Opinion: Lessons From Greyhound and Reasons For a 360-Degree Examination of Your Business

225
Thinkstock

Growing up in B.C.’s Kootenay region and interior, I spent many summers on long Greyhound bus trips to visit family. It was an economical, safe and reliable mode of travel. And it was a solid employer — my dad was a Greyhound bus driver for a number of years.

I haven’t ridden a Greyhound bus in about 20 years and didn’t notice the drop in ridership happen, so I admit it came as a shock to hear that our country’s main bus service, which launched in B.C. in 1925, will terminate its B.C. and Prairie operations this fall. Sadly, it’s the end of an era: the demise of a national bus system that knit together the towns and cities of Canada, socially and, to a certain extent, economically.

It’s hard to survive a 41 per-cent drop in ridership, and that’s what Greyhound experienced over the past decade. It blames this drop in part on growing competition from subsidized regional and national passenger services, low-cost flights, regulatory issues and the growth of car ownership.

But you could also argue that Greyhound’s Western demise is due to in part to its reliance on big buses, old ways of thinking and an image in need of serious rebranding and fresh marketing. In short, for more than a decade it has needed a 360-degree focus on innovation, instead of quarters turns.

No business is immune to failure. It doesn’t matter how many years it’s been in operation or how big it is. When a company lacks the means, financially or creatively, to innovate its way into the future, there’s nowhere to go but down.

In light of what’s happening with Greyhound, I was very intrigued to read a new book by Howard Yu, LEGO professor of management and innovation at Switzerland’s IMD Business School and the man known for “disrupting the theory of disruption.”

Yu’s book, Leap: How to Thrive in a World Where Everything Can Be Copied, is about how companies must develop their own “leap process” to stay relevant and leverage market shifts. I’m going to over simplify here, but Yu’s premise is basically that with new technologies and a culture of innovation, emerging businesses no longer have to build factories, employ huge workforces and invest in major assets to topple market leaders. They can move quickly, with a 360-degree approach to innovation while the industry giants are still compartmentalizing innovation and investing in propping up old assets and closed-loop systems.

“Today,” Yu says, “knowledge gets disseminated faster. Whether you protect it or not, someone else will discover what you’ve discovered. How can you open up the innovation funnel to embrace external ideas for your organization’s product pipeline? Maybe you co-create with your customer or leverage your supply chain network to come up with new product innovations with your suppliers. You may even get involved with amateur inventors.”

Who knows what Yu might have proposed, if anything, to revitalize Greyhound, but his book, which details why some companies, like P & G, have survived while others have failed, should be required reading for business owners and managers. In business, there can be no downtime when it comes to innovating. The wheels have to keep turning.

This article is from the August/September 2018 issue of Douglas.