The rise and fall of great brands—bounce #1

November 21, 2007

Bouncing between coasts this week, I thought about how to give a flavor here of the things I wonder about. But the bouncing cut seriously into my blogging, hence the first of my last few blog bounces. This week I waxed about United’s new LA-NY premier service, but last week I whined about their inability to manage a simple one-hour hop to the Bay Area. Getting to KMWorld from home took 8 hours; 2 more to fly than if I had just driven the distance.

The point—the bounce—I’m curious about is the mechanism by which brands go from underdogs to evil empires in ever-accelerating cycles: Microsoft, Apple, Starbucks, the USA. This is a marketing question, but it’s also a complexity question.

In part, obviously, it’s the mathematics of fashion and cool. There’s undoubtedly an inviolable power-law ratio between early adopters, early majority, laggards, etc. But the part that interests me is the blowback of success. As long as it’s a fair game, people are willing to play—either as customers or competitors. But when a single player so dominates the market that it gets to rewrite the rules (and rewrite history), then others will find there’s no reason to play anymore and will make up new games to subvert the old ones. Success sows the seeds of its own disruptions. The edges get too far away, so surprises start to emerge out of the middle. I think, maybe, I don’t know…

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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