Is the future brighter for companies that have disrupted entire industries? In the case of Apple, Scott Anthony and Michael Putz aren’t so sure.
In a recent post on the HBR Blog Network [link], the two authors posit “The Industries Apple Could Disrupt Next.” They are spot-on with their assessment that Apple executed (in their words) “value chain disruption” when it completely redefined the music industry via its iPod-iTunes breakthroughs. As they state, Apple “disrupted the existing music industry value chain from the record labels to the CD retailers to the MP3 device makers. The key to Apple’s success was that Steve Jobs was able to convince the major record labels to sell its critical asset — individual songs — for 99 cents.”
Anthony (@ScottDAnthony) and Putz (@MichaelPUTZ) also show how Apple did it again, by disrupting the mobile phone industry with the iPhone. This led, they note, to customers deciding, first, whether to be part of the Apple or Android phone chain and, only then, decide which carrier to choose.
All of this brilliant disruption moved Apple far ahead of many competitors. The authors note that Apple “grew from $7 billion in 2003 to $171 billion in 2013 by entering established (albeit still-emerging) markets with superior products.” One might conclude that Apple is certainly in the best spot to do it yet again and grow healthily as a result.
Just today, Lawrence Lewitinn looked at the chart of Apple (#AAPL) recent stock performance and claimed “This chart says Apple’s setting up for a huge move higher” [link].
But I believe Anthony and Putz would add a caution to putting all your money into Apple stock. In their article, they note that Apple may have a very hard time finding another industry both ripe for disruption and capable of delivering huge profit growth for Apple. They quickly assess what Apple might do in the television market, in the health care field, and in the automobile industry. None of the options appear to Anthony and Putz as a “slam dunk”. They close with the suggestion that perhaps by breaking Apple into smaller companies, those smaller entities might be more willing to disrupt areas that Apple probably deems too small to mess with now. A collection of smaller Apple firms might collectively achieve growth that BIG Apple cannot.
Anthony and Putz have an enjoyable and insightful set of observations in their HBR post. To my mind, Apple should never be discounted. For one thing, Apple has made disruption into a kind of corporate competency. And, looking at Apple’s past, through a pair of nextsensing glasses, one has to acknowledge that — with both music and phones — Apple exhibited a high level of opportunity foresense. To be sure, Apple demonstrates how companies must constantly think about future-tense opportunities.
But Apple would certainly not be the first big company that thought its past success guaranteed future business domination. Disrupters may indeed have some advantages, but to believe that one can disrupt consistently with identical results is delusion.
As Glen Stansberry (@glenstansberry) wrote when he listed “10 Massive Companies That Crashed in 2010” [link], there is much to be learned from the fate of Blockbuster, UNO Chicago Grille, A&P and seven others. Says Stansberry, “Most suffered from not being able to keep up with the changes in technology, and others simply grew too fast for the current economic climate. Whatever the reasons behind each company’s sad story, there is plenty we can learn from their demise to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes with our own businesses. Remember: Each of the companies below started out as a small business.”
Hey, didn’t Apple start with a couple of guys in a garage?