In a room of our house we call the shed – in reality, a room full of junk – is an unopened 25kg bag of flour and enough dried chickpeas for me to pack in my day job and start a hummus business. All bought in a pre-COVID panic in February 2020.
Of course, as it happens, the food supply chain held up pretty well and I’d have been better off investing in… well, pretty much anything, including pictures of apes or dog themed meme currencies.
But of course, my decision-making here was based on human instinct (what if we run out of food?) and the legacy of past crises (we’re going to have rationing) rather than a measured appraisal of what the future was going to bring.
That I (or we) fail to predict winners and losers is, of course, nothing new – and it’s never truer than in the area of technology. As the infamous image above illustrates, we so often underestimate the value of new technologies based on our prior experiences rather than evaluating future behaviour.
It’s a mistake at least as old as the telephone. “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication,” said the head of Western Union in 1876. And sticking with phones, here’s Microsoft CEO Steve Bulmer in 2007: “There is no chance of the iPhone ever gaining significant market share.”
It’s not that all technology investments (or even all technologies) are always a good idea. However, we do frequently miscalculate future benefits simply because we’re conditioned to see the past more easily than the future. It’s easier to base our business decisions on consumers’ needs yesterday than on an uncertain future.
Yet you could argue that, in the fitness industry, we have it comparatively easy: much of our future state is a reasonably well-trodden path courtesy of the evolution of other businesses and sectors over the last 20 years. Whether we’re talking about boutiques, chain consolidation, consumer behaviour or digital growth, we’re able to plot our own path by studying the journey of others, from the media to the grocery business to banking.
Which is why I sense frustration in some parts of the fitness world. Frustration at the slowness to adopt and adapt to the change that’s already baked into our future.
Our business supports digital growth, and it’s an exciting part of the industry to be in, but there’s still reluctance out there to acknowledge that the future is going to be different from the past.
Yet members are beginning to expect clubs to offer workouts at home (58% in our last survey) and a majority (52%) say they’re prepared to pay for it. And why wouldn’t they be? From streaming TV to food delivery to paying our bills, we’re conditioned to expect services to go wherever we are – and we frequently and happily pay extra for the privilege.
And so we keep reminding and encouraging our partners to look at the future and focus on the opportunities ahead, rather than remaining in the comforts of the past.
To hammer the lesson home, it’s worth reflecting that if I’d bought $100 of Dogecoin rather than my dried beans in February 2020, it would be worth just under $10k today….
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