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Making or Surfing Waves

Which do you do? Do you make waves in your industry or region? Or do you surf the waves that others have made? Making waves is great for the startup whose value is in the perception of future growth and the excitement of possibilities. Long term profits and dividends are more likely to come from being later to market and surfing the waves that others have made. A good surfer has criteria for choosing a wave and knows when to abandon a wave they’ve started to ride. What about you?

Consider the waves of one-to-one and one-to-many communications. Just to name a few, we have face-to-face, mail, newspapers,  telephone, magazines, radio, television, internet web pages, various social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Chat, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, Google +, Reddit, VK, Flickr, Vine, meetup,, Classmates). I just finished going through the mail that had accumulated while we were gone for nine or ten days. I separated the items into catalogs, coupons, packages, important mail (such as from investments and insurance), and really important mail (cards from family and friends for Thanksgiving). Mail is not dead in my house, but I wish it were. Try as we might, we cannot get rid of the tens of catalogs that arrive each day, especially this month with the run up to Christmas. Catalogs and magazines still seem to be the preferred media in one special room in the house. Electronics don’t seem to have successfully invaded that place.

If you had $1,000 to spend on advertising, and only that much, where would you place your ad? Which media do YOU look at most often? Which media do your customers use? I just returned from Missouri for a family vacation where I met up with my brother and some of his grown family and their kids. Twenty years ago, there were newspapers and magazines all over the airports. Not so much now, even though they continue to be sold in the convenience stores at the airport. On the plane, they’ve had to retrofit power outlets into many seats now for all the people using phones, phablets, tablets, and laptops. Only a few stalwarts are seen using a pencil to fill out crosswords in a paper book. What does this say about where you should place your bets?

Waves also come in strategy areas. There’s a great, interactive summary of various approaches to strategy that Boston Consulting Group put together. (The History of Strategy)


I have highlighted Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter’s Five Forces Analysis that deals with disruption to long standing industries by new entrants. It was further developed by Professor Clayton Christensen in 1995 in his book, Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave. This is the stuff of Uber, Lyft, Theranos, Google, e-commerce, drones, and many more companies in nearly all industries. I’ve seen multi-national companies with tens of billions of dollars in sales still using SWOT (Strengh-Weakenesses-Opportunites-Threats) that was developed in 1966 by Professor Clayton Christensen, a guru of strategy at the Harvard Business School. Personally, I have seen too many people using SWOT poorly. Strengths and Weaknesses should be focused on the internal skills, competencies, and abilities of the company. Opportunities should be focused on external opportunities presented, such as mega-trends and Threats should also be focused externally, in my opinion. Otherwise, too often I see repetition from one section to the next where Threats and Weaknesses are overlapping and Strengths and Opportunities are similar overlapping.

Waves occur in every area of business from Human Resources to Operations, from Quality to Sales, from Accounting to Legal. Be careful in your own strategy that you choose wisely. What looks like a good wave that will take you to shore may turn out to be one that breaks up and swamps you after only a few meters.