RELEVANCE & 2 Vital Leadership Lessons from Ringling Bros.’ Closing

by Marissa Levin, Inc. Magazine, 1/16/17.

Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus will no longer be coming to town. After 146 years, Chairman and CEO Kenneth Feld announced that they are closing the curtain…

Feld summarized that its biggest competitor is “time.” If we unpack that concept, what lessons can business owners learn from this situation?

1: Relevance is everything. Every idea and business model has a shelf life. While one may think that Circus entertainment is timeless, many factors have made it irrelevant, including the very public uproars against animal abuse, the competition against so many other forms of live entertainment marketed to children, the modern challenge of asking kids to put away their devices and be focused on something in real life for 3 hours, and the organization’s inability to create online experiences and communities that keep patrons engaged beyond the performance.

We are in the midst of industry revolutions everywhere. Uber, Airbnb, Tesla, SpaceX, and the entire manufacturing/robotics industry are just a few examples of business model obsolescence.

In the real estate industry, experts predict that that realtors will be out of business as more consolidated service companies come online, and consumers have more power over their own transactions.

2: Vision is everything. An eye toward the future is essential for every business. Feld shared that “Our business is a different model that we can’t see how it works in today’s world…you’ve got all of these things working against it.”

…Three companies that were at risk of obsolescence but have recovered are Dell, HP, and Apple. Harvard research identified 4 conclusions regarding the importance of the Founder’s mentality to protect against obsolescence:

  1. The founder’s mentality is a hard strategic asset that should be managed and discussed and fully valued as central to success.
  2. If left untended, the founder’s mentality will erode over time–just like any valuable asset.
  3. The founder’s mentality is critical to how companies stay young, energetic, fast-moving, open-minded, adaptable and, thus, attractive to the best talent.
  4. The founder’s mentality can be used as a measure of how well or poorly a business is aging, and, at worst, becoming bureaucratic and vulnerable to the next wave of founder-led insurgent companies.

If you are a Founder, what are you doing to keep your focus on the future sharpened? Every business must work to fight obsolescence every day, and it starts with the Founder’s vision. Without the vision, a business will die.

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