"Xerox chops earnings outlook as sales slide" is the headline on Marketwatch.com. Do you remember when Xerox was considered the most powerful sales company on earth? In the 1970s and into the 1980s corporations marveled at the sales processes at Xerox – because those processes brought in quarter after quarter of increasing profitable revenue. Xerox practically wiped out competitors – the small printing press manufacturers – during this period, and "carbon paper" was quickly becoming a museum relic (if you are under 30 you'll have to ask someone older what carbon paper is – because it requires an explanation of something called a typewriter as well [lol]).
But today, do you care about Xerox? If you have a copier, you don't care who made it. It could be from Sharp, or Canon, or anybody. You don't care if it's Xerox unless you work in a "copy store" like Kinko's or run the copy center for the corporation – and possibly not even in those jobs. And because desktop printers have practically made copiers obsolete, you may not care about copiers at all. In short, even though Xerox invented the marketplace for widespread duplicating, because the company stayed in its old market of big copiers it has seen revenue declines and has largely become irrelevant.
"U.S. airline revenue plunges for another month" is another Marketwatch.com headline. And I ask again, do you care? The airlines were deregulated 30 years ago, and since then as a group they've never consistently made money (only 1 airline – Southwest – is the exception to this discussion.) The big players in the early days included TWA, Eastern, Braniff, PanAm – names long gone from the skies. They've been replaced by Delta, American and United – as we've watched the near collapse of US Airways, Northwest and Continental. But we've grown so used to the big airlines losing money, and going bankrupt, and screaming about unions and fuel costs, that we've pretty much quit caring. The only thing frequent travelers care about now is their "frequent flier miles" and how they can use them. The airline itself is irrelevant – just so long as I get those miles and get my status and they let me board early.
When you don't grow, you lose relevance. In the mid-1980s the battle raged between Apple's Macintosh and the PC (generically, from all manufacturers) as to which was going to be the dominant desktop computer. By the 1990s that question had been answered, and as Macintosh sales lagged Apple lost relevance. But then when the iPod, iTunes, iTouch and iPhone came along suddenly Apple gained a LOT of relevance. When companies grow, they demonstrate the ability to serve markets. They are relevant. When they don't grow, like GM and Citibank, they lose relevance. It's not about cash flow or even profitability. When you grow, like Amazon with its Kindle launch, you get attention because you demonstrate you are connected to where markets are headed.
Is your business obsessing about costs to the point it is hurting revenue? If so, you are at risk of losing relevance. Like Sara Lee in consumer goods, or Sears in retailing, even if the companies are able to make a profit – possibly even grow profits after some bad years – if you can't grow the top line you just aren't relevant. And if you aren't relevant, you can't get more customers interested in your products/services, and you can't encourage investors. People want to be part of Google, not Kodak.
To maintain (or regain) relevance today, you have to focus on growth. Cutting costs is not enough. If you lose relevance, you lose your customer base and financing, and you make it a whole lot easier for competitors to grow. While you're looking internally, or managing the bottom line, competitors are figuring out the market direction, and proving it by demonstrating growth. And that's why today, even more than before, it is so critical you focus planning on future markets for growth, obsess about competitors, use Disruptions to change behavior and implement White Space to experiment with new business opportunities. Because if you don't do those things you are far, far too likely to simply become irrelevant.[note: Thanks for feedback that my spelling and grammar have gotten pretty sloppy lately. I'm going to allocate more time to review, as well as writing. And hopefully pick up some proofreading to see if this can improve. Sorry for the recent problems, and I appreciate your feedback on errors.]