Monday, August 8, 2016

Entering Adjacencies and Bringing It All Back Home

"Entering adjacencies has become the growth strategy du jour," Ken Favaro says in Strategy+Business.

Some companies aren't good at it (remember Harley-Davidson's Men's Colognes or United' Airlines' TED?); others excel (Apple's iPhone and Disney's Cruise Line are examples).

The danger in entering adjacencies is “averaging down,” Favoro says. You may subsist in two markets, but you won't be exceptional in either.

Do people face the same danger when they stray from their core competence?

"We often stop surprising ourselves (and the market) not because we're no good anymore, but because we are good," Seth Godin says. "So good that we avoid opportunities that bring possibility."

Opening yourself to possibility may very well court danger:
  • The New York Times lambasted an exhibit of Bob Dylan's paintings."The color is muddy, the brushwork scratchily dutiful, the images static and postcard-ish. The work is dead on the wall."
  • In its review of Jon Stewart's feature film Rosewater, NPR said, "Stewart shows no signs that he can handle such tonally complex material."
  • Paul Simon's Broadway musical The Capeman opened to universally poor reviews and ran for less two months. The New York Times said, "The show registers as one solemn, hopelessly confused drone."
  • Hans von B├╝low called one of Friedrich Nietzsche's musical compositions “the most undelightful and the most antimusical draft on musical paper that I have faced in a long time.”
Compared to the artists' other work, these missteps fairly stink (a lot like Harley-Davidson Cologne). But they prove the artists aren't afraid to change, take risks, or be a bit incompetent.

"Competent people have a predictable, reliable process for solving a particular set of problems," Godin says. "They solve a problem the same way, every time. That's what makes them reliable. That's what makes them competent."

But competent people hate change
even though change opens possibilities of fresh perspectives, disruptions and breakthroughs—because it threatens their reputations.

For people, entering adjacenciesopening to possibility and taking a flyer—is a lot like foreign travel. 

It may very well bring you back home to what you do, not just competently, but masterfully.

A case in point: Before he directed the drama Interiors, Woody Allen spent a decade mastering popular low-comedy films like Take the Money and Run and SleepersWhile loathed by critics (The New Yorker called it an "achievement of suffocating emptiness"), Interiors was immediately followed by 38 years of award-winning comedies.
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