What it is: People tend to miss trends because they think alike, which is to assume that the future will just be an extension of the present.
Most people are amazed that Apple continuously innovates new products that others quickly emulate. Back when the Apple II was around, other personal computers quickly copied the idea of expansion slots. Then the Macintosh appeared and Microsoft quickly developed Windows to follow the graphical user interface that made the Macintosh so simple and easy to use. When Apple introduced HyperCard, Microsoft countered by offering a free but limited version of Toolbox, a program somewhat similar to HyperCard.
When Apple introduced the iPod, Microsoft countered with the Zune. When Apple introduced the iPhone, Google quickly changed Android from copying Blackberry to copying the iPhone. When Apple introduced the iPad, it killed sales of netbooks and defined how tablet computers were supposed to look and work. By following Apple, other companies can release me-too products that can capture the market of people who won’t buy Apple products.
Many companies try to be like Apple and many business people try to be like Steve Jobs. Yet what Apple and Steve Jobs did wasn’t anything mystical or mysterious. All they did was focus on what others weren’t doing.
That’s the basis for the book “Rock Breaks Scissors” by William Poundstone. This book is about how to outwit crowds by not doing what everyone else is doing. After all, if everyone else is doing it, chances are good there won’t be much for anyone to share.
In “Rock Breaks Scissors,” author William Poundstone explains why much of what people do is predictable. Watch the stock market and most people buy high and sell low. That’s because when prices are low, the public stays away from the stock market. Only after prices have risen for a while do people feel comfortable jumping back into the stock market — just as the stock market bubble peaks and plummets back down again. The moment the stock market falls a certain distance, most people bail out.
The end result is that they consistently buy high and sell low simply because they’re doing what everyone else is doing, which is looking at short-term patterns of the present and assuming those short-term circumstances will be the future forever.
Yet if you simply look ahead, you can easily see the future. First, just assume that the present is going to change radically tomorrow and make everything you know today obsolete. In the computer world, you can see people clinging to Windows PCs as if that’s the future of computing, despite massive evidence that smartphones and tablets have defined a new category of mobile computing that Windows PCs have a hard time following.
One reason why Surface tablets seem so popular is because the diehard Windows enthusiasts still want to cling to Windows. Unfortunately for Microsoft, they couldn’t convince these same enthusiasts to use Windows Phone smartphones. That’s why Microsoft has shifted strategies and has made Windows 10 run on smartphones, tablets, and PCs. Now people afraid of change can cling to Windows just like people once clung to CP/M-80 in the early PC days, or how mainframe and minicomputer users clung to their “big iron” machines to avoid following the growing PC market.
The basic idea behind “Rock Breaks Scissors” is to think what seems logical, and then think again to make sure you’re not falling into the trap of being predictable by doing what most people would do. Apple basically killed the iPod when they released the iPhone. Most companies would have tried to protect the iPod for as long as possible like Kodak tried to do with their film business or Borders Books tried to do with their retail bookstores. The secret to staying innovative is to keep avoiding what most people are likely to do.
The shift has begun away from PCs to mobile computing, yet so many people still resist this trend until they can’t any more. By the time they recognize that the trend has shifted for good, they’ll be hopelessly behind everyone else.
In the computer world, many Windows experts are reluctant to adopt anything else because they lack knowledge in those other areas such as Linux, OS X, iOS, or Android. So they prefer to stick with Windows because that’s where their expertise lies. Yet as their opportunities start drying up and they start missing out on new opportunities due to their refusal to learn anything else, they’ll become more persistent in insisting that the trend away from Windows PCs isn’t happening after all. Eventually they’ll become as obsolete as WordStar, Lotus 1-2-3, or dBASE III experts.
By reading a book like “Rock Breaks Scissors,” you can get a better idea how people tend to think alike and people who think and act alike rarely stand out in any way. Often times such people wind up losing by thinking alike and thinking they’re following the safest course of action when it’s actually the worst course to follow. Yet because so many people are doing the exact same thing, they feel safety in numbers.
The key to success in any industry is to think first and act later while most people act first and never bother thinking at all. By learning how to think and examine situations objectively, you can better prepare yourself for the future no matter what it might bring.