Is Your Career Doomed? Mine Might Be.

February 19, 2009  

I spend most of my days thinking about the “innovation bell curve.”  The concept is simple, yet profound.

Budget brands will continue to prosper as mid-market consumers move left to save money.

Although premium brands may suffer slightly, there will still be strong demand for high-end products and services.

It is the middle of the bell curve, the “mid-market brands” that are getting squished as consumers move toward greater value and premium brands reposition themselves (a bit more) toward the mid-market customer.

I’ve been thinking about this model as it relates to my career – giving speeches about innovation

On the right-hand side of this model are the “celebrity” speakers.  These individuals include Harvard Business School Professors (e.g., Clayton Christensen), former CEOs of big companies (e.g., Jack Welch), and major best-selling authors (e.g., Seth Godin).  These individuals charge MUCH more than I do.  But they are also a draw.  For large events, having one of the speakers on the platform will get butts in seats.

On the left-hand side of this model are the “vendor” speakers.  These individuals work for large companies who view speaking as great marketing.  These speakers are often not only free, sometimes they even pay sponsorship dollars to be on the platform.  VPs of Innovation for large consulting firms or presidents of innovation software vendors fall into this category.  They have something to sell the audience.

Where does this leave me?  It certainly leaves me rethinking my business model.  Then again, I am always rethinking my business model.

I am continuing to put more energy into books and products like Innovation Personality Poker®.  These move me towards the left-hand side of the model.  You can take me home for a fraction of the cost of one of my speeches.

I am also staying focused on the corporate market (rather than large conferences) because there is still great demand here.  With group sizes of 50 – 300, celebrity speakers are prohibitively expensive.  And given the small event size, the marketing opportunity is not as great for vendor speakers.  My business continues to boom in this area.

Finally, I am shooting the pilot for my TV show in April.  If all goes well, I may be able to re-position myself in the right-hand side of the chart – a celebrity speaker.  But of course, time will tell.

Where are you positioned?  Who is squishing you out of business?  How can you reposition yourself?

P.S. In a previous blog entry, when discussing the innovation bell curve, I talked about the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi in the Karate KidHe talks about those in the middle getting “squished like grape.”  I thought you might like to see the YouTube video…

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3 Responses to “Is Your Career Doomed? Mine Might Be.”

  1. Rich DiGirolamo on February 19th, 2009 6:31 pm

    Steve, you worry too much. Everyone wants you.

  2. Ed on February 20th, 2009 8:59 am

    Interesting. I hadn’t heard the squished like a grape analogy before. As I understand it the shape should change though. I write about innovation in Ireland and we definitely have a bi-modal distribution with the free speakers and top end draws with very very few inbetween.

  3. Stephen Shapiro on February 20th, 2009 9:29 am


    You are so correct. As the middle gets squished, the result is a bi-modal distribution. This is in contrast to what we have seen in the past. This change is not limited to speakers. We are seeing it in all areas of business and innovation. In fact, if you read my latest blog post, you will see we are on the same page.

    Thanks for your comment.