On a recent study tour to Japan, I visited a range of leading manufacturing companies to better understand how they do what they do. In one particular business, which was a hundred years old, the Grandson of the founder was proudly showing our group around and when it came to question time, a number of us were intrigued to find out what he considered to be the key to their longevity and success.
Our host believed that the answer came from his Grandfather's philosophy which was to always be planning for the day when their customers no longer wanted to buy what they were selling. And he used the example of a Toyota sewing machine in the foyer to illustrate his Grandfathers point. If Toyota only sold sewing machines they would be out of business today (who even knew that Toyota started as a textile company that used to make sewing machines 70 years ago?).
Of course the big point here is that we all need to be evolving in our business, but we can't wait for our customers to stop buying what we are selling and then hope we come up with something that they do want in a hurry to fill the gap.
Our world changes so fast, that we have to do our utmost to always be one step ahead of our customers, particularly when it comes to figuring out what they want and need.
It is very easy to become complacent, to think that the business will never stop walking in the door, but there are countless examples in the last 10 years alone, that prove that markets can literally change overnight and often the only ones left standing are the agile, the brave, the forward thinking and of course the innovative businesses.
To put it simply, being complacent is the enemy of success in the modern business world. We have to avoid getting too comfortable, we have to shake off feelings of certainty and be prepared to embrace and cope with uncertainty, or else we might just go the way of the Toyota sewing machine.
Much better that we go the way of Toyota itself - and continually be developing new products and services, because we know that one day, our current customers will not want to buy what we are selling.