Five years ago I wrote a post entitled: “The next punch in the face”, which you can read here. I began by quoting noted retail legend Mike Tyson who allegedly said “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” My point, more or less, was that in the world we live in, we’re going to get punched. Sometimes we’ll see it coming, sometimes we won’t. But we must be prepared and we must get our organizations to be more agile.
A few years later, after a successful trip to the Metaphor Store, I decided I needed a less violent but still powerful message to underscore how innovation and transformation were rippling through the industry, sometimes casting brands against the rocks like boats in the tempest.
So it seemed easy to borrow from Jack Kornfield, one of my favorite spirituality teachers. My updated message, dripping with stolen metaphor, was to point out that once we wade into the ocean, waves are inevitable and that to cope with that reality we are all going to have to learn to surf.
So what does any of this have to do with thriving in today’s environment? Well, if one looks at what’s happening to retail today that is highly disruptive, much of it may feel like a punch when it fully hits. The waves may seem unending and often violent. But here’s where the metaphors lose power and relevance.
We should have seen it coming. At least, most of it.
Instead what we have is more slow motion car crash than retail apocalypse–despite what the pundits say.
A brand that’s been in business over 100 years suddenly has 20% or more of its total store base it needs to close immediately? How did that happen overnight?
A retailer that has tons of customer data and dozens, if not hundreds, of marketers wakes up one morning and discovers they are not ready for Millennials?
A retailer with masses of merchants, sophisticated planning software, consultants galore, misses sales and margin plans quarter after quarter? I guess they suddenly got a whole bunch of new customers they didn’t notice and know nothing about?
A CEO goes to a conference (or on CNBC) and “enlightens” the audience about how most in-store purchases are driven by digital and how a consumer that shops in multiple channels is most profitable and shopping needs to be seamless and blah, blah, blah. Sir, anyone who’s been paying attention at all has known this for years (too bad I didn’t save my presentation to the Neiman Marcus Board from 2007 to show you),
Most of the troubles afflicting major retailers, wholesale brands and the commercial real estate market have been obvious for years and their impact highly predictable. You can go look it up. I’ll wait.
If we were paying attention, if we were doing the hard, necessary work, if we were innovating, rather than just talking about innovation, if we accepted the inevitable realities of the marketplace, how could we not have acted?
Rinse and Repeat.
The only real surprise is how some of these leaders still have their jobs given what lousy surfers they’ve turned out to be or how awful they were at seeing the punch coming.
Maybe they over-looked the really hard part of surfing?
Or maybe they just don’t know how to take a punch?
Either way, the next time someone says “wow, nobody saw this coming” chances are they were looking the wrong way all along or too busy riding the brake when they need to step on the gas.