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Teaching elephants how to dance and other silly ideas

Established companies cannot create new markets, but they can take new market niches developed by others and scale them up for mass markets

By Costas Markides 01 September 2003

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Nor can they easily adopt the attitudes and mindsets necessary for market creation because these attitudes and mindsets conflict with the ones they currently have and need in their existing businesses. However, say Costas Markides and Paul Geroski, they do have the skills, mindsets and attitudes that are ideal for taking new market niches developed by others and scaling them up into mass markets.


Imagine the following scenario: you wake up one morning and decide that you don’t like the way your 70-year old parents look. Nor do you think they live an active-enough life. You decide that what they really need is a change – instead of golf, they should take up squash; instead of looking like 70-year olds, they should adopt a dietary and fitness regime that would make them look young again; and instead of spending their time watching TV, they should visit the gym twice a day. You are so determined to achieve this transformation that you invest most of your free time in it, urging your parents along and giving them advice what to do and when. In your quest to make them teenagers again you know no boundaries.


How stupid does this sound? Yet this is exactly what we have been trying to do with big, established companies. Not satisfied with how “innovative” they are, we have come up with all these “valuable” ideas and advice to make them more entrepreneurial so that they too – like all those agile and pioneering start-up firms – can create new markets and lay the foundations for the industries of the future.


How? By developing the cultures and structures of the younger, start-up firms. Look, we tell them, don’t you want to be like Body Shop or Cisco or Virgin? All you have to do is adopt their structures, cultures and processes. Who says elephants can’t dance? Just go on a diet and lose some of that excess weight, learn a few tricks from the younger firms and off you go.


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