Tag Archives: Blockbuster

Driving Change is Not Enough

You Also Have To Survive Victory

Driving Change is Not Enough

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

In early 2004, Viacom announced it would spin off Blockbuster Video, leaving CEO John Antioco master of his own fate. He moved quickly to meet the threat posed by Netflix head on, launching Blockbuster Online in 2004 and, after successfully testing the concept in a few markets, ending late fees in early 2005.

Still, not satisfied with playing catch-up, Antioco searched for model that would return his company to dominance. He found it in 2006 with the Total Access program. Within a few weeks of announcing the promotion, Blockbuster was winning the majority of new subscribers, outstripping Netflix for the first time.

It was a textbook case of sound strategy and execution meeting a disruptive threat, but it would not end well. In 2010 Blockbuster would declare bankruptcy and become a cautionary tale. We tend to think that driving change is merely a matter of coming up with a clever plan and executing well. Yet that isn’t enough. You also need learn how to survive victory.

Defying Critics And Beating The Odds

John Antioco was the quintessential American success story. Starting from humble origins as a management trainee at 7-Eleven, he rose to become a senior vice president at the company. He then moved on to run the struggling Circle K convenience store chain, which he turned around in just three years before moving on to Taco Bell and working the same magic there.

So when he joined Blockbuster as CEO in 1997, he was ideally suited to the job. Early in his tenure, he came up with a program to share rental revenues with the movie studios rather than buying the videos directly.The strategy improved the firm’s cash position and its access of high demand movies, while also allowing it to increase its marketing budget. It was a stroke of genius.

“The experienced video executives were skeptical,” Antioco would later tell me. “In fact, they thought that the revenue-sharing agreement would kill the company. But throughout my career, I had learned that whenever you set out to do anything big, some people aren’t going to like it. I’d been successful by defying the status quo at important junctures and that’s what I thought had to be done in this case.”

So Antioco approached the Netflix problem in the same way. He assembled a team of talented executives, came up with a strategy and worked to execute it flawlessly. Yet although his efforts were initially successful, there was a flaw in his plan that he didn’t see at the time and it would lead to Blockbuster’s downfall.

Failing To Align Stakeholders

Not everybody was thrilled with the moves Antioco made. Franchisees, many of whom had their life savings invested in their business, were suspicious of Blockbuster Online. They only owned 20% of the stores, but could make their displeasure known. The moves were also expensive, costing roughly $400 million to implement, and investors balked.

So while Blockbuster was making progress against the Netflix threat, as earnings turned to losses, its stock took a beating. The low price attracted corporate raider Carl Icahn, whose heavy-handed style made managing the company difficult. Things came to a head in late 2006 when Icahn demanded that Antioco accept only half of the bonus he was owed.

“I was at a point, both personally and financially, that I had little desire to fight it out anymore,” Antioco told me. He negotiated his exit early the next year and left the company in July of 2007. His successor, Jim Keyes, was determined to reverse Antioco’s strategy, cut investment in the subscription model, reinstated late fees and shifted the focus back to the retail stores.

When Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010, the event was portrayed as corporate America’s inability to navigate digital disruption. Yet, as we have seen, nothing could be further from the truth. The management team came up with a viable strategy, executed it well and proved they could compete, yet still were unable to survive that victory.

Building Shared Purpose And Shared Consciousness

When General Stanley McChrystal took over command of special forces in Iraq, the situation he encountered was surprisingly similar to that of Antioco and Blockbuster. A well-led, well-resourced and highly efficient organization was faced with a disruptive challenge by a smaller, less powerful, but incredibly disruptive adversary.

Yet while Antico saw the problem as one of strategy and tactics, McChrystal saw it as one of one of organizational coherence. So he embarked on a program to improve the links both within his command and also to outside stakeholders, such as partner agencies, law enforcement and embassy personnel, to build “shared purpose and shared consciousness.”

“We began to make progress when we started looking at these relationships as just that: relationships — parts of a network, not cogs in a machine or outputs and inputs,” McChrystal would later write in his book, Team of Teams. Within a few years, the terrorists were on the run.

The difference in outcomes is striking. Antioco, who had built his career on defying the critics, largely ignored their concerns and pressed on with his strategy. McChrystal, on the other hand, understood that if he couldn’t get key stakeholders on board, the strategy wouldn’t matter. He worked on building relationships not to overpower, but to attract others to his cause. There were still critics, but they were vastly outnumbered.

You Need A Plan To Survive Victory From The Start

In my book, Cascades, I cover a wide range of transformational efforts, from revolutionary political movements to corporate turnarounds. In every case, the movement for change inspired others to move against it. As Saul Alinsky pointed out decades ago, every revolution provokes a counterrevolution.

I saw this first hand in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, which I personally took part in. Five years after we protested in the bitter cold to overturn a falsified election, we saw the target of our ire, Viktor Yanukovych, win the presidency in an election that outside observers judged to be legitimate. Later, similar events played out in the aftermath of Egypt’s Arab Spring.

What makes the difference is not a particular strategy or persona, but whether an organization can align based on shared values and purpose. It wasn’t that Blockbuster franchisees were worried that Antioco’s plan wouldn’t succeed, they were terrified that it would and they would be left behind. Investors, for their part, were more focused on earnings than Antioco’s vision.

Yet shared values are what enables a transformation to succeed beyond a few initial victories. As Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a key player in IBM’s historic turnaround in the 90s told me, “Because the transformation was about values first and technology second, we were able to continue to embrace those values as the technology and marketplace continued to evolve.”

And that’s what so often makes the difference between ultimate success and failure. Those that see driving change as merely a series of benchmarks often find their efforts thwarted. Those that build a plan to survive victory based on the forging of shared values, are much more likely to prevail. Transformation is always a journey, never a destination.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on Inc.com
— Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Ideas Have Limited Value

Ideas Have Limited Value

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

There is a line of thinking that says that the world is built on ideas. It was an idea that launched the American Revolution and created a nation. It was an idea that led Albert Einstein to pursue relativity, Linus Pauling to invent a vaccine and for Steve Jobs to create the iPhone and build the most valuable company in the world.

It is because of the power of ideas that we hold them so dear. We want to protect those we believe are valuable and sometimes become jealous when others think them up first. There’s nothing so rapturous as the moment of epiphany in which an idea forms in our mind and begins to take shape.

Clearly, ideas are important, but not as many believe. America is what it is today, for better or worse, not just because of the principles of its founding, but because of the actions that came after it. We revere people like Einstein, Pauling and Jobs not because of their ideas, but what they did with them. The truth is that although possibilities are infinite, ideas are limited.

The Winklevoss Affair

The muddled story of Facebook’s origin is now well known. Mark Zuckerberg met with the Winklevoss twins and another Harvard classmate to discuss building a social network together. Zuckerberg agreed, but then sandbagged his partners while he built and launched a competing site. He would later pay out a multimillion dollar settlement for his misdeeds.

Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins were paired in the news together again recently when Facebook announced that it’s developing a new cryptocurrency called Libra. As it happens, the Winklevoss twins have been high profile investors in Bitcoin for a while now. The irony was too delicious for many in the media to ignore. First he stole their idea for Facebook and now he’s doing the same with cryptocurrencies!

Of course this is ridiculous. Social networks like Friendster and Myspace existed before Facebook and many others came after. Most failed. In much the same way, many people today have ideas about starting cryptocurrency businesses. Most of them will fail too. The value of an initial idea is highly questionable.

Different people have similar ideas all the time. In fact, in a landmark study published in 1922 identified 148 major inventions or discoveries that at least two different people, working independently, arrived at the same time. So the fact that both the Winklevoss twins and Zuckerberg wanted to launch a social network was meaningless.

The truth is that Zuckerberg didn’t have to pay the Winklevoss twins because he stole their idea, but because he used their trust to actively undermine their business to benefit his. His crime wasn’t creation, but destruction.

The Semmelweis Myth

In 1847, a young doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis had a major breakthrough. Working in a maternity ward, he discovered that a regime of hand washing could dramatically lower the incidence of childbed fever. Unfortunately, the medical establishment rejected his idea and the germ theory of disease didn’t take hold until decades later.

The phenomenon is now known as the Semmelweis effect, the tendency for people to reject new knowledge that contradicts established beliefs. We tend to think that a great idea will be immediately obvious to everyone, but the opposite usually happens. Ideas that have the power to change the world always arrive out of context for the simple reason that the world hasn’t changed yet.

However, the Semmelweis effect is misleading. As Sherwin Nuland explains in The Doctor’s Plague, there’s more to the story than resistance to a new idea. Semmelweis didn’t see the value in communicating his work effectively, formatting his publications clearly or even collecting data in a manner that would gain his ideas greater acceptance.

Here again, we see the limits of ideas. Like a newborn infant, they can’t survive alone. They need to be nurtured to grow. They need to make friends, interact with other ideas and mature. The tragedy of Semmelweis is not that the medical establishment did not immediately accept his idea, but that he failed to steward it in such a way that it could spread and make an impact.

Why Blockbuster Video Really Failed

One of the most popular business myths today is that of Blockbuster Video. As the story is usually told, the industry giant failed to recognize the disruptive threat that Netflix represented. The truth is that the company’s leadership not only recognized the problem, but developed a smart strategy and executed it well.

The failure, in fact, had less to do with strategy and tactics than it did with managing stakeholder networks. Blockbuster moved quickly to launch an online business, cut late fees and innovated its business model. However, resistance from franchisees, who were concerned that the changes would kill their business, and from investors and analysts, who balked at the cost of the initiatives, sent the stock price reeling.

From there things spiraled downward. The low stock price attracted the corporate raider Carl Icahn, who got control of the board. His overbearing style led to a compensation dispute with Blockbuster’s CEO, John Antioco. Frustrated, Antioco negotiated his exit and left the company in July of 2007.

His successor, Jim Keyes, was determined to reverse Antioco’s strategy, cut investment in the subscription model, reinstated late fees and shifted focus back to the retail stores in a failed attempt to “leapfrog” the online subscription model. Three years later, in 2010, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy.

The Fundamental Fallacy Of Ideas

One of the things that amazed me while I was researching my book Cascades was how often movements behind powerful ideas failed. The ones that succeeded weren’t those with different ideas or those of higher quality, but those that were able to align small groups, loosely connected, but united by a shared purpose.

The stories of the Winklevoss twins, Ignaz Semmelweis and Blockbuster Video are all different versions of the same fundamental fallacy, that ideas, if they are powerful enough, can stand on their own. Clearly, that’s not the case. Ideas need to be adopted and then combined with other ideas to make an impact on the world.

The truth is that ideas need ecosystems to support them and that doesn’t happen overnight. To make an idea viable in the real world it needs to continually connect outward, gaining adherents and widening its original context. That takes more than an initial epiphany. It takes the will to make the idea subservient to its purpose.

What we have to learn to accept is that what makes an idea powerful is its ability to solve problems. The ideas embedded in the American Constitution were not new at the time of the country’s founding, but gained power by their application in the real world. In much the same way, we revere Einstein’s relativity, Pauling’s vaccine and Jobs iPhone because of their impact on the world.

As G.H. Hardy once put it, “For any serious purpose, intelligence is a very minor gift.” The same can be said about ideas. They do not and cannot stand alone, but need the actions of people to bring them to life.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pexels

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Can You Be TOO Strategic?

Can You Be TOO Strategic?

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

While the lack of a clear strategy can create problems in any business, there is another end of that spectrum.

Having a strategy means having clarity on what you want to achieve and a plan on how to get there. These are good things, but it’s also possible to be too strategic—too focused on a single goal and plan.

When Being TOO Strategic is a Problem

1. You Have an Ineffective Plan

What if you have a plan for reaching your goal but it doesn’t work? You could be putting all your eggs in one basket.

In some cases, you may be able to determine very quickly if your strategy isn’t working. That’s one of the beauties of digital. For example, with ecommerce, you can try a new email subject line and within a few hours (or even minutes) you can see whether people are responding to it.

There are other strategies, however, that demonstrate their effectiveness over time. A program that is designed to build relationships to drive more long-term customer loyalty is an example of a strategy that you won’t be able to determine the success of overnight.

Regardless of whether your plan can be evaluated quickly, if you put all your eggs in one strategic basket, there’s always the possibility that you’re wrong about the method to achieve your goal.

2. You Set the Wrong Goal

There’s also the possibility that you have either the wrong goal or a goal that’s not optimal.

No matter what group of consumers you choose to target, things can change quickly; it may turn out that you haven’t chosen a good target at all.

For example, think about when COVID-19 first disrupted our world. Consumers’ needs and habits changed because of the pandemic, which caused many companies to adjust their goals because their original goals were no longer going to bring successful outcomes. If you stayed laser focused on the goal of increasing the number of shoppers coming to your store each day amidst the pandemic, you were a little too strategically disciplined.

Even in less extreme cases, there are still situations where leaders fail to see new trends and opportunities for growth.

Blockbuster VideoBlockbuster is a great example of a company that had the wrong goal in mind. They were so hyper focused on putting a video rental store in every neighborhood that they failed to see the potential opportunity in digital streaming services.

Netflix, on the other hand, did an excellent job seeing that opportunity and successfully transformed from the DVD rental by mail service to the popular digital streaming service consumers love today.

There’s always the risk that either you’re pursuing the wrong destination or the wrong means to get there. And what do you do then? You have the opportunity to say, “Maybe I shouldn’t be 100% strategic.”

Often, mistakes and variability promote evolution and growth in a company, so it’s important to determine what percentage of your business should be based on strategy and what percentage should be based on trying new and different things which may not align with the current official strategy.

3. Consider a Balanced Approach

Ideally, find a balance of mostly strategic activities, but carve out some time for non-strategic activity to allow employees to be creative and freely come up with new ideas that just might turn into something great.

An example of a company who does this well and has seen success come out of this strategy is Google. Google offers “20% time,” which allows each employee to spend 20% of their work time on independent projects they feel will benefit Google in the long run without having to justify it to anyone.

This freedom promotes innovation and creativity, making employees feel like their work and input really matters to the company. Many of Google’s widely known products have come out of this non-strategic time, such as Gmail and Google Maps.

Another area of business that often takes a balanced approach to strategy is Research and Development (R&D). R&D teams are typically made up of creative and original thinkers; they may be faced with problems that they’re fascinated by and are trying to solve. It’s not always clear how solving that problem is going to help the company right away, but some of the world’s greatest innovations have come out of R&D departments.

For example, at Bell Labs, the transistor was invented by people who were fascinated by the way materials could be used to control electricity. It wasn’t clear when they were doing that original research exactly how the product would be used; it was much later that the potential was realized for commercial applications such as the microchip

Another example is Steve Jobs in the early days of Apple. When the Apple ][ computer was at its height, it was the main focus of the company and where all the money was coming from. The long term success of the Apple ][ platform was the strategic focus of the company.

At the time, in order to politically sideline him, Jobs was assigned to work on a seemingly non-strategic project, which was the Apple Macintosh, originally intended as a product for the education market. As successful as the Apple ][ was, ultimately, the innovation that came from launching the Macintosh massively eclipsed the Apple ][ and is a key product line to this day. Thank goodness for a non-strategic project.

4. It Might Be Worth It to Pursue a “Moonshot Idea”

It can be beneficial to allow a certain amount of time to work on complete “moonshot ideas”—
ideas that are highly risky but could change the company or the industry as a whole if they’re successful.

While these grand ideas have only proven to be occasionally successful, the payoff can be so huge when they do succeed that they are worth pursuing.

The bottom line is that you want to be good at being strategic, but not get so caught up in being so strategic that you miss out on a great opportunity for growth and success in your company that may not align with your strategy.

Parting Gift

My Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance, contains a blueprint for developing a successful strategy for your company as well as practices to aid in identifying new trends and opportunities to explore. You can download the first chapter for free here or purchase the book here.

Image credits: Pixabay and Unsplash

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