There was an article in the Harvard Business Review last weekend that caught my attention. It was called "If You're Not Pissing Someone Off, You're Probably Not Innovating." I found myself agreeing with much of it and finding it especially relevant to the golf industry.
The premise of the article is that industries are controlled by incumbents who do not look kindly on new ways of doing things. As a result, a "fundamental obstacle to innovation that all would-be disruptors must be prepared to face is the potentially hostile response of incumbents who don't want to see their market advantages threatened."
This is very true in the golf industry where "tradition" is the cornerstone of a powerful culture. "Innovation" to many is seen as a direct threat to the sanctity of the game they love and this causes emotions, both positive and negative, to run especially high.
Additionally, the industry is controlled, like most industries, by an exclusive "inner circle" that is difficult to penetrate.
Fred Wilson talks about this concept in a blog titled "Insurgents vs. Incumbents." In it he says: "The startup world is about insurgents. A person or a few people with an idea. And they drop everything and go for it. They are going up against the incumbents and that doesn't just mean the big companies that occupy the market position they want. That means all the people, institutions, and organizations that are in cahoots with the big companies."
In golf, this would be the PGA of America, PGA Tour, The First Tee, USGA, LPGA and a few others.
If you're a current or aspiring golf entrepreneur, be prepared to feel the opposite of loved by these groups. And that's okay. The golf industry has been contracting for a decade so these folks have reason to be defensive, and the data clearly shows that the current way of doing things is not working. It's also a $76 billion industry in a volatile environment, making it a great time/place for disruption.
Being an "insurgent" is awesome. It's thrilling, purposeful, educational, humbling and an opportunity to do something significant and meaningful. But be prepared to face people every day - every hour, even - who don't share your vision. Who will try to derail you. Who will be dismissive. Who will react negatively to the very premise of your concept.
But if you're getting this type of response from incumbents, know that you're on to something good. Be resilient. Because if what you were doing wasn't a threat to them, they either wouldn't care or would try to help.
We've faced this for years at TGA with success so it's definitely possible to overcome. And now that we've reached a point where our footprint is too large to ignore - two franchise systems, 67 franchisees, >150k students, strong growth and huge opportunities on the horizon for 2012 - the "inner circle" is starting to open up their arms.
I'm okay with having to prove ourselves to the incumbents and you should be too. The goal is to be one of them, soon. We just need to make sure that if/when that happens, we continue to be innovators. It goes back to something I wrote about in the past - it's the pace of innovation that determines the winners, not the original idea.