Editor’s note: Eric Jackson, a technology consultant and developer, is a regular contributor to Local Tech Wire. His column appears on Tuesdays.It’s been an interesting week. I came home this week. However, in between my leaving and arriving, that home moved some nine hundred miles to a different state, a different region, a different life.
It was still coming home. I was overseas and so I’ve come back to my own country, a place where I understand the language of more people than I don’t. I’ve come back to my wife and our ways of being together. It is definitely home.
And of course it is definitely not home. The house is new, the things in it are mostly new, the neighborhood is different, and the people here talk funny. I’m in Boston, MA instead of Black Mountain, NC for a while and it’s different.
And still it is home. Or at least I have begun the process again of making it so, just as I did in Black Mountain a couple years ago.
It got me thinking about what it means to make a home when most everything that was home has changed. It is certainly not about finding replacements for the things that I am used to. Were I to do that, I would miss what it means to live in Boston and, in a way, with my eyes closed to the world around me, I would necessarily cease to grow.
Making a home mostly has to do with understanding and accepting who I am and finding the unique ways that I can interact with my new surroundings. This is something I can do anywhere, even for a brief time, as I did in some important ways over the last few weeks in Tel Aviv.
The analogy to business is fairly straightforward. Like it or not, the world in which you do business changes over time. Sometimes the changes are chosen, as when you enter a new market, or revamp your internal structures and goals. Far more often the world changes around you. The Internet comes along, Walmart builds in your neighborhood, or the Koreans suddenly become very good at what you do. Your neighborhood has changed and you, like me, must make it home or risk failing to grow, or just failing.
Coincidentally, the Harvard Business Review reprinted a classic article on this very topic this month. The article is “Marketing Myopia” by Theodore Levitt. It was published in 1960, but it is no less relevant today.
The thrust of Levitt’s article is that businesses often fall into the trap of focusing on their products, rather than their customers. A classic example is the railroad industry, which made the mistake of believing itself to be in the railroad business, rather than the transportation business. And, when the world began to change, when the highway system exploded, and transport moved to cars and trucks, and then airplanes, the railroads found themselves left behind. And they have never recovered. By misunderstanding their own identity and how that identity might intersect with that of their customers, they lost the chance not just to survive, but even to thrive in the new environment.
I am beginning to create my home here by intermixing what is uniquely Boston with what is uniquely me. Each business must do the same. It must understand its own identity — what its competencies are, what its weaknesses are, what is unique about its culture. It must seek to learn everything it can about its customers, not just why they buy what they buy today, but what underlying needs are being addressed and how those needs might change in response to the changes in the world around them. And with that understanding, a business can work to determine what should be an evolving intersection of the two: the products that the business offers.
Ideas? Suggestions? Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Jackson is the founder of DeepWeave. He has built his career pioneering software solutions to particularly large and difficult problems. In 2000, Eric co-founded Ibrix, Inc. He is the inventor of the Ibrix distributed file system, a parallel file storage system able to scale in size and performance to millions of terabytes.