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But, really, all this excitement and energy about a market that hasn't historically been seen as all that interesting? Well . . .

Experts have projected that even under the existing regulatory regime, the hearing aid business could be an $8 billion business by 2019. Some say that by 2023 it could be in excess of $9 billion. This is an interesting aspect of strategic inflection points. When something that used to be complex and expensive becomes convenient and cheaper, one result is often an explosion in demand. If we extrapolate from the statistic that only one in five people who could use help with their hearing have hearing aids today, the market size in short order could be five times greater—perhaps as big as $40 billion—after the inflection point that allows anybody to get a discreet, self-adjustable hearing device.

Moreover, you might even see quite dramatic changes in the use case for hearing devices, along the lines of how the smartphone changed the way people use mobile phones. People might find themselves purchasing more than one device, as they now do with glasses. Perhaps one look and functionality for a Friday dinner out, something completely different for the Sunday afternoon sports game, and maybe even something else for watching TV at home. Once something becomes inexpensive enough, the possibilities are endless.

As you will see throughout this book, weak signals of an impending shift—'when recognized early enough'—can give you a head start to prepare to take advantage of it. Right now is exactly the moment when companies interested in entering the over-the-counter hearing aid business should begin preparing and making plans. Not investing in a huge big bang, mind you, but investing in preparations.

An inflection point occurs when a change—what some people call a 10X change—upends the assumptions that a business is built on. When the moment of crystal clarity arrives, that is the moment to mobilize the troops, bring focus, and bear down hard on preparing the organization for the post- inflection world, just as Bose, Samsung, and others are doing in the over-the counter hearing aid (sorry, 'not' hearing aid) space.


Inflection points can take a surprisingly long time to unfold. Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first twelve-second historic flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. The first mention of their accomplishment in the 'New York Times' appeared three years later. In fact, it wasn't until May of 1908 that serious reporters began to pay attention and the public realized that manned flight was not (as an expert predicted in 1902) too far in the future, but that it had actually arrived. In short order, industries as varied as passenger travel, consulting, logistics, and even defense were fundamentally altered forever.

Inflection points create dramatic shifts in the competitive dynamics of a functioning system. They have the power to bring about exponential change. Perhaps 10X larger, 10X cheaper, 10X more convenient, and so on. The sources are seemingly endless. Some common triggers for an inflection point can be found in:

—Technological change
—Regulatory change
—Social possibilities
—Demographic change
—New connections (among formerly isolated elements, common to digital disruption)
—Political change
—And many others

Inflection points have the power to change the very assumptions on which organizations were founded. Changes in the environment in or around organizations can create new, entrepreneurial opportunities—and result in potentially devastating consequences for those still operating under the old model or assumptions. The effects are often compounded because institutional rules typically lag what is possible.

For example, if you look at companies that have navigated inflection points superbly in recent years (Amazon, Aetna, Cognizant, Adobe, Fujifilm, DSM, Gore), you don't see huge, wrenching reorganization for the most part. That takes place in companies that recognized the changing circumstances too late (IBM, A&P, Sears, Hewlett-Packard, Dell). And when an inflection point goes the wrong way, the entire organization can crumble or become irrelevant (Toys "R" Us, Blockbuster, RadioShack).

The progress of inflection points, moreover, is not linear. They proceed in fits and starts, and while they are emerging, it is normal for reasonable people to disagree about their importance and likely impact.

The great entrepreneurs and innovators, however, don't just allow an inflection point to happen to them. They connect emerging possibilities, deepen customer insights, and explore new technologies to spark the changes that can get them—and keep them—on top.



1. Snow Melts From the Edges
2. Early Warnings
3. On the Lookout for Weak Signals: Defining Your Arena

4. Customers, Not Hostages
5. What Must Be True? Creating a Plan to Learn Fast
6. Galvanizing the Organization

7. How Innovation Proficiency Defangs the Organizational Antibodies
8. How Leadership Can and Must Learn to See Around Corners
9. Seeing Around Corners in Your Own Life

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