My son, home for Thanksgiving, suggested I read “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson.  It’s a terrific book, one I learned a lot from and I also highly recommend it to you.

Apple Computer was created in the very late 1970’s.  Steve Jobs was forced out of the company he cofounded by the late 1980’s.  By the middle 1990’s Apple was in serious trouble and its survival was in doubt.  What had been a revolutionary company that virtually single handedly created the personal computer industry was on it’s way to oblivion.

Today some friends were discussing eBay a company that at one time was among the most admired in the world.  Now, it is a company which, though huge, gives poor service, charges a lot more for what it does than it used to and has lost a lot of its customer base.  It reminded me of Netscape the company which made the Internet usable when it created the first practical web browser.  That in turn caused me to think about AOL the company that gave us widespread Internet access first.

Netscape doesn’t exist.  AOL is a shell of its former self and not even in the same business.  eBay, while still in business, is becoming rapidly irrelevant as Amazon takes its customers and transactions away.

Apple is the most valuable company in the world!  What is the difference?

It’s really simple.  When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 he returned its focus.  They made fewer products but made them better than anyone else.  They innovated and made products that others were recognized for much better.  Along the way they created some new markets, turned others on their head and saved one or two.

The lesson here is obvious to me.  Even in a basic set of industries like computers, cell phones, Internet providers, music or insurance distribution if you rest on your laurels you will eventually die.  If you don’t innovate you will not prosper long term even if you survive marginally (AOL for example).   The insurance distribution business is a basic industry that has remained largely unchanged for 100 years.  But technology is not bypassing it.  Technology is going to revolutionize it.

How?  I don’t have the answer to that question.  But I am extremely optimistic that my company, and others, will be forward thinking and nimble enough to not only survive but thrive.  We are innovating.  We are not just accepting the status quo.  We are focused on our customers and what they want.  We are changing daily to meet them where they are going even though they may not know themselves where they are headed.

What about you?

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