On March 6, 2012, the last house in the path of the Kilauea Volcano burned to the ground. The final resident of the community, Larry Thompson, lived in that spot for 40 years and made a modest living as a bed and breakfast long after his neighbors’ homes were destroyed in the continuous eruptions that have occurred since 1983. Tourists would land by helicopter and buy his touristy items. People were amazed that he stayed so long with so much danger just up the hill.
Larry narrowly averted disaster more than once as his property was spared in two previous years when flows passed just a few hundred yards to the east and west of his house. But still he stayed. Even hours before his hasty departure by helicopter, he referred to the situation as, “touch and go.” It wasn’t even close. The lava entered a gully just above his property and made a straight track toward the structure. He left by helicopter less than an hour before the home went up in flames. It was sad and inevitable.
Destruction creeps in
When a way of doing business has run its course, the end for those who stay with the model doesn’t happen quickly, either. Just like the Royal Gardens lava flow, it comes in slowly and can be out walked. When you can out walk danger, it certainly doesn’t seem so menacing. But when you rest or slow, it catches up. It is relentless. A broken business model is on a track to oblivion as much as poor Larry’s home.
And just like Larry, those closest don’t want to believe it. We recently stopped by the local GameStop after not being in the store in the past year or more. It was clearly not doing so well, but there it was, open and operating without a fundamental change to the business model we saw a while back. I asked the clerk, “How’s the story doing?” to which he replied, “Great! Our best customers will never go elsewhere.” I felt bad, but I smiled at his enthusiasm. Sure, the diehard gamers will come in as long as the doors remain open and staff knowledgeable, but the casual gamers, far more in number, have moved on to mobile apps. Interestingly, GameStop made several game acquisitions, but too little, too late. Like Blockbuster trying to emulate Netflix, companies that copy rather than innovate rarely recover.
Prevent the volcano
There wasn’t much Larry could have done to prevent the Kilauea Volcano from overtaking his house. But he did build on the flanks of an active volcano. He saw it take his neighbors’ homes long ago. He watched his house become an island in a sea of tumultuous rivers of lava.
Rather than wait for the warning signs (which may not be noticed), business should be constantly innovating with an eye to disrupting rather than being disrupted. Larry couldn’t do much about the lava, but the enterprise doesn’t have that same problem. A constant focus on new ways to create value will keep a business sharp and people engaged. Constantly looking to see what works in other industries is also key to moving and staying ahead of the competition. More than anything, though, a business needs to have an adaptive workforce and culture.
The good news is that after disruptive forces fundamentally change the landscape, great things come into being in the void. The Kilauea lava flows create new land and bring minerals to the surface. Hawaii’s abundant flora is a great indication of the after affects of lava flows and wholesale disruption. There are few greener places than the windward side of each island.
The economy after disruption is aligned toward efficient business that is positioned for growth. New ideas combine with new excitement and whole markets are born. And then the lava will come again. The lava will always be coming. What will you do?