True disruption often leads to invention, but so does anticipation


Picture this: You are starting a small business by modifying a pre-existing product that completely reinvents that product.

There are some minor disruptions that get in the way, so you and your team make some tweaks to your product.

As you do this, you start to consider other issues that may disrupt the latest version of that product you are working on, and when it’s ready, start advertising to the local people your business is based in.

Now fast forward decades, and your old small business has grown into a massive business making tens of thousands of this product that just came from reinventing an already existing product. Your brand is world famous, representing more than a product, but a way of life, and your business literally sets the standard for all of those that followed.

But despite all the successes over the years, when is it finally time to reinvent the product, the business process or the brand?

This example is actually based on a true story; can you guess the business? I’ll give you a hint: his product is in the automotive industry, but unlike Ford Motor Company, builds vehicles with only two wheels.

A history lesson on two wheels

If you guessed Harley-Davidson, you are right.

The Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company was founded in 1903 by William S. Harley and brothers Walter and Arthur Davidson. The first motorcycle was born from these three people who reinvented a pedal bike by inserting a 160 cc engine. The aforementioned initial disturbance they faced was that the motorcycle was unable to climb some of the hills around Milwaukee.

The trio immediately reinvented their engine, increasing their size to 405cc, although Following power as needed to climb the hills that the first iteration struggled with. It was an anticipatory action. All three founders noted that while the hills the motorcycle had to climb locally were small, there were likely more intense hills in the world that their machine would face.

Therefore, they pre-solved the problem of their motorcycle failing to climb said hills before the machine hit the market.

The anticipation and the principles of my Anticipatory leader system have certainly played a role in the longevity and stability of many businesses, and you can see several applicable in a business like Harley-Davidson. For example, my principle of quick failure and faster learning can be seen when Harley-Davidson made pedal bikes as a way to attract more motorcycle sales. The bikes were greeted with a lackluster response, and the company quickly ditched them.

Through two world wars, the Great Depression, and several restructuring efforts, Harley-Davidson has remained the industry leader in innovative motorcycles, branded clothing, and a culture of its own rooted in the biker lifestyle.

Everyone has to finally reinvent themselves

His story does not have ended anyhow; however, a principle of my Anticipatory Leader System that Harley-Davidson must now take into account is a principle on which the company itself was founded, but in recent years seems to have been neglected: to reinvent.

An indisputable fact about our world is that change is the only constant. It doesn’t matter if you are in business for yourself or an employee of a large corporation, disruption and change affects us all at one point or another. Anticipate these disruptions before they disturb allows you and your organization to pre-resolve issues internally, but more importantly, those your customers face.

Use a state of mind of anticipation requires identifying the future certainties of Hard Trend this will to arrive. Harley-Davidson used a fairly straightforward hard trend to identify that there are some steeper hills to climb outside of the city of Milwaukee. In response to this, the company not only re-invent its product to climb the local hills but anticipated that this first iteration of a motorcycle would need to climb all Hills.

While Harley-Davidson has reinvented products and processes over the years, it seems to have stalled in reinvention, missing one simple hard trend: the passing of time. Its predominant customer base is the baby boomer generation, who have long been able to afford the luxury models that Harley-Davidson has sent around the world.

However, the future certainty of the passage of time means these baby boomers are buying fewer motorcycles in retirement, and Gen X, Millennials and now even Gen Z have purchasing power to take their place. But still, Harley-Davidson doesn’t sell as many motorcycles as it should, all of these new generations being able to afford even the most expensive models.

Soft trends and reinvention

Just like the newer generations not wanting to buy the vehicles their parents bought en masse, so are recreational vehicles like motorcycles. For example, the younger generations are not interested in baggers and gravitate more particularly towards the vintage aesthetic.

Younger generations did not grow up during the years when four-wheeled and two-wheeled vehicles had engines that required home maintenance. Instead, they quickly learn about digital technology, accessories, and batteries replacing fuel-injected engines.

What a company like Harley-Davidson should to do with a state of mind of anticipation is to regard the preferences of the younger generation as a soft trend, or future possibility who is open to influence. Harley-Davidson can and should reinventing a product that not only influences their preferences, but in advance solves any problems that these next generations may have as a they or they age, and when the generations after they get their motorcycle license.

Anticipation helps you creatively

Harley-Davidson is no different from a small family convenience store disrupted by exponential digital transformation. With a state of mind of anticipation, neither should be more afraid of disturbances than the other.

In addition to looking at anticipation from the perspective of an organization simply trying to to prevent catastrophe to take place, like Harley-Davidson losing sales dramatically until it’s all about memory, anticipation, and the principle of reinvention that you learn through my Anticipatory Leader System should stimulate creativity in you and your team. It fosters a level of creative critical thinking in problem solving, opening doors that many don’t even realize exist to begin with.

Harley-Davidson used the principle of reinvention to build the very first motorcycle and used simple anticipation to ensure his bikes would be reliable in all types of applications. They have even been used during world wars! This same reinvention is essential today to remain a pillar of two-wheeled transport.

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