A Discussion On ‘Seeing Over Horizons’

I was in a meeting the other day made up of C-suite business leaders when I asked the group if there were any further questions. Suddenly, one of them turned to me and asked the following. To wit:

“You said there are times when you’re trying to explain what you’re seeing over the horizon, that you can’t take for granted whether or not they truly understand the viewpoint, because too them, you yourself can appear to be over the horizon. Can you give an example of what you mean by that?”

It was a fair question and thought I’d share it, because the reaction to my answer was both overwhelmingly responsive, as well as brought forth provoking thoughts to their own observations or biases for future business concerns. Here’s a summation on how I replied…

“Everyone is looking out over the horizon, as they say. And in using that metaphor, if you think about it, if you were to travel to that horizon and look out, there would of course then be another horizon. My job, or at least how I see it, is to give, or explain to others, what I see from that further vantage point.

That “view” if you will, is nothing more than my amalgamated viewpoint based upon all my prior acumen in business and life. This, again, using it as a metaphor, usually allows me to venture out both first, and further than most. So, if I see, or surmise something that warrants attention or concern, there’s usually going to be some form of lag time till it gets to where most may finally get a first glimpse. The reasoning being, of course, is I’ve already been over, or to the first horizon.

Yet, also inherent in these observations is that the lag time, if you will, sets up the perfect situation as to discount any, and for some, all warnings. This is just as important to point out as the observation itself. One can disagree with whatever I may or may not propose or surmise, but making sure their doing so for the right reasons is key.

Just like the warning for a potential hurricane brewing in the open ocean. Whether or not it hits landfall with the expected strength or not is immaterial. Knowing it was there, along with its potential is the key, which is where the real question lies and that question is this: Would one rather have a knowing and possibly adjust their plans or actions accordingly, then not have it make landfall? Or, would one rather go about oblivious? The ‘oblivious’ person appears the smarter every time – until the one day they’re blindsided.

Business is much the same, that’s why honing this skill, for lack of a better term, is paramount for those serious about it.

To be clear: It’s the ability (of course as a metaphor) to see over the first horizon onto the second, and make plans accordingly, as to act, move, or stay put is where the real competitive advantage is made. This is the process that delivers ‘First Mover Advantage’ status and all the competitive benefits that come with it.

Many think it’s just plain luck. It’s not. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. However, the conscious decision to place oneself or business directly in the probable path to be at the right place, or the right time, with the right solution, is not luck – its prudent business at the highest level of the game.

Yet, let me reiterate: Inherent in these observations is that lag time. And it is here that sets up the perfect situation as to discount any, and for some, all warnings. It’s how people never see the next big crash, or the next big “thing” as to capitalize on it.

Some think it’s all about the stock market, but it’s not. This applies to markets and businesses such as how “Sony™ never saw the iPod®, or how Motorola™ never saw the iPhone®. The list goes on and on.

Remember, these two examples I use are for the reasoning that the afore-mentioned were not just the dominant players, but for all intents and purposes, created the product categories to begin with. Then, lost not only market share – but total brand and product relevancy – and never regained it.

Today, when it comes to the financial markets, I hear all the time about how the “experts” are predicting this, that, and the other thing, and how this will happen, and that won’t happen, and on, and on. All fair points, if – you don’t remember any of the above I just referenced and apply its lessons to what may play out in likewise manners.

Let me give you another example only I’ll use myself in this one: Back in 2008/09 I was part of a handful, and I mean that literally, that warned that the markets had not only been captured, but were being manipulated by what was then called a conspiracy theorist argument. That argument was that there was some type of hidden-hand coming into the markets and rescuing it every time there was any meaningful sell off. The moniker applied to this was called ‘The Plunge Protection Team.’

This was met with calls from academics, economists, policy makers, fund managers, et al across the media complex as sheer lunacy. Calls of ‘tin-foil-wearing nut jobs’ and more were applied to us. Yet now? It’s all viewed as some form of ‘prudent monetary policy.’

This has completely adulterated the business funding sector providing protection for failing companies while their competitors who should be easily finding funding to overtake them go without. aka Crony-capitalism.

Understanding this one dynamic would have allowed one either to make, or not, certain moves in certain directions either taking additional risks, or avoiding them, because no matter how well they might perform, their funding may not allow them to compete with their competitor who is allowed to remain in business, holding on to their market share bleeding it dry, only for the fact, that their stock symbol has a bull’s-eye deemed worthy by a central bank.

Many businesses are only now understanding this point, because its become so blatant. But I’ve been warning about it and its effects for now going on a decade. We’re all still wondering how, or when this all ends, but I believe to my core it’s the ones that at least understand what’s taking place that have the best chance of not only surviving any market upheaval, but rather, thriving in it.

So then a follow-up question was made, and it was this: “Can you give another example?” Of course, I did. Here’s my answer…

“Currently we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of what we now see as the most revolutionary product of generations: The iPhone®. It’s now ubiquitous in daily life for many, and all ages. It’s seems we’re doing more, and, more, and more with it every day.

However, what if I said to you to contemplate the following: In 10 years from today the smart phone, and the way it’s used currently, may/will be looked upon, or frowned upon, if you will, the same way that smoking and drinking alcohol of the 1950’s is viewed via today’s prism?

Watch any old movie or television program of the ’50’s and so forth. Or, you can use the current Mad Men series on AMC™ as a benchmark. People smoked and drank at their desks. Television hosts and guests openly smoked both on camera, as well as off. For many drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, regardless of where one was, was as normal as having a soda today, whatever the time of day.

The smart phone of today is the embodiment of both, in my view. Its usage for distraction and more is getting to the point of where laws are being either enacted or called for. Think texting while driving as just one.

I think this will accelerate from this point on in a very short time from here, because of the things we’re finding out about it as we go along. It’s probably the most habit-forming, time-wasting, attention distraction device we’ve come up with in a century. It’ll probably be said it also promotes tooth decay or some such idiocy to push the narrative for curbing its usage.

I can see ‘age restrictions’ of all types whether for the device itself or content available. Use in classrooms, boardrooms, meetings, and more I can see being socially outlawed in the very near future. Already it’s becoming common to see a sign stating ‘NO CELLPHONE USE ALLOWED’ in certain venues. I am of the opinion this is going to accelerate, not maintain current levels. Which begets the next questions, if this has any validity:

How would your business be impacted – if – that were to be true? What preemptive positioning could you take before hand? What resources would you put or commit into the initial stages? How much commitment would be legitimate? At what point, or what signaling, would warrant an escalation of resources? Or, at what point should the entire notion be jettisoned? And so on, and so on.

And, now since I just brought this notion forward: can you see the possibility of it?

No one knows, today. But being on a careful watch for further clues may put your business in the position to capture or jettison markets in a favorable manner, rather than, suddenly waking up and finding all that great bargaining your people did to clinch the production terms to bring down the cost per unit by a few cents, now means you’re sitting on two warehouses full of the latest version of Walkman’s® as the iPod debuts, because you never saw the potential for upheaval coming. Or worse, payed no attention too it.

One response was:

“I just can’t see that happening, yet, I can see where that could be possible. After-all, no one thought cigarettes would ever be turned into the nasty habit in the publics eye that they are now. And alcohol? Same thing. Even 10 years ago, it wasn’t viewed as it is even today.

I get it now. Doesn’t mean you have certainty, but if you were on the watch for it, as you say, yeah, I can see how one could set oneself up to be in the right business, or get out of the business, at possibly the right time.”

That last line was what the entire example was meant to express. When I heard it, I knew, we were now all on the same page.

© 2017 Mark St.Cyr