Updated: Oct 31
You miss every shot you don’t take” - Wayne Gretzky
“You don’t always make every shot you take. In fact, sometimes you end up with a puck to the face” - Jason Henrichs
Most digital transformation efforts in banking fail. Most start ups fail. Most mergers, investments, and partnerships? All fail to meet expectations. Most diets fail. Sadly, in the US, most marriages fail. I expect in their teenage years, my daughters will tell me how I failed as a parent.
It turns out doing hard things is hard and hard things are prone to failure (if you haven't read it, add Ben Horowitz The Hard Things About Hard Things to your summer reading list). If they are prone to failure, why do we embark on a quest to do new things?
Charles Darwin laid out a theory of extinction in Origin that countered the contemporary narrative that extinction was the result of external environmental cataclysmic events: "Species extinction is usually, though not always, caused by the failure of a species in competition with other species. That is, causes of extinction are generally biological, not physical"
Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School Professor and pioneer of the theory of disruptive innovation, didn't explicitly build on Darwin's views but their conclusion was the same: evolve or die. I doubt I'll reach the acclaim of either of these thinkers, but this is my theory of "The Competitive Advantage of Desperation."
Startups in a non ZIRP environment need to be desperately hungry to find product market fit (PMF) before they run out of capital. Unless they have customers willing to pay them for a product or service that scales, they do not have PMF. Incumbents are at a disadvantage because they have customers. Customers that pay them. They have a business model that works.
The only challenge is it works right up until it doesn't. In Christensen terms, incumbents are killed by new entrants (both start ups and challengers from outside the space) that create a new product, experience or business model that is further up the customer demand curve from the incremental improvement of existing products.
Evolve. Or Die.
Extinction is a pretty definitive disastrous result. Except if the party about to experience extinction can parlay the inevitable outside of their window of relevance. The “I’ve just easy answer is to maintain the status quo and hope to not be around when the extinction event occurs.
Change is an act of courage. The courage to change is accepting the mantle that protecting the future requires accepting hard choices today. Many of these choices won't work, but survival depends on shouldering on until one of those choices works.
"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, From whence cometh my help." Psalm 121
Chaplain Camp was a towering figure over the New Cadet experience at West Point's Beast Barracks (the entry point for cadets into the Academy). His billowing voice extolling us to lift our eyes reverberates in my soul 31 years later. I was reminded of this exhortation at our Annual Member Meeting last week. Over 100 bankers and partners in engaged in conversations about hard things and facing a rapidly moving, uncertain future. Shoulder to shoulder. Figuring out ways to cooperate, co-develop and coordinate to improve the odds of success while doing hard things.
The meeting was a chance to lift eyes up from the day to day. To look to the hills and the future. Help comes from working together and by setting eyes on that future rather than the focus of today.