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When Doing the Right Thing is Actually the Wrong Thing

06 March 2023

Whether in business or community building, doing the right thing today is often going to be the wrong thing for your future business or community. According to Clayton Christensen, the Harvard business professor and author of the Innovators Dilemma, “Two models of how to make money or transform cannot coexist within a single organization”. In other words, if your current business is successful and making money, your future business may miss out on much greater success from a new, potentially much bigger pathway to success. The same holds true in community building, if you are relying upon the old traditional methods to succeed, you will miss out on many of the new opportunities that will be critical in the future.


In Christensen’s book, he uses the theory that traditional companies ignore new technologies or disruption that may not meet the needs of their current customers. The cost of doing this means missing out on the much larger market of new customers down the road.  He uses a case study of Seagate. Seagate missed out entirely on the growing market of hard drives that were used in laptops because it was busy serving their largest customer and the biggest maker of desktops, IBM.


When it comes to community building, the same principle applies. If we focus solely on what has worked in the past, we risk missing out on new opportunities and neglecting the needs of a changing community. We need to shift our focus from the past to the present serving all the stakeholders throughout the entire community. This means embracing new technologies, methods, and ideas that may not be immediately familiar or even comfortable. Remember, change is always going to be difficult and uncomfortable.


One quick example of this is the rise of coworking spaces versus traditional work environments. Traditional businesses may see these spaces as competition, but they can be a vital tool for community building. Coworking spaces create opportunities for collaboration, innovation, and networking among many businesses that can benefit all members of a community. They also offer a more flexible and cost-effective solution for businesses that may not need or are able to afford a full-time office space. By embracing this new model, and building facilities as such, communities can attract and retain a diverse range of entrepreneurs and businesses, driving economic growth and vitality.


Of course, embracing new ideas and technologies can be risky. There is always the chance that a new approach or digital tool will fail or must be tweaked, or that it will not be as profitable or effective as expected. But the greater risk lies in sticking with the traditional status quo, in assuming that what has worked in the past will continue to work in the future. This is the innovator's dilemma that Christensen describes, and it applies equally to businesses and communities.


To build our Main Street and our communities, we must be willing to take risks, to experiment with new approaches, and to prioritize the needs of the community over the desires of individual stakeholders. This will require a shift in mindset, from a focus on short-term solutions to a focus on long-term sustainability and growth solutions. But ultimately, it is the only way to ensure that our communities are strong, resilient, and able to adapt to the changing winds of the future.


In conclusion, doing the right thing today may not always be the right thing for tomorrow. To build strong, sustainable communities, we must be willing to embrace new ideas and technologies, to take risks, and to prioritize the needs of the community over the desires of individual stakeholders. This means shifting our focus from a short-term strategy to a more long-term strategy. It is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to create thriving communities that are able to adapt and grow in the face of an ever-changing world.


John Newby, from SW Missouri, is a nationally recognized Columnist, Speaker, & Publisher. He consults with Community, Business & Media. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column is read by 60+ communities around the country. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists communities, media and business leaders in building synergies that create vibrant communities. He can be reached at: John@Truly-Local.org.