As markets progress, many big companies will move away from their core competencies. Today, we're seeing a transformation of organizations driven by changing technology and consumer expectations, resulting in more complex and systemic changes than just a new product or a service. But at Frog, the global design and strategy firm, CEO Harry West has managed to stay focused - while still keeping up with an evolving marketplace - thanks to a serious of micropivots.
The "trick" to continued success? According to West, "you figure out what your focus is, and you stay with it."
It sounds straightforward, but when you add the caveat that "the target is moving and accelerating," things can get a little trickier. How do you stay focused, yet also change, at the same time?
The best way to think about this idea - and Frog itself - is on a very fundamental level. What the company does is bring the human-centered creative design approach to emerging technology. That's it. That's Frog's focus.
But, when the elements that constitute "emerging technology" are constantly changing, the particular skill sets, the ways of thinking and organizing that the company brings to bear on those technical challenges need to constantly change as well.
West and his team look at technical changes and ask, "Well, what can we do with this?" When these technical developments mingle with changes in consumer expectations, there is a resulting shift in the market, and Frog's goal is to "help pull companies through the transformation driven by those changes," West says.
A large part of West's job is to stay attuned to what is going on; "to see the weak signals and how the world is changing, and then to double down in that direction rather than staying focused on the work that we've been doing last year or last decade." But Frog doesn't abandon its core competencies or, no pun intended, simply hop from one focus to the next.
Instead, the company is essentially engaging in micropivots: learning from each client that they work with and using those lessons to figure out which directions to explore and double down on. "I love that close collaboration with the client," says West. "It's not like 'Go develop this.' It's 'let's work together to find some opportunities.'"
Companies such as BNY Mellon, Honeywell, UBS, and GE work with Frog because the design firm has people who like to work with ambiguous problems, who can begin to interpret these changes through the eyes of a consumer, who are very quick to bring these new ideas to market, who know how to take something intangible and make it "real," and how to work with other technology partners to execute. Frog helps transform organizations by aligning them around the processes necessary to become this new type of firm - building capabilities, developing business cases, and sometimes even program-managing the change.
As Frog progresses through these partnerships, each client rubs off on Frog just a little, refining the process a little more, providing just a little more insight into market developments and the market's future needs. These new insights inform Frog's operations moving forward, creating micropivots that might be invisible to the naked eye but that are the fuel that drives Frog forward.
The Ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus' Paradox, was most popularly coined by Plutarch, who asked whether a ship that had been restored by replacing every single wooden part remained the same ship. Even though Frog adds or sheds small pieces as its customers and markets dictate, it's hard to dub it a Ship of Theseus; after all, its core identity remains the same.
"Our mission is transforming human experience through design," says West. If your services pivot or shift over time, so be it as long as you're staying true to the core. "For the world changes, and so we must change." That's certainly advice most of our businesses can learn from.