Don’t Like Your View? Move Upstream

Yesterday I started my review of Abiomed and its unique strategic shift to focus on heart recovery. Despite being the first company with a patented and reimbursed artificial heart, Abiomed altered its focus five years ago. After speaking with its CEO, Mike Minogue, I see that he followed pattern 23: moving upstream

Instead of spending so much time and money on the artificial heart industry, Abiomed decided to address patient needs before heart surgery or a transplant. This is the preceding step to what most of Abiomed’s competitors are focusing on. Abiomed chooses to fight on a battleground that has no competition – heart recovery.

Here’s an Abiomed success story: someone experiences heart trauma and is at risk for heart surgery. A doctor uses an Abiomed device that can pump the person’s blood and therefore allows the heart muscle to rest and recover. That patient survives and leaves the hospital with his own heart.

By shifting its focus to catheter labs and on reaching patients before heart transplants, Abiomed truly lives its mission: to promote heart recovery and eliminate in-hospital deaths from high-risk angioplasty or heart attacks.

Abiomed management has close ties with its patients, including inviting them to corporate events and having their photos on the company walls. By putting a face on heart recovery, Abiomed employees are inspired and dedicated to their purpose without any distractions from competition.

The original Oral B toothbrush is a good example of this principle in action. While all other toothbrushes competed on the same battlefield – the grocery store toothbrush display area – Oral B realized that it needed to distinguish itself from the rest of the crowd. So the company created a blue band of bristles that told consumers when they needed to change their toothbrush. Instantly, Oral B invited itself into bathrooms and directly to the consumer. That small innovation helped Oral B move many steps upstream from its competition.

To apply this strategy to your business, ask yourself the following questions:
1.    What step in the process do I occupy now?
2.    How can I shift our focus to move upstream?

Final thought

Abiomed is a public company and so must spar with investors and analysts looking eagerly at quarterly results. But if there is one thing studies of innovation tell us decisively, it’s that the one who thinks only about the current game loses.

True innovators think longer term.

We cannot know for sure whether Abiomed will succeed ultimately, but if we take a long-term perspective, and if we, as Warren Buffet says, ignore "Mr. Market" with his quarterly mood swings, then we see that history is in Abiomed’s favor. The company is playing out at least two proven patterns that have led other outthinkers to victory, and this company’s mission should produce some long-term results.

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