Inflection points: those moments when everything changes
These last months and years have confirmed it: between surprises and unimaginable, the points of inflection are multiplying. These are tipping points: what was true before is no longer true and there is no turning back. And your ability to see the turns taking shape on the road before they show up under the wheels is already a key skill…
This dramatic shift may herald difficult times ahead, for a single company or an entire sector. Take the case of the French hearing aid industry, which experienced a painful inflection point in 2016 when several newcomers — including Darty — entered the market. These competitors began to sell over-the-counter “hearing assistance devices” that were ten times less expensive than the existing products. Although the shift was abrupt, it did not come out of the blue: the regulatory, technological, and commercial conditions actually began to come together six years beforehand. This example illustrates the characteristics common to almost all inflection points: they are the product of a combination of independent events that aggregate over a long period of time; they are made up of a number of faint signals that, with a little technique, you can detect, understand, and use to your advantage.
Based on Seeing Around Corners, How to Spot Inflection Points in Business Before They Happen, by Rita McGrath, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019).
Visit the periphery of your ecosystem
Inflection points are usually detected at the edges of your organization: in your contact with customers, relations with suppliers, or in interactions with research organizations. It is unlikely that your board will be the first to spot the seeds of change. You, however, have to be able to see them in advance; otherwise there is a risk that you will be caught by surprise, miss an opening, or seize an opportunity that doesn’t exist. Several avenues are open to you: you can schedule regular meetings between teams that are in contact with the outside world and teams that drive strategy and innovation; or you can entrust your people in the field with the resources to independently explore new ideas, without the need to produce results. Alternatively, you can nurture diverse points of view so you are not confined to your usual frame of reference. In the same vein, don’t reject outright what the doom-and-gloom merchants might have to say. Who knows whether their dark predictions might hint at a future inflection point?
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