The challenge of meeting competition comes
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What do you do if the world around you is changing faster than you can keep up? It’s a dilemma for churches, pastors, corporations and CEOs.

The challenge of change, coupled with competition is clearer today than ever. This was brought to attention again with the news that Sony will announce a new corporate strategy within the next few days to deal with its competitive challenges.

Sony has been in the red for two quarters in its television business. It has lost its lead in the personal music player business to Apple and it faces other competition in its diverse product lines.

A new CEO has just been named, the first non-Japanese in the company’s history. Who would have thought that a giant like Sony would need a turnaround artist?

I suspect turning around a big ship like Sony won’t be easy. It will mean cutting some products altogether and making fundamental changes in operating style in a national culture that has tended to view employment as a life-long guarantee for workers. This will mean the Sony executives can’t behave like U.S. corporations and slash the work force as the ultimate fall back position.

While Sony is trying to change itself the entertainment and communications industry is changing even more rapidly around it.

A colleague gave me a magazine yesterday recapping the recent NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in Las Vegas. On nearly every page some new form of digital delivery is recapped. HDTV, digital radio, video cellphones are among the pack. Some of these are already here. Some are coming to market in the next few months. These technologies not only change products and create new ones, they change our lives, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in major, but subtle, new ways.

As end-users we adapt and go on our way. But it’s not that simple for corporate leaders trying to create change, or for workers skilled at making or servicing products in decline. This human dilemma is one of the confounding problems resulting from change today.

Another is that even under threat, a large corporation like Sony, or a congregation in a large denomination, can assume that the status quo is not nearly as threatening as it is. The momentum of the past carries us a long, long way. And it can lull us into complacency. But complacency is insidious. It allows the competition to creep up and eat away at your foundation and you don’t know how perilous it is until the winds of competition blow and the house comes tumbling down.

As I review some of the literature I’m reading today, here are just a few of the changes:

  • The population. There are now 41 million Spanish-speaking persons in the United States, making a new majority. The global population continues to age. Older persons outnumber younger. In the U.S. the aging are increasingly white and the young are largely Hispanic, Asian or black.
  • The Internet. Increasingly, people have access to a global information repository making it possible to communicate more rapidly and for stories to travel instantaneously.
  • Globalization. The walls are down. Information flows across boundaries and empowers people in ways that were much easier to contain and control in the past when multiple channels did not exist.
  • Convergence. Different media are merging into convenient one-stop sources of information such as–but not limited to–video, audio, print and interactive websites.
  • From Service to Experience. The U.S. has shifted from a service-based economy to an experience-based economy.
  • Skepticism. In nearly every area, from medicine, to religion, to politics, to journalism, people express more skepticism about leadership and their trust in information disseminated by major institutions.
  • Anti-institutionalism. Brand loyalty has gone by the boards except in rare instances. No organization can assume loyalty comes automatically. It has to be earned over and over again.
  • Empowerment. A multiplicity of options empowers individuals like never before.

I suppose the list could be expanded beyond these key points, but these seem to be commonly cited as the major changes.

A couple of interesting perceptions: mass marketers view this as fragmentation, their view of a huge mass of people to be reached is coming apart. Niche marketers, on the other hand, see it as a huge opportunity. Fragmentation to the former is a new way to connect to the latter. It’s all in how you view the capabilities of the new media and how people use them.

If they use new media to connect with others of similar interest, it’s not fragmenting at all, it’s unifying. So, it’s all in the utilization.

A second common perception is that imagery is becoming the language of the new media. It’s a visual culture. Even radio will become more visual and more interactive. The LCDs on the radio “dial” are already carrying information. In the future they will carry even more, and probably include invitations to interact with the radio programmer in some way.

In each of these, a change in how we think about ourselves at some level, is required. These changes are not benign, they are influential. They create new opportunities and new ways of creating community. They also provide new channels for expression of ideas and influence. Change is what you make of it.

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