In today’s world, your contracting business has to move at light speed just to stay in the game. So were the words of warning from Oren Harari, one of the many featured speakers at the recent annual convention of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Amer-ica (MCAA).

Harari, co-author of the recently released Beep! Beep! Competing in the Age of the Road Runner, is considered one of the country’s leading authorities on strategic planning, competitive advantage, and organizational change. A management consultant and business author, Harari has been redefining how organizations conduct business.

“Lew Platt, the recently retired ceo of Hewlett-Packard, was asked recently, after a long and illustrious career, what did he learn?” Harari told MCAA attendees. “He answered, ‘One of the most important things I learned is basically this: ‘Whatever made me successful in the past, won’t in the future.’”

In Harari’s eyes, Platt’s observation is, fundamentally, an optimistic statement.

“What he is saying is that there are forces out there that are emerging. These forces include new technologies, new forms of competition, new shifts in consumer preferences or expectations, shifts in capital market, opportunities for alliances and networks — ‘they’ are all out there. Now they are not particularly clear yet. If you look at it out on the horizon, it may appear like a cloud of dust.

“However, those of us who can start training our strategic binoculars out there, right now, and start altering our organizations to capitalize on these forces — they are the ones who are going to be, strategically, the leaders in this new economy.”


To illustrate his point, Harari turned to the music industry and its fight with He said one of the main reasons for Napster’s success is because consumers are telling the music industry, “We don’t want your product anymore.

“What people are saying now is, ‘You know what? If I like one song, why do I want to buy a CD? If I like one song and the other 11 suck, why do I want to do that?’” said Harari.

He noted that in “ancient history” (1983, to be exact), AT&T had a “reasonably good” share (100%, to be exact) of the long distance market. After the 1984 divestiture, however, there are now “hundreds of providers of long distance and local service. We take that for granted now, but less than 20 years ago, there was this monolith.”

He noted that consumers today are bombarded with choices, which makes the competition even tighter.

“I’m dating myself,” he said with a sly smile. “When I was growing up, I had three channels to choose from. They were NBC, ABC, and CBS, which as late as 1980 owned over 90% share in our homes. I traumatize my kids by telling them I only had three channels to chose from. And I tell them something else, by the way, that I know is going to cause deep psychotherapy for years: I told them I used to have to get up to change the channel!”

After a roar of laughter, Harari immediately interjected, “But think about it. Right now we are overwhelmed with choices. This is true in any industry. As a result, consumers are becoming more powerful. They are demanding better services, better practices, better everything.

“Remember this: We are living in an age where the intangibles are more important than the tangibles.”


In his most recent book, Harari discusses why the familiar and free-spirited cartoon character, the Road Runner, is an excellent model for a new kind of organizational success. Strangely enough, he asked his contractor crowd to watch more cartoons.

“If you do that, like I have, you’ll start seeing some amazing things,” he said. “The Coyote should always catch the Road Runner, right? Who is bigger? The Coyote. Who is taller? The Coyote. Who has the ability — the advantage, supposedly — of complicated, strategic planning? After all, did you ever see the Coyote have those complicated blueprints?

“The point is, the Coyote is always thinking the way the market ought to work. And it’s the same thing over and over again. If the Road Runner was simply fast, he’d be caught. He’s not just fast. If you look at the Road Runner, he’s constantly scanning the environment and constantly doing strategy on the run. That’s why, when he sees things unfolding before him, he’ll suddenly make that quick turn, because he’s nimble. He’ll stop on a dime.

“In a way, the Coyote makes the prediction based on yesterday’s reality. What he’s doing is always going to fail and he’s always going to go off the cliff!”

Don’t let that happen to you. Beep-beep!

Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-362-0317 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 03/19/2001