Innovators Who Redefined Industries by Redefining Their Businesses

Includes: AAPL, AMZN, GOOG
by: Jeffrey M. Kaplan

Google’s new Nexus One Android phone has created a lot of buzz as a ‘game-changer’ in the smart-phone business. Many believe this device, and Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) new business model which supports it, could redefine the phone industry.

It is always exciting to witness a company challenge the status quo in an established industry by offering a bold new value-proposition to customers.

Yet, most companies have responded to today’s economic malaise and extended downturn with a risk-adverse, reflective stance which has manifested itself in more aggressive cost-cutting strategies rather than more innovations.

I can’t blame them for shying away from the innovation tact. The cynic in me also recoils from the business pub jargon which would have us believe that any company can adopt a bold strategy to recreate themselves in this type of environment.

However, there is plenty to be said for taking this risk and attempting to redefine your business in such a way that you also redefine an industry.

When Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was struggling to stay alive in the computer business, it decided to recreate itself into a media distribution company, and look at what iTunes, iPod and the iPhone have produced. They’ve redefined the music, movie and broader entertainment industry while also breathing new life into its core computer business.

Or, when Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) was trying to elevate itself above the clutter of web-based retailers, it rediscovered its roots as a distribution company and started selling processing power by the ‘drink’, giving birth to the cloud computing business. In turn, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has redefined the IT industry.

Apple and Amazon set out to disrupt markets when they were first born, but their originally targets were the computer and retail markets, not media and IT.

While both of these companies had the advantage of bold leaders and plenty of brain-power to push them into new markets, they still represent compelling case study examples for others to emulate.

Let me know of other companies you think fall into this category of innovators.

[Editor's Note: Lawyers for Smartbook AG indicated that they are the owner of the word mark "Smartbook" for computers and laptops in various European countries and other jurisdictions.]