The smartphone and tablet wars are ongoing. Every 6 to 12 months, we get a new barrage of tantalizing photos and cryptic descriptions of the latest this and the latest that—sleek new gadget designs and powerful new software that promise to be bigger, better, faster.

In all honesty, though, it all seems a bit “more of the same” at this point.

Sure, the Apple Watch looks cool, but is it a disruptive force like the first iPhone or iPod? The jury’s still out on that one, and I’m not convinced there’s going to be a mad dash to the marketplace for consumers to adorn themselves with a watch that’s more bulky than it is sexy. Time will tell (pun intended).

I Believe in I Can

The last decade saw a dizzying amount of new releases and innovations of the likes we hadn’t seen in quite a while. Apple’s iPod debuted in 2001, the first iPhone in 2007, the first iPad in 2010, and the first Samsung Galaxy in 2010.

Can you believe we’ve been nose-deep in our smartphones for less than 10 years? The iPod, the elder statesman of the bunch, practically feels ancient in comparison given that it’s been around for 14 years! It’s hard to remember a time when smartphones and tablets weren’t as omnipresent as they are these days.

Naturally, this begs the question: “What’s next?”

  • Is Google Glass or Microsoft’s Hololens the next big breakthrough?
  • Is there something in Samsung’s laboratories yet to be unveiled?
  • What does Apple have in the wings for 2015 and beyond? Will the Apple Car ever see the road . . . and what ever happened to the promise of AppleTV?
  • Or is there a surprise in store for us from some new company or an old one looking to introduce a breakout new product?

It’s a wonder that today’s business leaders, from CEOs and business owners to product developers and marketers, don’t all have ulcers trying to come up with and build their company’s next “better mouse trap.” While I can’t speak to the daily level of antacid intake for these individuals, I can speak to the type of mindset it takes to survive and thrive in today’s marketplace for companies of all sizes, from the very small to the very big:

  • You need to be flexible, adaptable, and ready, willing, and able to respond to what’s happening in the marketplace.
  • You need to be thinking, what’s my next opportunity look like vs. maintaining the status quo.
  • You need to be thinking, what’s my long game vs. focusing solely on short-term objectives.

Given Apple’s tremendous success of the last 15 years and the fact that it’s now the world’s most valuable company, it’s easy to forget that the company was on the verge of bankruptcy in the mid-1990s.

Early on, Apple innovated with a user friendly, intuitive software platform, but as Microsoft caught up in ease of use, the ability of PCs and PC clones to run on the Windows operating system made whether or not to buy Apple’s hardware (which was necessary to run the Apple operating system) a difficult, if not impossible, decision. Couple that with Apple’s lack of any real new enhancements to its operating system for several years in the early 1990s, and it’s easy to understand why the Apple brand started to wither on the tree.

Apple’s leadership at the time simply failed to respond to the changing marketplace. It’s competitors were catching up and passing them, and consumers—even Apple’s most diehard fans—were beginning to look elsewhere. Cue the return of Steve Jobs circa 1997 and a new era of innovation at Apple was born. The rest, as they say, is history.

Unfortunately, not all companies fare so well. Consider Kodak, once one of America’s most successful and enduring companies (or so we thought). Why did the Kodak we once knew fail?

Even though it invented digital photography in the mid-1970s, Kodak simply refused to believe that its core business of film and film chemicals was in decline despite a marketplace that was telling it again and again that digital was the wave of the future. Kodak was either unable to recognize or to accept its new marketplace realities, so it failed to adapt its business model and its brand, which resulted in the company filing for bankruptcy protection in 2012.

The Kodak we knew is now gone. What remains is a former shell of itself, selling digital imaging and print services for businesses and commercial film.

While brands need to remain true to who and what they are, they also need to recognize that market conditions change. Whether it’s due to technology, economic forces, or simple consumer preference, brands need to be able to adapt and “flex” their business models in order to survive and thrive.

Passion . . . Inspiration: Follow Your Heart

How do you look ahead and consider what’s next for your brand? Do you keep an eye on industry trends, emerging technologies, and shifts in consumer preferences? Do you monitor the environment in which you operate, including the affect regulations and public and fiscal policies might have on your business?

Do you have a “how can we do better” and “how can we continuously improve” mentality? Do you encourage employees to step up and speak up with ideas and innovations? Are you ready for what tomorrow brings for you and your brand?

Share how you have been able to respond to changes in the marketplace over the years . . . or how you haven’t. What lessons have you learned? What lessons can you teach others?