain their #4 position behind Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

In fact, Yahoo could’ve done just about anything differently and they could still be #1. First, their desire to be an online portal instead of a dominant search player led them to outsource their search engine to Microsoft Bing.

They were supposed to be what Google ended up being but got distracted along the way. They didn’t see the importance of search and instead focused on becoming a media giant.

Just a few of their missed innovations:

  • Google. In 2002 there was reportedly a deal struck for Yahoo to buy Google for $5 billion dollars. Then CEO Terry Semel refused to shell out the cash and the deal was squashed.
  • DoubleClick. DoubleClick was the dominant player in display ads throughout the late ‘90s and early 2000’s. Buying DoubleClick would’ve helped Yahoo strengthen their display ads as Google was gaining on them. Unfortunately they didn’t move quick enough and Google pounced on this opportunity.
  • Facebook. In 2006, Yahoo had a deal to buy the company for $1 billion. They then lowered their offer and Mark Zuckerburg backed out. Facebook is now valued x150 times their original asking price. Whoops.

Being a technology giant requires strategic mergers and acquisitions (and the innovative ideas they bring). Had a few of these situations gone differently, we might be “yahooing” instead of “googling.”

United States Postal Service

UPS, FedEx and not mention email—and the USPS has sat by and done just about nothing. If you Google “USPS” you will find approximately 10,000+ articles on why it can’t be saved. The market shifted and unfortunately due to government regulations the USPS was stuck.

And thus USPS is overshadowed by UPS and FedEx, left only to deliver some bills that aren’t paperless and wedding invitations.

Polaroid

In the last 10 years who has actually taken a serious Polaroid? Yeah they’re cool to have around at birthday parties as something out of the ordinary, but convenience is the name of the game for everyday use.

They started out as an innovative brand that brought instant photography into the playing field. However, Polaroid didn’t realize that digital cameras were going to be the way of the future and once they did it was way too late. Film photography is now a niche field at best and Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2001.

MySpace

MySpace was born and died all very quickly. It goes to show you how important the evolution of user experience is, seeing as how Facebook swooped in where Myspace had already made decent ground.

Here is one graph showing Google Trends of Myspace over the years:

Myspace Interest Overtime.PNG

Now here is that same time period with Facebook included:

Myspace and Facebook.PNG

Looks pretty comical in comparison.

Facebook saw what Myspace didn’t: people need to connect on more than one level—through shared interests and groups (not just random bands trying to get signed.) And so, everyone migrated over to Facebook and never looked back.

However, they do have over a million likes on Facebook but that’s mostly people shell shocked that they’re still around.

Hostess

Why change the perfection that is the Twinkie? It was something that you could find in every child’s lunchbox in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, times change and so do eating habits—“eat clean, train mean.” Hostess continued to churn out highly processed foods that aren’t bought as often in this healthy eating craze.

Hostess made two major errors in the last 20 years: failure to innovate new and healthier foods and marketing that didn’t even attempt to make their brand relevant. Hostess closed its doors in 2012 after two bankruptcies (and the eBay mad-dash started for Twinkies) and then re-opened as a new company Hostess Brands, LLC. Hopefully the third time’s the charm. Whole wheat Ding Dongs anyone?

The Entire Publishing Industry

We’ve been watching for awhile as publishers desperately cling to the prospects of print sales. It’s very clear that it’s not going to happen and electronic print is the way of the future (duh.) Instead of embracing the digital generation, publishers have been dragging their heels trying to slow it—wasting both time and money in the process.

While they’re over there fighting a losing battle, the market has shifted. People no longer look in the classifieds for jobs. Instead, they log in to LinkedIn or browse Craigslist for listings. If the public wants to catch up on the news they can get their updates from the web or their mobile phone. The New York Times crossword puzzle is a thing of the past (there’s an app for that!)

Revenue in the industry is expected to decline at an average rate of 4.2 percent per year for the next five years according to IBISWorld. The newspaper and publishing industry can combat these losses using paywalls through application stores across various platforms.

These companies used to be considered some of the brightest in their industry but their failure to innovate led to their ultimate (or eventual) demise. Tunnel vision (or Big Company Syndrome) is common today. When companies are successful quickly, they assume that they should just keep doing what they’re doing and it will be fine. Which isn’t completely untrue, you should definitely champion your best products. But what separates good companies from the best companies is innovation and always trying to find ways to improve.

source: vocoli.com

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Strategy is often thought of as the exclusive preserve of top management, but organizational alignment is impossible without everyone’s participation.

“The purpose of an organization is to get ordinary people to do extraordinary things,” management guru Peter Drucker once wrote.

But that’s only part of the story. For these “extraordinary things” to enhance the organization’s competitive effectiveness they must directly support the organization’s strategic goals. If a strategy exists only at the top of an organization, it will have little effect. To produce unity of action, strategy must be translated to and acted on at every level within the organization. No one is exempt.

An apt metaphor is the teamwork that propels a rowing eight. Any rower who falls out of rhythm or reduces the team’s pulling power will impede the progress of the boat. Everyone must, quite literally, pull their weight. There is simply no room for passengers.

Yet most companies fail to achieve this level of strategic alignment. A survey by Right Management Consultants found that two-thirds of employees either do not know or do not understand their company’s strategy, and only one-third felt fully engaged with their jobs and their company.

There is a connection between these outcomes. Employees cannot engage with companies that cannot express a sense of purpose. The cost of this engagement deficit is heavy. A 2013 Gallup survey found that companies in the top quartile for employee engagement achieved 10 percent higher customer ratings and 22 percent greater profitability.

This challenge goes to the heart of what it takes to be a leader. We cannot think of strategy and leadership as separate domains. They are essential parts of each other. Every failure of strategy is a failure of leadership — either to set the right priorities or to mobilize the hearts and minds of employees. It is strategy and leadership working hand in hand that is the key to success.

For a strategy to be translated to every unit in an organization, there needs to be a shared understanding of the process by which this will be achieved. The graphic below describes a method I have found to be successful in numerous companies I have worked with.

to win at value, a deep connection between each unit and the business's overall strategy is vital

For strategy to lead to effective value creation, it must be translated throughout the organization.

Here is the logic: Strategy is about harnessing insight to make choices on where to compete and how to win the competition for value creation in an organization’s chosen markets. At the corporate level, the primary choices on those questions must be made. Then within each organizational unit, these primary choices need to be translated into derived choices in a process of systematic alignment.

Within each organizational unit the first order of business is to develop a clear line of sight to the corporation’s strategic goals and then to use this as the springboard and inspiration for this process of translation. In military parlance an operating unit must first understand the “commander’s intent” and then set priorities and commit resources accordingly.

Executives in staff functions sometimes ask why they need to have a strategy since they don’t generate revenue, and are therefore simply cost centers. My response is to counsel them not to think of themselves as cost centers but as value centers. With this change of mindset, their mission becomes clear: to generate greater value than the costs they incur. If they fail to do this, they will simply be reducing their company’s profits.

I often hear managers complain that their executives have not clarified the organization’s strategic goals. But we need to accept that leaders are not perfect, and do not always present this kind of clarity on a plate. Life is messy. The answer is not just to sit back and complain, or simply take shots in the dark. That is victimhood, not leadership. Effective managers take responsibility for finding clarity through dialogue with their leaders; they are able to lead both up and down. They know they owe this to their teams.

Organizations create their future through the strategies they pursue. In a dynamic world, this invariably involves change and uncertainty. As employees seek clarity of purpose, there are always three questions in their minds. At times of change, the need for clear answers is intensified:

  1. What are we aiming to achieve, and why should I care?
  2. Where does my department fit in, and what is expected of me?
  3. How will we measure success, and what’s in it for me?

The task of strategic leadership at every level is to ensure that these questions are answered honestly and clearly, and that everyone has the chance to contribute meaningfully to the end result. As Henry Kissinger once observed, “No strategy, no matter how ingenious, has any chance of succeeding if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none.”

a gearbox is an effective metaphor for the deep connection between all units necessary for effective strategy

© Andrew Walch | Flickr

In a seminar I ran for a major corporation one of the participants asked the CEO how he saw his role as the head of such a big enterprise. He walked up to a flip chart and drew a gearbox. Then he explained: “I see my responsibility as controlling the large wheel in a gearbox. The role of a gearbox is to transmit power. Every time I turn that large wheel just one notch, all the smaller wheels will spin progressively faster. Those smaller wheels are you and your teams. My most important job is to turn the big wheel on just the right issues so that all the energies of the company are driving the few things that matter most to our success.” He paused for a moment, and went on to make the clinching point: “All of you also have your hands on a large wheel, and you owe it to your teams to turn that wheel on just the right issues — those that line up with our corporate priorities.”

Whenever the challenge of strategic alignment comes up in that company, the executives remind themselves of “the parable of the gearbox.”

All too often top leaders believe that their key task is to “communicate” the strategy to the organization in a one-way process. But just telling people what to do produces compliance at best — and resentment at worst. It is a fact of life that people will support what they help to build. As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “people will do almost any what if you give them a good why.” 

True commitment comes from the dedication to a cause greater than ourselves combined with the knowledge that we can make a difference that matters. All motivational research points to one fundamental truth. Success resides in the gap between compliance and commitment.

Willie Pietersen is the faculty director of Columbia Business School’s Executive Education program Implementing Winning Strategies: The Breakthrough Strategic Learning Process.

 
 
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So what is it that makes some big multinational corporations so successful? One answer can be found in their ability to control networks.

The latest round of quarterly results have recently come out and the likes of Apple and Boeing have announced bumper profits. Others such as Sainsbury’s and Samsung have not fared so well. So what is it that makes some big multinational corporations so successful? One answer can be found in their ability to control networks.

The global economy is made up of a series of networks that link customers with providers from all corners of the world. These networks consist of chains of linked corporations that bring these products to our doorsteps – from coffee growers in Columbia through logistics companies to the coffee burner at Nestle and the shop around the corner. Once companies have gained a strong position in these networks, they can then enhance and modify them to suit their business.

Companies that succeed position themselves at the centre of these networks and then manipulate their structure and foundations. Mostly, entrepreneurship rests on three forms of networking and network building: controlling the network they are part of, bridging it with others and creating new one.

Gaining control

Good entrepreneurs seek to occupy positions of control and power in the economic networks in which they operate. They do so by occupying the profitable “middleman” position between producers and customers in the networks that make up our global economy.

These middleman positions are very profitable, based on the control they can exert over the trade flows in their network. Companies can build and maintain this position through tactically acquiring competitors – this explains the numerous mergers and takeovers that have taken place over the past decade. Acquisition strategies by AppleFacebook and Google show how mergers and takeovers can also be used to pre-emptively counter the emergence of any potential competitor.

The importance of these middleman positions explains as well how companies exercise control over trade conditions in their own supply chain networks. Imposing strict costing on suppliers might cause exploitative work conditions in the plants in which many of the company’s products are produced. But this enables them to keep their costs to a minimum.

Retail giants such as Walmart, Amazon and Tesco are well known for exercising close control of their supply chains and for imposing trade conditions on their suppliers that allows them to operate at lower costs than their competitors. The same holds for Apple, which outsources the production of its devices to giant corporations such as Foxconn in China. This allows Apple to operate at much lower costs, increasing its profit margin.

Apple outsources its production, while maintaining control of the network. Steve Jurvetson/flickrCC BY

Finally, positioning your company in the networks through relationships with the right partners results in more control and power to affect the business environment. Historical entrepreneurs such as John D Rockefeller were masters of developing these strategies. Rockefeller built a controlling position in the oil market at the end of the 19th century by procuring competing oil producers in the US and to integrating them into his Standard Oil corporation.

Bridging networks

Successful companies are adept at bridging their network with others in the global economy by exploiting things they have in common. As Ronald Burt explained in his “structural holes” theory, people or companies that can connect across different groups can be more creative and innovative.

Son Apple is able to tie different products and activities into comprehensive packages of services to their customers. Instead of just producing a personal computer or its operating software, Apple pioneered a vision of delivering the whole package of hardware and software to its customers – with great care given to design too. Although in the 1980s and 1990s this strategy was less effective and Microsoft was the more successful company, Steve Jobs’s persistence in following his vision ultimately succeeded. Indeed, Apple’s vision has become the most successful in the 21st century, since this approach is anchored in the networked nature of our global economy.

Creating new networks

The most successful corporations are able to create new networks through an innovative vision that executes a business strategy that fits with the prevailing philosophy of life. Apple is again the most prominent example of this aspect of entrepreneurship since it sells a world view in which hardware devices are linked with providing content in a beautiful design. Apple gets us communicating with friends through social networks, listening to music, making and modifying photographs, playing games and “looking cool” in a single vision of what a successful 21st century person aspires to.

Apple created new economic networks through the introduction of iTunes, their App Store, iPods, iPhones and iPads, resulting in a world view that people bought into. The latest additions to these services are the iCloud storage service and Apple Watch, which can communicate information of one’s body and health status to other devices. Then there’s Apple Pay, which will enable customers to increasingly control their finances through their Apple devices.

Although proposed and pioneered by others, it is Apple’s total vision of what a successful 21st century life should be that enables them to reap the profits from their products and make us “addicted” to them.

It is the success of Apple in this third aspect of entrepreneurship in a network economy that sets the company apart from its competitors, and whose lead aspiring businesses should follow.

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