Eating your own young in IT

Cronos devouring his son

Once upon a time, the titan Cronos received a prophecy that just ate him up. It seems that it was foretold that his children would someday take his throne and his powers. Concerned about this loss of power and market share, he literally ate them up, all except for one who got away, a kid named Zeus, who survived to, well you know what comes next. Anyways, serves ‘em right, and ironically, they were served alright!

So, what does this have to do with IT? Well, many computer generations ago, IBM was the titan of the IT industry, and it too worried that one of its children would take its throne and its powers. So, instead of having a son who would later devour it, it made a partnership instead with one Bill Gates, and ended up being devoured anyways. In IT parlance, to eat one’s own children is to cannibalize one’s product line to survive. In 1980, that product line was the IBM mainframe and midrange systems, and IBM needed a response to the newfangled Apple II personal computer. It decided to design its own PC, but keep arms distance from outright owning the thing, and fulfilling the dire prophecy, by outsourcing the operating system, and the rights to a startup titan called Microsoft, and although it did not devour IBM, it ate its lunch.

It is noble that humans have generally resisted eating their own young, but as entrepreneurs this resistance is an invitation to suicide, for when you don’t push your unproductive children aside, even if you don’t eat them, then you will crowd out the products and solutions your company needs to survive.

For companies that use IT services, and not just develop them, the lesson is the same. Technologies change, products change, and consuming your own young means to consume the time to recognize that there are always better and less expensive ways to raise productivity, grow your business, and fend off competitors. If it means cannibalizing the services you already had, it’s better than having a competitor use them instead to bite off your own head.

Why your firm should cannibalize itself…

And the gods themselves…