Where work ends and fun begins
Some of the most successful companies I’ve worked with intentionally blur the lines between work and personal life. Their view is that you don’t have a work life and a personal life, you just have a life. Coincidentally, they have high productivity even though they allow their team members the flexibility to lead enjoyable lives. This got me thinking about “blurred lines” in business strategy.
Last year I heard a recap of the annual Consumer Electronics Show and was struck by how the lines have blurred between digital technology and automobiles. We’ll soon be able to control many automobile functions with our iPhone. While we only replace our cars something like an average of every five years, we replace our phones and PDAs much more frequently. This is an interesting example of how blurred lines can often lead to business opportunities. It’s a lot cheaper to update your PDA than your car! Have you noticed some of the recent car ads are more about Bluetooth than horsepower?
Think about how blurred lines have changed business and our lives. Travel + entertainment = cruise lines. Voice + data = webcasts. Books + computers + Internet = e-readers. Education + Internet = distance learning programs. Companies that used to send data (e.g., cable TV companies) have blurred the lines between entertainment and communication. How about recreation and work? I was in a tram in Whistler, British Columbia last year with six guys and five of us were either on the phone or checking email. Work or play?
Here are a few others from the last several years:
• Medicine (curing the sick) and health: These have fortunately blurred. On my last visit to the doc, we spent more time talking about staying healthy than what was wrong.
• “Professional” journalism and “citizen” blogging: This may have harmed the traditional journalists but increased the richness and timeliness of information.
• Private companies and traditional government operations (e.g., education, prisons, some military functions). Some good, some bad.
• Function and fashion: Take a trip through REI and look at the outdoor clothing: pockets, zippers, clips, clamps, built-in avalanche beacons etc.
Are you watching some industries fight blurring lines? Some in traditional journalism, for instance, are still ranting about quality as their business declines.
I’m a big fan of searching for good questions rather than just answers (see “Ask a Good Question“). Here’s one you might ask yourself and your management team: “What lines are blurring in our industry, and how can we take advantage of that?” or “What lines can we blur to gain an advantage?”