Today, Frank Lloyd Wright is acknowledged as probably the most successful architect in American history. His initial innovative prairie style gave way in his later years to the design of the SC Johnson Wax corporate headquarters, the Guggenheim, and of course, Fallingwater. It would be easy to think that a master artisan like this sailed through life with everyone recognizing his genius. However, there were about two decades where much of the design community thought Wright, though full of promise, had become somewhat of a joke.
What happened to Frank Lloyd Wright has also happened to many companies. He thought that his innovation was SO innovative that it would withstand any challenge, and so, he rested on his laurels. He had faith that his genius alone would be enough to keep clients knocking on his door. It would be enough to keep the competition away. Ask Blockbuster where this kind of thinking leads.
The actual timeline of history involved architects in Europe learning from Wright’s innovations and then expanding upon those to create a new style and new innovations. Wright shrugged them off, but by the time the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York put together an architectural exhibit, Wright was barely worthy of an invite because he was so far behind the times.
It is hard to comprehend what might have happened to Wright if the SC Johnson Wax Company had not approached him to design their new corporate headquarters. This project infused Wright with new creative vigor, and indeed, the building is perhaps one of the most unique, still, in the world. You can learn more about that building here. Fortunately, Wright did get that job and performed admirably, and more followed.
You cannot depend on history and fate to help out your company, unfortunately. It would be nice if we all got a mulligan, but usually life does not work that way, and even if it does, we don’t know it beforehand. It is possible that right now your company is at the top of its game. You are coming up with ideas that are unprecedented. Your customers are wowed, your CEO is sending you Christmas presents in August, and you feel like you’re on top of the world. That’s all great, and it should be enjoyed. Never forget, however, that there are always other people who, like you, are ambitious and driven. Like you, they are capable of looking at what others are doing and building on that to make it something new. Initially, Netflix was just a mail-only version of Blockbuster. The innovation of streaming was the final death knell to the brick and mortar stores.
The point of this story is not to fill you with hopelessness. Rather, it is to rev your engines. Always act as if someone is breathing down your neck, even if it seems like the nearest competitor is miles away. Innovation is a funny thing. People tend to keep it quiet until it’s ready to go. All I want to make sure of is that you don’t get caught unawares. Always be a step ahead of where even you think you need to be. It will pay dividends in the long run.