Refusing to evolve leads to failure - Sun Microsystems
In Create Marketplace Disruption I talk about how Sun Microsystems (see chart here) became wedded to a Success Formula which was tied to selling computers. In its early days Sun had to build its own systems, workstations and servers, to make its techology available to customers. As the company grew, it continued pushing the hardware, even though increasingly all of its value add was in the software. One of its more famous innovations was a software product called Java - now used all across the web. But because Sun could not figure out how to sell hardware with Java the company literally gave the product away - on the theory that growing internet use would increase demand for servers and workstations.
But like most Locked-in Success Formulas, Sun's fell into diminishing returns. The market shifted. First it's biggest buyers, telecom companies, fell into a depression early in the century. And corporate buyers struggled to maintain old IT budgets, increasingly transfering work offshore and demanding lots more performance at lower prices. Secondly, an emerging software standard, Linux, started competing with Sun at a much lower price point, and corporate buyers found this a viable solution. And thirdly, Linux and Microsoft both improved performance operating on somewhat "generic" PC hardware that was considerably cheaper than Sun's hardware, further augmenting corporate movement away from Sun.
But Sun continued to push forward with its old Success Formula. Now analysts are confused about Sun's direction, and largely think the company less likely to survive (read article here). With most analysts recommending investors sell Sun Microsystem shares, as one analyste (Rob Enderle) put it "They seem like a software company, but they are sort of like a hardware company." He added that after years of giving software away for free in efforts to entice hardware buyers Sun Microsystems is on the verge of being obsolete.
Sun Microsystems is just another example of a company so busy focusing on doing what it always did that it didn't evolve to what the market demanded - and rewarded. As software became the value, Sun did more but didn't figure out how to evolve its Success Formula to charge for it. The company remained Locked-in to its old practices, and refused to Disrupt and open White Space where it could find a more valuable Success Formula for the future. Too bad for employees, vendors and investors.