In an age of rapid change and technological advancement, it can seem as though every decision is a crossroads. Whether choosing where to invest or who to vote for, every choice we make can result in runaway success or a missed opportunity. In business, these crossroads might lead us to thrive or to fail.
How can we clearly see what’s ahead of us and avoid missing out on the next big thing? Let’s start by examining one of the most noteworthy missed opportunities in business history: when Blockbuster Video passed on the chance to buy an emerging competitor called Netflix.
A Lack of Vision
As Variety reports, “It will go down as one of the biggest missed opportunities in the boardroom: Blockbuster deciding not to buy Netflix.” For several years in the early 2000s, Blockbuster chief John Antioco and Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings went back and forth over a proposed deal in which Blockbuster could have purchased the fledgling DVD-rental-by-mail service for $50 million. At the time, Netflix was not yet profitable and Antioco was skeptical of its future value.
Just a few years later, in the wake of disastrous deals with Enron Broadband Services (an early streaming platform that went down with its parent company) and Circuit City, Blockbuster closed its doors. Netflix, on the other hand, “now has a market cap of $19.7 billion.”
What caused this catastrophic missed opportunity? “Management and vision are two separate things,” a former Blockbuster executive is quoted as saying at the time. Indeed, when we’re so deep in the day-to-day realities of our current endeavors, it can be difficult to see what’s around the corner.
In Business Insider, Celena Chong notes that “This isn’t the first time that a company missed out on an opportunity that could have shifted continents of the business world. There have been other bitter “what ifs”…” including blunders that led to the eventual obscurity of Yahoo, AOL, and Comcast. One culprit is certainly the accelerating pace of technological change. When the ground seems to be constantly shifting under our feet, how can we maintain a clear vision of what’s next?
“This rapid advancement in technology is creating more intelligent enterprises,” notes Accenture Technology Vision, “Therefore, there’s a need for a fundamental shift in leadership.” Visionary leaders can no longer rely on the “next big thing” to be readily apparent. Instead, they must build ongoing, reciprocal relationships with people – both employees and customers. “Tomorrow’s leading companies are already moving beyond providing products and services. They are applying technology to create deeper, more meaningful relationships with people.”
Relationships Lead the Way
Vision, in this case, is less about attempting to look relentlessly forward and more about listening to what people want and need. In the years since Blockbuster missed their opportunity with Netflix, technology has given us the tools to connect and to listen. Social media, big data, and more are giving business leaders access to the most important predictive tool of all – their customers. There is no guaranteed way to avoid a missed opportunity, but if these relationships are allowed to lead us and illuminate the path forward, “what’s next” will always be close at hand.