Just what makes one company capture hearts and minds while another disappears? Or enables a company to be a leader that reshapes its market? It’s not a matter of slick advertising or big-ticket branding. It can’t be determined on the strength and charisma of a CEO alone, and it takes more than a great product or terrific service.
The companies on top are the ones that actually matter to all of us. They found ways to offer more and do more than any of their other competitors. That’s the idea behind Matter: Move Beyond the Competition, Create More Value, and Become the Obvious Choice (BenBella, 2016), a savvy book by Peter Sheahan and Julie Williamson, Ph.D. The authors are part of an innovative consultancy, Karrikins Group — Sheahan is founder and CEO, and Williamson is VP for strategy and research. Their book is tailor-made for these quicksilver, uncertain times.
Having studied more than 30 companies from over 15 different countries, these authors make the convincing argument that what enables an organization to achieve indispensability and relevance (not to mention market dominance) it is the ability to embrace disruption. Disruption is certainly a common denominator in this intensely volatile and rapidly changing economy, though not always a positive one: stories abound of legacy firms rendered obsolete by online competitors, for instance. Plenty of companies shrink away from disruption, choosing to ride it out and hope for the best. But change, as we all know, is inevitable. Sheahan and Williamson assert that the companies that actually face and adapt myriad disruptions wind up ahead.
Matter is written with a keen, insider’s perspective on what it takes to be competitive: Karrikins Group is has an impressive roster of international clients and some fifteen years of experience helping them grow. The case studies are written with genuine appreciation for the executives and managers who are trying to achieve. But as Sheahan and Williamson point out, it’s the same dog eat dog world as it always was, but it’s faster: the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company has shrunk from 50 years to 15 years.
Firms from multinational to hungry startup must work to find what the authors call the edge of disruption. You might call it the intersection between the value that a company presently offers — such as chestnut brand Burberry or tech innovator Adobe — and what it has to offer, going into the future, to stay afloat. Combine them both, and a company can position itself for long-term survival.
In Burberry’s case, then-CEO Angela Ahrendts foresaw the tsunami of online retail and made sure the company was positioned to beat the competition, but without succumbing to lesser quality or decreased style. In the case of a plumbing supply company, it was faced with the inevitable behemoth known as Amazon. It looked for needs in the market that Amazon could not fill, and then partnered with the behemoth to provide them. Relationships are key in this equation — with your teams, with your employees, and with your competitors.
Nike, AT&T, CVS: Matter offers a fascinating glimpse behind familiar business headlines, but there are plenty of smaller firms whose stories are just as inspiring. Sheahan and Williamson ably demonstrate that what informs each’s winning strategy is focusing on the customer’s best interests, aspiring to fulfill them, and aligning the entire company with that goal (it’s like a corporate version of Friday Night Lights’s mantra, “Clear eyes full hearts can’t lose”). And that, as the authors write, is what makes a company truly matter. Passionate, inspiring, filled with serious data and packed with intelligence, this is an enjoyable read, and a practical, relevant road map for anyone interested in business today.