The way of the dinosaur
There are two kinds of companies in this world: those that evolve, and those that die. An example of the former is the Miller Brewing Co. Things were rosy for the company until the U.S. Constitution’s 18th Amendment took effect in 1920, launching Prohibition. The company’s owner, Frederick Miller, was faced with a choice: adapt or disappear.
Miller chose the former by creating non-alcoholic products — such as a malt tonic and carbonated soft drinks — that kept the company afloat for the next 13 years. When Prohibition ended, Miller was in position to immediately get back to what he knew best — making beer.
But the company wasn’t done evolving. Roughly half a century later, Miller changed the beer industry forever by introducing the first low-calorie product.
In contrast, buggy-whip manufacturers stand as the shining example of those who lack the vision to adapt to changing fortunes. Like beer-brewing before Prohibition, whip-making was a thriving business. Then Henry Ford came along and screwed it all up by introducing the Model T in 1908, which launched the mass-production era of automobile manufacturing and created economies of scale that put autos within reach of the middle class. Soon, horse-drawn carriages were a thing of the past and so were buggy whips. Still, all was not lost for the buggy-whip manufacturers, who could have retooled their factories and began producing automotive components. They didn’t and eventually went the way of the dinosaur.
In this issue, contributing writer Lynnette Luna reports on the effort Sprint Nextel is making to reinvent itself in an attempt to rejoin a race that currently is being dominated by AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless. It won’t be easy, as the carrier has so many holes to plug that it makes the task faced by folklore’s Little Dutch Boy look like a day at the beach.
If Sprint Nextel needs inspiration for its arduous task, it needs to look no further than Apple, which introduced a revolutionary product in the 1980s — one that still has a loyal following — but soon fell victim to nimbler, more forward-looking competitors and its own missteps. Undeterred, it went back to the drawing board and not only got back into the game but later introduced a family of products that became a cultural phenomenon. Just as Frederick Miller changed the way people drink beer, Apple — with its iconic iPod — forever changed the way people purchase and listen to music. Perhaps there’s hope for Sprint Nextel yet.