Be The Cannibal

In the business world there is an often-muttered fear of “cannibalization.”  This silly phrase is used when one person at a company comes up with a new idea or figures out how to better serve a customer.  Immediately, the fear-mongering bureaucrats object, stating that this new solution might “cannibalize” their business.

Good! We should hope it does.

Refusing to embrace new products or services based on the horror that they may cannibalize the old ones is a faulty argument.  It assumes you can prevent being cannibalized in the first place and are somehow magically in control of the entire market.

Unless you are a government-owned monopoly, you cannot prevent disruption no matter how powerful your organization.  In a free-market economy, innovation trumps those who cling to the past.  The automobile, despite dissenters’ loudest objections, displaced the most powerful carriage company.

Can you imagine the folks at the Union Pacific Railways denouncing a move into the air transport industry based on the fear that it would “cannibalize” their business?  Or senior leadership at the largest typewriter manufacturer voting against a move into personal computers?  Good luck trying to stop progress.

In today’s highly competitive world, you must sprint toward cannibalization – not avoid it.  Change and innovation will happen and you can’t do a damn thing about it.  The one thing you can control is whether or not you are the source of disruption.  You can become a consistent source of reinvention, or you can hide in the corner and cling to buzzwords, while your competition enjoys a feast.

Author Gary Hamel puts it best: “Right now, there’s an entrepreneur out there forging a bullet with your company’s name on it.  Your only choice is to shoot first.  You must out-innovate the innovators.”

This same spirit of reinvention applies also to individuals.  When people obsess with protecting past accomplishments in lieu of discovering new ones, growth ceases.  To reach your full potential, spend less time worrying that you are going to get yourself fired and redirect that energy on imagining new possibilities.  Leaving your creative fingerprint on your organization will do far more for your career than following procedures and hoping no one notices while you slip into irrelevance.

Some day a company will come along and put you out of business.  It might as well be yours.  Someday a person will come along and replace you by doing your job better and more creatively. Might as well be you.

Stop futilely trying to protect that which cannot be protected. The real fear isn’t cannibalization; it’s not being the cannibal yourself.

Enjoy your meal.