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Strategy

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That’s designer and technologist John Maeda reflecting on the nature of disruptive innovation and their timescales. Whether it’s technologies with broad, sweeping applications that upend society — like what happened with the shift from steam power to electricity — to more specific inventions like the 1990s hard disk world, he offers up a meditation “when thinking about being disrupted.” In addition to citing the late Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, he unearths the source paper behind a conference talk he attended in the Before Times called, “Dynamo and the Computer: The Productivity Paradox” by Stanford economist Paul David, published…


The startup’s opportunity is not conference calls, it’s never-ending drive-time radio

The invitation-only audio-chat social networking app clubhouse is pictured on a smartphone
The invitation-only audio-chat social networking app clubhouse is pictured on a smartphone
Photo: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek/Getty Images

Remember when the back of everyone’s toilet had a pile of magazines on it?Those magazine piles vanished with the advent of the mobile internet. Today, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are never-ending sources of content you can tune into in those spare moments, to occupy that part of your brain. Clubhouse — the new darling of Silicon Valley and the extremely online set — may have hit upon a rich vein of similar desperation, and if the company navigates it correctly, could become just as essential.

Stratechery’s Ben Thompson wrote about Clubhouse’s opportunity last week. Economics of podcasts and blogging aside…


Today on his blog Stratechery, Ben Thompson responds to Tim Wu’s criticism from last week that he overextends the use of his signature “Aggregation Theory” to defend tech giants against antitrust claims. Thompson reiterates that his definition of what he calls “aggregators” does not include companies like Apple and Amazon, which sell physical products.

Both Wu’s critique and Thompson’s response are worth reading in full (but only after you’ve voted, or while you’re standing in line to). It does appear that they actually agree on a number of points, and talk past each other in other places. The quote above…


What business leaders can learn from chess players and firefighters about when to rely on intuition

A broker contemplating and holding up a phone while watching his computer.
A broker contemplating and holding up a phone while watching his computer.
Photo: Yellow Dog Productions/The Image Bank/Getty Images

When it comes to big strategic decisions, even the best and most celebrated leaders have their share of failures. Think, for instance, of Steve Jobs launching the Apple Lisa. Or Jeff Bezos pushing the Fire Phone. Or (although the jury is still out) of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman launching Quibi, the streaming platform that’s off to a disappointing start.

For the former CEO of Quaker Oats, William Smithburg, that major failure of business strategy occurred in 1994. At the time, Quaker Oats, then a prosperous, independent company, outbid several other prospective buyers to acquire Snapple, a brand of tea-based…


Business leaders ready to return to normal are operating with a losing strategy that could put them out of business

A cloud on a black background is superimposed over a US dollar bill.
A cloud on a black background is superimposed over a US dollar bill.
Image: John Lund/Photodisc/Getty Images

In times of crisis, companies innovate out of necessity. When the crisis is over, the urgency to act wanes, and we come to operate under a new version of “business as usual.” But are all the new ways of doing business necessarily better than the old ways? And, more importantly, which new systems are only Band-Aids for persistent and serious injury?

The businesses that think everything will go back to “the way things were” are operating on a losing strategy that could put them out of business. Customer behaviors will have changed irrevocably; old markets will close, and new ones…


An excerpt from the classic business book ‘The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It’

A photo of a frustrated entrepreneur sitting at his desk, pinching his eyelids.
A photo of a frustrated entrepreneur sitting at his desk, pinching his eyelids.
Photo: PeopleImages/Getty Images

Where were you before you started your business? (Or, if you’re thinking about going into business, where are you now?)

If you’re like most of the people I’ve known, you were working for somebody else. What were you doing? Probably technical work, like almost everybody who goes into business. You were a bookkeeper or a poodle clipper; a draftsperson or a hairdresser; a barber or a computer programmer; a doctor or a technical writer; a graphic artist or an accountant; an interior designer or a plumber or a salesperson. But whatever you were, you were doing technical work. And you…


Too many companies try out new ideas without knowing how to properly test them, a Harvard professor explains

A woman looks at her laptop deep in thought, looking at the results of a business experiment.
A woman looks at her laptop deep in thought, looking at the results of a business experiment.
Photo: Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

In 2016, Jeff Bezos gave shareholders a rare insight into Amazon’s innovation engine. In his annual letter, he explained: “I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.”

So it should not have come as a surprise when Amazon acquired Whole…


Illustration: Oscar Bolton Green

Michael Gerber’s ‘The E-Myth’ helped me understand why I was struggling as an entrepreneur

This is part of the Marker series “Read Like a Boss,” where founders, CEOs, and leaders in business reflect on books that revolutionized their thinking, framed their career, or aided them in a crucial business decision.

When people ask what book has inspired me the most in my entrepreneurial journey, the first to come to mind is The E-Myth, by Michael Gerber (or The E-Myth Revisited, as the 2004 revised and updated edition is known).

There are thousands of popular business books out there, many of them aimed at entrepreneurs, so what’s so special about E-Myth?

For starters, E-Myth debunks…


Overstock started as an everything store but soon discovered it needed a focus to compete with the likes of Amazon and Wayfair

A photo of the Overstock logo on a smartphone.
A photo of the Overstock logo on a smartphone.
Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

There wasn’t some big light bulb moment. And there was never a dramatic boardroom meeting where the future was determined ahead of time. Instead, Overstock’s strategy emerged gradually.

When Geoff Atkinson originally joined Overstock in 2005, it was a broad discount retailer that would sell you anything. By the time he left in 2011, it was squarely focused on home and garden.

The reason behind this shift is a fascinating case study in how seemingly small details can have a huge impact: Overstock is a public company worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but its entire strategy turned on a…


We are probably blowing their significance out of proportion

Photo: Michael H/Getty Images

In late 2013 Cowboy Ventures did an analysis of U.S.-based tech companies started in the last 10 years, now valued at $1 billion. They found 39 of these companies. They called them the “Unicorn Club.”

The article summarized 10 key learnings from the Unicorn club. Surprisingly, one of the “learnings” said that “the ‘big pivot’ after starting with a different initial product is an outlier. Nearly 90 percent of companies are working on their original product vision. The four ‘pivots’ after a different initial product were all in consumer companies (Groupon, Instagram, Pinterest and Fab).”

One of my students sent…

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