Blurred Lines: Strategy at the Edge for CEOs

Where do you look for new ideas? Sometimes the misty edge of your industry is a good place to start.

Some of the most successful companies that I have worked with have intentionally blurred the lines between work and personal life. Several clients have created a work environment that views people as “people” rather than items on a balance sheet. Coincidentally, they have high productivity in spite of the fact that they allow their team members the flexibility to lead enjoyable lives. This got me thinking about “blurred lines” in business strategy.

I recently heard a recap of the annual Consumer Electronics Show and was struck by how the lines have blurred between digital technology and automobiles. We will soon be able to control many automobile functions with our iPhone. While we only replace our autos every few years (something like 5 years on average), we replace our phones and PDAs much more frequently. This is an interesting example of how “blurred lines” often can lead to business opportunities. It’s a lot cheaper to update your PDA than your car!

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 at Whistler a few weeks ago with 6 guys and 5 of us were either on the phone or checking email. This one doesn’t always thrill me…

Here are a few others that I bumped into recently:
• Medicine (curing the sick) and health have fortunately blurred. On my last visit to the doc, we spent more time talking about how to stay healthy than what was wrong.
• “Professional” journalism and “citizen” blogging. This has perhaps 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. (My vote for more privatization apparently hasn’t been heard.)
• Function and fashion. Take a trip through REI and look at the outdoor clothing: pockets, zippers, clips, clamps, etc.

If you’ve read previous editions of my newsletter, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of searching for good questions rather than just answers (See: Ask a Good Question). Here is one that you might ask yourself and your management team, “What lines are becoming blurred in our industry and how can we take advantage of that?” or “What lines can WE blur to gain an advantage?”

Are you watching some industries fight blurring lines—traditional journalism for instance is ranting about quality as their business declines—when they need to embrace it and run towards it?


Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of, Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be(Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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