The guy who's yelling at the top of his lungs that the emperor has no clothes might not make any friends, but he's right. And a good businessperson ought to smell an opportunity.
The best ideas are the simplest. The most obvious. I am taking the liberty of becoming your guide into the realm of the desperately simple. I'm about as simple a guy as there is, and some even call me "Captain Obvious."
In my articles, I talk about things that smart people ought to be getting. Things that smart people aren't getting.
The definition of a genius is somebody who is able to see the easy, right answer so far in advance of others that he or she can set up camp around it, hire armed guards and turn it into a pot of self-sustaining, eternal fairy gold.
Bill Gates was a genius because he saw the obvious value of Windows, which Xerox just dropped into his lap.
Chrysler gets credit for inventing the minivan, but it really didn't invent anything specifically. What it invented was the idea (positioning) of a car that was perfect for the family because it had tons of room for people and their stuff. The car was already designed by VW and sold in the 1960s as a counter-culture symbol. It happened to be really useful for "non-families" because it had tons of room for people and stuff.
In this case, the genius was in understanding what consumers didn't want (but bought) because there was no other choice (station wagons, ugh). VW clearly missed the big idea.
If you look back on big ideas, there are plenty of other examples. Simplicity is elegance.
Sometimes genius comes in the form of amazing innovation. Other times, genius is right under our noses—ripe for the picking. You just have to look.
GM's future depends on its ability to leverage its strengths into something people want that no one else can provide. It has to think of itself as more than a car company (yes, the company has have financial services, aerospace, etc., but its mindset is a car company's mindset, make no mistake about that).
What can GM do? In the short-term (1-5 years), it's not going to make better cars. And it may lower costs by dumping liabilities or bankruptcy, but this is just a form of desperate triage that fails to address the underlying problem: The cars they make are pretty awful. Instead of pumping more money into sales and advertising, it ought to try something brave.
And the obvious, genius idea that GM is missing is right on its dashboard, wasting away.
GM Missing the Boat with OnStar
OnStar is an amazing product. My wife and I actually talked about buying a GM car last night because my friend Suzy's son was saved by it. He had an accident in the winter during a storm, had no idea where he was, and couldn't be seen from the road. OnStar's GPS capabilities made all the difference.
GM is missing the boat. Take OnStar from a feature on the car and turn it into a division. License it to all other car companies, license it to boat companies, and make it portable so you can take it backpacking. I want each of my kids to have one of these. Turn it into America's premiere emergency resource.
OnStar is already recognized as a lifesaver. So use it, GM. Get away from the nuts and bolts of the car business. License it, get a pile of revenue now, and grab such a huge chunk of business that it will take years for anyone else to catch up.
For a specific example: Who is bigger, Microsoft or Apple?
Apple thought of itself as a hardware company, while Microsoft licensed the bejeezus out of its platform to create a standard. Last I checked, it had a few points of market share more than Apple, which has survived by carving out a nice little niche among creative types.
GM sees everything through the magic prism of a car company, which distorts and diminishes every good idea into an angle for selling cars. This is fine, if you have cars worth selling. Instead, someone at GM needs to stand up and give OnStar its due. The car division doesn't deserve it.
Take the first step (it's free).
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