Shift Ahead: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World

Shift Ahead: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World

by Allen Adamson, Joel Steckel


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In a world that's changing faster and more furiously than ever, the ability to shift focus is critical. Why is it that some organizations can continually evolve to meet the times and the marketplace, and others can't? How do some companies always seem to know the perfect season to shift gears, as well as the rights methods to implement when doing so, while others ruefully, and perhaps stubbornly, go down sinking when a simple shift would’ve saved everything? Shift Ahead taps into both success stories and cautionary tales from others who have gone before in order to provide for readers a smart, calculated approach to knowing both: 1) when to change course and 2) how to pull it off. Packed with insightful interviews from leaders at HBO, Adobe, BlackBerry, National Geographic, Microsoft, Kodak, and elsewhere, this must-have resource explains how to• Spot warning signs that it’s time for a reinvention• Overcome obstacles standing in the way of your company’s future goals• Maintain authenticity when shifting gears• Execute changes seamlessly, no matter how bold they areToday more than at any other time before, knowing when to shift, and how to do so successfully, is the key to remaining competitive. But with Shift Ahead, this difficult yet imperative maneuver will become the key to your company’s long-term success!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814438336
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 11/09/2017
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

ALLEN ADAMSON is a branding expert, a columnist, and the author of three books including BrandSimple and BrandDigital.

JOEL STECKEL is professor of marketing and vice dean of doctoral education at NYU Stern School of Business.

Read an Excerpt

Why This Book?

It's a good question. And a good part of the answer resides in the word relevant. To say something is "relevant" is to say that it matters. Being relevant has always been a critical factor for success in all walks of life. Writers and artists want their work to be relevant. Musicians want their music to be relevant. Filmmakers want their movies to be relevant to viewers. Scientists and researchers want their discoveries to be relevant. Teachers want their lessons to be relevant. We all want to believe we are relevant to our employers and to our partners. But, more germane to this book, businesses must continually ensure that they are relevant to their customers if they want to continue to stay in business. A central premise of this book is that to remain relevant, businesses must indisputably know why they matter to their customers.

That said, maintaining relevance in a world that is changing so very, very fast is very, very challenging. (Lest you doubt that the world is changing fast, when was the last time you got late-breaking news from an actual newspaper versus a media app or Twitter feed, took a picture with a camera instead of a phone, thought there was no possibility for a self-driving car, sent your resume through the mail rather than posting it on the cloud, or watched a television show at the time it actually aired?)

The ability to stay relevant is being significantly challenged by the accelerating pace of change—and new ways of doing things—that are emerging with every passing day.

As Thomas L. Friedman, award-winning author and columnist for the New York Times told us, the planet's three largest forces—Moore's Law (technology), the Market (globalization), and Mother Nature (climate change and biodiversity loss)—are accelerating all at once, transforming five key realms: the workplace, politics, geopolitics, ethics, and community.

"When change is happening at five miles per hour, if you get off track it's not that big a deal, because how far off track can you get? But when change is happening at 500 miles per hour, a small error in navigation can have a huge effect. If you don't start every day by asking, What world am I living in? What are the biggest drivers in the world? What are the biggest drivers shaping more things and places?, you won't get the proper diagnoses. This really matters more than ever," Friedman told us when we spoke. "These three forces aren't just changing the world; they're fundamentally reshaping everything. And I would say that, as such, they require massive innovation in both business and 
 society. Change is happening at a compound rate and innovation has to happen at a compound rate in these other realms. That's the main argument in my book [Thank You for Being Late]. Either we align ourselves with these drivers to shape the world to get the most out of them or not. That said, I would also say you need to build off that solid foundation."

Breakthroughs in science, data analysis, healthcare, media, and education are occurring at compounded rates of speed. The way we bank, secure our homes, get our entertainment, measure the effect of our exercise regimens, acquire information, share information, buy our food, use energy to run our households, and perform almost every other daily activity is changing literally before our eyes and during our lifetimes. The ongoing transformations in the way technology works, businesses work, and almost everything else in the world works is having a major impact on how we work, plan, decide, think, and live.

It was with this idea in mind that we set out to write Shift Ahead. It is based on our hands-on experience, our academic research, and most significant, our more than 100 interviews with senior management and category experts from a wide spectrum of applicable fields. We wrote Shift Ahead to document how the smartest companies and organizations shift their strategies in order to stay relevant in the face of the swift and exponential changes in everything from technology to the forces of globalization, from politics to culture, from consumer tastes to human behavior. We wanted to find out how they shift ahead—how they stayed ahead of the curve, the competition, and the evolving requirements of their customers—given the barrage of evolving challenges.

We also wanted to clarify how businesses and organizations shifted the focus of their endeavors without losing focus on what they stand for in the minds of consumers. As marketing professionals, we know that in a world as trans-parent and skeptical as this one, authenticity has taken on far greater significance. We found in case after case that staying connected to your organizational DNA, staying true to your "true north" as you shift ahead is critical for credibility. Firms that shift ahead, but without maintaining a focus on who they are, do so at their own peril.

One goal of this book is to distill the experiences of over 100 companies through the lenses of our diverse practical and academic backgrounds to provide usable and, yes, relevant lessons learned on how to stay relevant in this frenetic world. We want these lessons to be as applicable to small start-ups and nonprofits as they are to multinational organizations. We want them to be as beneficial for brick-and-mortar establishments as they are for online enterprises. With a minimal amount of buzzwords and jargon, and with a wealth of, again, relevant examples, Shift Ahead demonstrates how organizations across a wide range of categories effectively and efficiently shift gears, shift direction, but always with the intention of shifting ahead, so as to continue to matter in a meaningfully different way to those they serve.

Excerpted from SHIFT AHEAD: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World by Allen Adamson and Joel Steckel. Copyright © 2018 Allen Adamson and Joel Steckel. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission.

All rights reserved.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments ix

Chapter 1: Why This Book? 1

Chapter 2: Heed the Red Flags 19

Red Flag One: Basic Math 21

Red Flag Two: Competing on Price, Not Differentiation 22

Red Flag Three: Big on Data, Short on Analysis 23

Red Flag Four: Neglecting Table Stakes 25

Red Flag Five: Pride Often Does Go Before a Fall 26

Red Flag Six: Being Too Deep in Your Comfort Zone 28

Red Flag Seven: Yertle the Turtle Is Left Behind 31

Chapter 3: The Road Barriers 33

Kodak Read the Writing on the Wall 
(but Wasn't Willing to Pay the Price) 34

Xerox: Sunk Cost Bias and Golden Handcuffs Deterrents to Both Business and Brand 42

Toys "R" Us: Playing Catch-up Is Hard When You're 
 Competing on the Wrong Metrics 47

Procter & Gamble: Not Too Big to Fail (or Stumble) 50

BlackBerry: Invincibility Is a Myth 54

National Geographic: A Well-Documented Case of Cultural Myopia 58

Playboy: A Yesterday Brand, with a Lesson Relevant for Today 62

American Cancer Society: Leadership on Autopilot Is Fatal 
in Fast-Changing Conditions 66

Teach for America: The Challenge to Get Back to the 
 Founder's Mentality 69

Chapter 4: Ready the Organization for a Shift 81

American Express: Still Shifting After All Those Years 82

Hertz: Research as Waze 85

Facebook: Shifting Gears Comes Naturally 88

New York Life: Mutuality Does Mean a Lot 91

Delta: Climbing in Employee Satisfaction, and Otherwise 93

Sony: Going Back to Where It Plays Best 97

Chapter 5: Making Sense of the Road Ahead 109

Chapter 6: Which Shift to Make? It Depends on What's Ahead 123

Barnes & Noble: Understand Your DNA 126

Katz's Delicatessen: Sometimes Staying in Park Is the Right Gear 128

Cheerios: "Small Shifts" to Meet Shifting Attitudes 131

Hasbro: Game on . . . Shifting by "Zooming Out" 133

CNN: An Important Message for Media Companies 138

Conservation International: A Shift to Link Environmental 
 Conservation to Economic Growth 143

IBM: A Legacy of Continued Shifting 148

Lindblad: Shifting to Deliver Deeper Expertise to a Core Focus 152

Comcast: Two Shifts, Two Roads, One Purpose 154

BP: A Lesson Learned 160

Chapter 7: Leadership 171

John Sexton: New York University (NYU) 175

Shelly Lazarus: Ogilvy & Mather—Leading the People 
Who Build Leading Brands 181

Central Park: Holding People Accountable—and Getting Your 
 Own Hands Dirty 185

Forbes Media: Adversity Was the Mother of Reinvention 190

Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School: Guiding Kids—
and Parents—with Honesty and Determination 197

Chapter 8: Success Stories: 
What it Takes for the Long Haul 207

Marriott International: From Root Beer to Resorts 212

FedEx: Keeping the Purple Promise 216

Greenwich Public Library: Successfully Shifting Ahead in the 
 Age of Digital Information 225

Chapter 9: Success Is Never Final 237

IAVA: A Clearly Focused Mission as a Compass for 
Veterans' Shifting Needs 238

HBO: Always Ahead, It's Never Been Just TV 243

GE: Reinvention at Work for over 125 Years 249

Concluding Remarks 257

Notes 263

Index 269

Customer Reviews