Staying Relevant Should Mean More Than A Few Years

Feb 24, 2017 1 Min Read


Microsoft’s stunning comeback in recent times is a case study in reinvention

After work on a Friday, I used to stop by Blockbuster and rent movies to watch later in the evening on our Sony TV while eating pizza. Inevitably while in Blockbuster, I would call my wife from my Motorola StarTac flip-phone and ask her thoughts on what movies to rent.

On Saturday mornings, I worked in the yard with my Craftsman lawnmower and tools from Sears. In the afternoons, we headed to the park and took pictures using Kodak film while eating a picnic lunch. On the way home, we’d stop by Toys “R” Us to buy something for little Emily (my eldest daughter).

Wrapping up the weekend, on Sunday evenings, I’d pull out my Dell computer to prepare for the week ahead. I think every programme that I used, including the operating system, was from Microsoft. When I got a little bored I would open Yahoo to search the net.

That was my typical weekend in the mid-1990s, which wasn’t too long ago. I couldn’t envision a future without those companies and their products. I thought I would use the cool Motorola flip-phone forever. Where else would anyone buy toys other than from Toys “R” Us?

Microsoft ran my life and work. Yet, 20 years later, they’re noticeably absent from my life. Those companies are no longer relevant to me.

Yet other companies have remained an everyday part of my life for decades. For example, I still drink Diet Coke, write with a Mont Blanc pen, almost exclusively wear Ralph Lauren clothes, wear the same type of running shoes — Nike Pegasus — albeit version 33 now. Why did some companies disappear while others stayed?

I wonder if it’s because the ones that disappeared thought like I did and failed to envision a future where they wouldn’t be relevant.

Perhaps Motorola also envisioned me using their StarTac flip-phone forever. If so, they fell into the strategic trap of focusing on today’s needs and failing to anticipate the future.

Your future isn’t contained between you and your customer. Somebody else is thinking about your future differently than you are. For example, a few decades ago, Sears was the most popular retailer in the United States with claims that 75% of the United States shopped with them.

Then, came along the likes of Home Depot, Toys “R” Us, Circuit City, Bed, Bath & Beyond, who took the individual departments of Sears and built competitive big-box retailers giving Sears’ customers access to a broader product line.

Sears and the customers saw the same future, until someone else showed them a different and better version of it.
When you get to the top, it’s daunting to stay there.
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You also need to watch out for the other trap, the psychological trap of fixating on what made you successful. Not only are the familiar words “what got you here, won’t get you there” unheeded, what got you here, won’t even keep you here.

You can’t keep doing more of the same — worse than stagnating your progress, you’ll slide backwards. To remain relevant, you must reinvent.

Proactively reinventing yourself is the key to avoiding a tailspin and losing market share. That is exactly how Microsoft became hot again with a market cap topping US$500bil, the highest it’s been in 17 years.

This point is equally poignant for you personally. Great leaders know that in addition to reinventing their companies’ products and services they also need to reinvent themselves personally. You need to become relevant to your company’s future, not just to today’s work.

Most of us have a tendency towards illusory superiority — the belief that we are above average in our abilities, even though all of us can’t possibly be. This psychological trap is like a bear trap clamping down on your growth.

Reinvention is more than making small, incremental tweaks, its changing so much that you appear to be entirely new.

Ask yourself, “How can I be reinvented?”; “How can I be much better?”.

You will be amazed at the things you can do by having a reinvent mindset.

Don’t stumble and lose your future edge like the innovative companies that defined my life in the 90s did. Watch out for — and avoid — the strategic and psychological traps. Remain continually relevant by reinventing yourself.

Tommy is a CEO coach, author, speaker and advisor who believes in helping good leaders become great! To engage with him, e-mail us at

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