The Problem with The Early Bird and the Worm

March 18, 2013 11:09 pm Published by

Since childhood we’ve heard that “the early bird gets the worm.” The implication for business seems pretty obvious: The first company into the market gets the lion’s share of the business. The early adopter of new technology gets a competitive advantage over his competitors. Without question, there are industries in which those who lag behind soon find themselves out of the running altogether.

Being the early bird in business, however, isn’t a guarantee for success. And it’s not without risk. As a matter of fact, being first can sometimes be a costly proposition. Perhaps that’s why some clever soul updated the old adage to read: “The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

Sometimes being the first to try a new technology or being the first to enter a new market means that you may run into problems that no one has faced before. You may find yourself making mistakes that no one has made before. And you may face consequences that nobody has foreseen.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some entrepreneurial types thrive on those kinds of challenges. Some businesses are nimble enough to adapt quickly to the challenges and opportunities that come with being first.

On the other hand, there are leaders who risk far too much at the altar of “What’s New.” They are a little too quick to adopt a new technology—simply because it’s new, rather than because it’s the best solution for their business. They are a little too quick to pursue a new market—in an attempt to capture market share, rather than because it’s a well-defined niche they can fill well—and profitably.

Businesses today need to be agile. They need to be adaptable. They need to be ready to change methods and technologies and practices—because the marketplace is constantly changing. And sometimes, some companies need to be first.

Being first, however, simply to be first, isn’t a great goal. If it fits your overall strategy, it may be the right thing to do. But just because something is new doesn’t necessarily make it better. That’s why you do strategic planning and it’s why you review your strategic plans regularly: so that when new opportunities arise, you can evaluate them in terms of your well-thought-out goals and objectives. If a new technology or a new market aligns with those goals and objectives, great!

Being an early bird can bring some significant rewards, but there’s no glory in being the first mouse.

How do you evaluate whether or not to pursue new technologies and opportunities?

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This post was written by Chuck Kocher