Danger, the Early Warning Sign of Opportunity

Without relying on the predictable places to hide—spread sheets, business buzzwords, risk mitigation plans, past glories—look me in the eyes. Now, point out the potential dangers for your business. When you stutter or express worry about your employees, I will know you’re being real, vulnerable, human.

I understand. You had a formula that worked. You grew an amazing 10% or more for 12 consecutive years, even if your growth is now declining, or flat, or worse. The market is dynamic. Competitors arise out of nowhere. Customers change habits, brands, or both. Your once magic formula seems commonplace.

The very things that made you different—how you went to market, a product breakthrough—limit your ability to thrive in the new world of today. Perhaps regulations are changing, or import or export laws make it harder to move swiftly.

The world has been moving at the pace of the market for more than a decade, but you’ve stayed still. Everything has changed, except your company. OK, you may have made an incremental improvement in execution or attained operational excellence. Here’s a consolation prize.

New brands have been born. New business models have entered the market. Service means something else than it did when you started to gain traction. Old customers have not been loyal in the long run. Be real. Back to danger.

Your dangers may save you. They can instruct your next move. An informed and intelligent response to danger, rather than a knee-jerk reply to it, can force a company to make changes that will empower it to thrive—but the firm must be willing to change and capable of being honest with itself.

Woe be on those companies whose pride will not let them adapt, change, and reinvent themselves. Companies so vain as to not change their story and their culture if they are losing market share deserve to live in an isolated, airless bubble.

Wake up—it’s dangerous out there—and that’s the good news.

The Chinese ideogram for danger also means opportunity. This is not to suggest that we seek out danger, but that we look for openings:  broken brand experiences, a chance to wildly redesign service expectations, or outdated business models to reinvent or revise.

Noticing danger means you notice opportunity. Noticing the new connections in the cracks of an older system produces insights about what you can do to reset market expectations by redefining what the category means to customers.

When you are ready to reinvent your business or take a leap into a new market, notice the dangers first. That is where opportunity will be hiding.