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Over the last three days, I’ve shown how Mikey Dobin and Valley Forge Fabrics have been able to find an unorthodox path, define a niche market and empower its employees. These innovations have helped the company emerge as the leading fabric producer for the hospitality industry worldwide. Click here to listen to the audio of my interview with Mikey.

But it’s not just these strategies that have paid off for the Dobin family business. Valley Forge Fabrics is also clearly executing one of the most powerful innovation patterns: move early to the next battle ground.

Sun Tzu says that the "one who is early to the next battle ground is at ease and one who hastens to do battle is at labor." Movers do not always have a sustainable advantage, but they almost always have an immediate advantage. And if you are smart, then that is all you need.

Valley Forge Fabrics is rapidly ahead of its competition in the "green" area. It is the first to produce a fabric made entirely by post consumer waste (e.g., used paper and cotton). Additionally, they are able to create sheets and fabrics that feel like high-thread-count cotton.

Others are not pursuing this future as aggressively because right now this model does not make financial sense. Many people assume that it costs more to produce fabric from recycled materials than from new sources because the used materials actually cost more to develop.

Short-term thinkers will do the math and say that there is no opportunity to produce such green products right now. But Mikey’s logic is simple: "It should be cheaper to buy garbage than oil." This may not be true right now, but as the market evolves, it will eventually be cheaper to use recycled materials versus using up raw resources.

So Valley Forge Fabrics is executing this strategy now in order to dominate the marketplace when the demand and capabilities are finally aligned.

This simple logic is often at the source of the world’s greatest innovations. It’s not that great innovators are smarter than others or that they see the future more quickly. Instead, it is that they are simply more honest with themselves. The future is often obvious if one is willing to really look.

Most companies over think situations and strategies, and they are often following the pack instead of leading it. General Motors knew there was no future in the gas-guzzling Hummers, but it let short-term market data convince itself otherwise. Meanwhile, Toyota kept things simple and looked into the future, which it knew contained fewer natural resources.

Ask yourself the following question to see if you can identify a future market.

  1. What do you see coming next in your industry?
  2. Where is the next battleground?
  3. What are you doing now to prepare for it and how can you use this preparation to dominate your competitors?