The Side Swipe: When Innovation is your Wheelhouse

Adam Bahret
Adam Bahret


Many companies achieve great success based on their ability to create, invent, and develop a technology. If this is the dominant focus of their product development programs they will maintain a high market share by continuing to be cutting edge. These industries and technologies are highly competitive with respect to new features and functionality for a period of time, but the growth of any specific technology slows as it matures. When this occurs, customers begin to put more weight on cost point and reliability when deciding which model or brand to purchase.

What happens if a brand’s product development program doesn’t adjust to this change in customer values? The company is then prime for the “side swipe.” The “side swipe” is a sudden loss of market share from a competitor. One of the ways this happens is the scenario described above. Sometimes this sudden advantage is just as much a surprise to the brand that gains that market share.


The customer’s shift in priority of product characteristics has changed. Now a different brand is better aligned with what the majority of customers want.

The result is often a previous technological and market share leader scrambling to figure out how to change its program and organizational practices to more accurately align with this new balance.

But the company may soon realize that it isn’t possible to “add” reliability to products: Reliability is designed in. Product development programs can’t simply be changed to ensure the new focus areas are guiding decisions during development. That’s a fundamental culture change, and culture change does not happen overnight.

Each of these types of change requires modifying the program and organization constructed over what may be two or three product development cycles.

Much of the rise of Japan’s technological industry in the 70s and 80s and China’s in the 90s and Millennium was based on this strategy. GM was prime for the side swipe and the company went from number one to out of business in a very short period of time. China even accomplished the side swipe on Japan in electronics in the past few years.

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