Time for the lightning round! Before you read any further, take out your smart phone and open a new note. Next, as fast as your thumbs can fly, jot down the smartest five CEOs you can think of.
I’ll bet you my phone against the one you hold in your hand that somewhere on your list, the name Tim Cook showed up. His company is among the world’s most valuable and Apple’s products are ubiquitous and universal. Even their nomenclature suggests a certain … better-ness, from the Geniuses in their retail stores to phones that are all about “i”.
But sometimes even geniuses are let down by their companies’ strategy. Mr. Cook might have felt this way when Apple recently announced its first decline in phone sales and revenue. That’s not for lack of strategic effort or leadership.
Tim Cook understands as well as anyone on earth that the entire fabric of technology, finance, and corporations is transforming in a hurry. When he became CEO he grabbed hold of a veritable lightning bolt of planning prowess and wielded it well. How else would a company that once made only desktop computers find itself as one of the most talked-about businesses in telephony, content, apps, and cars—all at the same time?
The trouble for Apple, just like for all other businesses, is that it’s impossible to predict when these different ventures might come to maturity. Take autos: the technology for self-driving cars already exists. It’s possible to “hack” even “dumb” cars to make them do one’s bidding from afar (and many smart farmers are already taking advantage of similar technology to automate their dirtiest, most time consuming processes). But there’s a thicket of regulators between Apple and market domination:
- Federal governments concerned with consumer safety
- State regulators responsible for inspecting and ensuring vehicles’ trustworthiness
- Transportation authorities seeking to keep the flow of vehicles flowing smoothly
- Tax collectors looking for their piece of the pie.
In short, Apple is trying to decentralize the auto business and, with partners, do its own thing—and it is counting on regulatory obstacles to break down in time for it to make money on its significant investments. Apple is close-mouthed about its objectives in the auto space, which can be taken as a sign of its importance.
Similar forces abound in other spaces. Consider encryption and transmission—existing technological advances are held in check by old regulations, authorities are scrambling to hang onto power while they figure out what to do with it, and big businesses grow anxious to stake out their market share. The potential utility and profit from technologies like mesh networks and peer-to-peer encryption are boundless, and the technology is already resident on the same phone you used to make your notes at the beginning of this blog.
If you think your company has a good chance of making money by utilizing these new technologies, the only thing that stands in the way is this creaking, ageing regulatory and programming machinery. How to overcome it or move around it? Just do the same as Tim Cook: Go for the very best strategic planning and technology advice your money can buy. And then, when the time is right, act.