“Bleeding Edge” is a term used to describe cutting-edge technology. It implies that the system or product in question has not yet been perfected and still contains many errors, flaws, and other issues. “Leading edge” products are those which have fewer bugs than the bleeding edge ones–they’re more stable but often lack innovation.
Companies that are leading the way in technology have had to deal with some hurdles during their development, but they can also reap just as many benefits. Companies on the bleeding edge of innovation often struggle to get by without being tossed aside. But what happens when a company is at both ends? If you’re trying to decide whether your business should be focused primarily on “leading-edge” or “bleeding-edge,” this article will help you figure out if it makes sense for your needs and how best to keep ahead of competitors who might not share that same approach.A business is either on the leading edge or it’s on the bleeding edge. It can’t be both, right? Wrong! Understanding what a company needs to achieve and how they’ll reach those goals will help you decide which side of this line your organization should stand.
A “bleeding edge” is a term that is used in technology to describe the latest and most advanced version of something. A “cutting edge” is a term that is used in technology to describe the newest and most advanced versions of something. The difference between these terms is very important because it can make or break an organization’s success.
The most effective business strategies include introducing a new product, service, or distribution outlet that targets current market rivals on a vulnerable flank, as defined by military strategists. An successful flanking assault in warfare hits the opponent (or competitor) where they are unable or unwilling to react. A wise commander, like a wise business leader, would concentrate troops against this flank.
Wendy’s, for example, did not enter the fast food burger industry by attempting to outperform McDonald’s with low-cost, quick-delivery burgers. That would have been a direct hit. Instead, they went against McDonald’s on the weak side with their “Hot and Juicy” marketing, which focused on providing bigger, fresh (not frozen) beef patties.
McDonald’s had developed a system to rapidly supply low-cost (frozen) burgers. It was tough for them to react due to the intricacy of their current infrastructure. Wendy’s, on the other hand, devoted marketing and operational resources on delivering on their “Hot and Juicy” promise, carving out a niche for customers who wanted fresh, bigger burgers with customizable sauces.
Not bleeding edge, but cutting edge
Executing a flank assault often necessitates the development of new technologies. You may have a vision of a new technology that exposes a weak flank in an entire industry or against major rivals, whether you’re contemplating starting a new firm or seeking to create a new product in an existing company.
However, you must determine whether or not your innovative, flank-exposing invention is feasible to implement. Make sure you have a thorough knowledge of the technical hazards and an accurate evaluation of your team’s capabilities.
Inquire if the required technology is on the cutting edge, which is feasible, or on the bleeding edge, which is unattainable.
Wendy’s nationwide assault on McDonald’s was groundbreaking at the time. It enabled them to take advantage of a weak spot in McDonald’s otherwise strong market position.
Compare this to Samsung’s attempt to exploit its competitor’s weak spots with a fast charging function. The development team for the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 pushed battery technology to its limits. Their exploding phones became a notorious illustration of the dangers of going too far due to an incorrect assessment of the technological hazards. Their dream of a fast-charging, larger smartphone (that didn’t catch fire) was a fantasy—or, to be more precise, a nightmare.
To prevent catastrophes like the Galaxy Note 7, be brutally honest in your technical feasibility evaluation to establish if your desired technology is cutting-edge. The worst-case scenario is if you ignore the warning signals and launch something that is hazardous or has flaws that cause substantial reputation harm.
Do you ever feel like you’re on the verge of something? Avoid launching a direct attack.
Even if you put too much faith in a breakthrough at the cutting edge and discover it isn’t coming, everything is not lost.
In such circumstances, the normal human response is to return to a frontal attack strategy. This is almost always the incorrect strategy. Find a another vulnerable flank to assault instead. Imagine Wendy’s trying to compete with McDonald’s by out-working them in frying frozen patties because they couldn’t figure out the fresh beef supply system. Wendy’s would probably not be around today.
In business, the frontal attack is basically a “we’ll just work harder than they do” strategy. Attempting to accomplish what your rival does better than they do is a difficult path to travel.
There are other options than trying to “gut it out” with a direct assault on the target market if you find yourself in a position where the technology necessary for distinction becomes an illusion. Look for additional highly distinctive technologies in the work you or your team has previously done. You’ll undoubtedly discover more chances to strike a vulnerable flank if you delve a little further.
A hospital bed newbie mistook the bleeding edge for the leading edge in this case study.
In the early 1980s, a war over the hospital bed market erupted. Hill-Rom, the legendary healthcare subsidiary of Fortune 500 firm Hillenbrand Industries, had driven its last rival out of the US hospital bed market and enjoyed a near-monopoly.
Their sole rival was a tiny Kalamazoo start-up called Stryker, which started developing a few specialized products (specialty beds) with features like in-bed scales for high-demand sections of the hospital after seeing a weak spot in Hill-med-surg Rom’s bed monopoly.
Stryker had built a decent foothold in these new specialty bed markets after numerous back-and-forth competitive fights, carving out specialist niches and converting approximately 15% of the med-surg bed market to specialized beds. Stryker decided to go on the attack in early 1991, and took the historic choice to take the fight to Hill-primary Rom’s market. It seemed to be the natural next step.
A “smart” strategy
Stryker’s medical section got a lot of things right when it came to designing their assault strategy.
They established a large off-site development team with the goal of creating and launching a cutting-edge medical–surgical bed. They hired many experienced engineers and supplemented them with bright new recruits with knowledge in areas outside than Stryker Medical’s core capabilities, such as skills helpful in creating important new technologies for improved patient surfaces and mattresses. The off-site crew was overworked, which contributed to their esprit and unique energy, which is common among startup teams. On paper, their entire go-to-market strategy was very appealing.
Hill-dominating Rom’s position in the med-surg bed market had been recognized by Stryker as having a highly vulnerable flank. Hill-strength Rom’s in med-surg beds was found by research to be that the firm also competed in a substantial (over $500 million) industry, renting beds equipped with sophisticated skin-to-surface pressure-relieving technology. A large blower would fill air mattresses on the rental beds using breathable fabric akin to Gore-Tex to basically float the patient over a semi-permeable low-air-loss surface. Low-air-loss technology was a lifesaver for individuals with fragile skin.
Stryker’s stated strategy was to outsmart Hill-“for Rom’s sale” and “rental” markets by skillfully creating new technology to produce a hybrid product. It would be the finest med-surg bed ever, with many of the advantages of Hill-high-priced Rom’s rental beds.
Stryker felt that the cost advantages of buying over Hill-high Rom’s leasing charges would provide a compelling value offer to hospital clients. Hospitals may use this sophisticated product to replace their med-surg beds, rejuvenate their floors, and save millions in leasing costs. Because they had created a massive infrastructure to serve the rental-bed industry, Hill-Rom would be stuck. The strategy relied on the development of a low-cost, effective successor for the low-air-loss technology.
The illusion of a non-existent technology
It sounded great, but the reality of carrying out such a large-scale scheme would far beyond Stryker’s or any other company’s technological capabilities at the moment.
Their technological assumptions were the fatal error. Stryker’s planners and engineers didn’t understand the complexities of trying to sell low-air-loss technology since they didn’t have much expertise with it. Senior executives, venture investors, and even entrepreneurs have a difficult time detecting these kinds of errors. After all, the majority of excellent company strategies aim to push beyond existing performance limitations or go beyond generally recognized bounds. The issue is that pushing beyond the realm of possibility results in an illusion—a bridge too far.
It would be almost a decade before the technology to make such a bed became available. The idea was akin to trying to create the iPod in 1985, long before miniaturized hard drives, flash memory, high-speed PC connection, or energy-efficient microprocessors were available in any significant form. The Apple comparison is appropriate since the firm and its founder, Steve Jobs, excelled at precisely timing product developments. To put it another way, they understood how to push the boundaries on the cutting edge but not on the bleeding edge.
Reconsidering the strategy
Stryker’s executives recognized they wouldn’t be able to overcome the technological gaps by the end of the development project. When they realized that major parts of their strategy would not be realized, they did what many entrepreneurs do: they looked at what they had and concluded that they could still be successful by just working harder than Hill-Rom.
After all, they had carved out specialized bed positions by defeating Hill-renowned Rom’s sales team in several of those fights. Furthermore, their sales staff had become more concentrated. The new bed divisional leadership believed that just providing a “better” bed (than Hill-Rom) would be enough to win the day.
This kind of reevaluation occurs often. The crew had poured their hearts and souls into creating the bed, and they were ecstatic with the results. The new device featured characteristics that floor nurses who were given early previews praised, despite the fact that it would not replace rental beds. With the better, more creative bed, the skilled bed sales team was sure that they would win.
As more consumers had a chance to see the goods, their excitement grew. Customers praised the innovative networking technology, reduced height, contemporary look, optional in-bed weighing, bed-exit warning systems, and other technical advancements. They began to believe that staking their success on dozens of tiny advantages in a straight frontal attack would eat into Hill-market Rom’s share. However, this was a blunder.
Frontal assault failure: Pickett’s charge
Stryker’s plan, as it was carried out, was similar to Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg, the catastrophic Confederate frontal attack by the army’s most prized assets over an open field into the heart of the Union’s well-prepared and fortified position during the American Civil War. This heinous defeat changed the course of the war, resulting in the South’s ultimate capitulation. Stryker’s sales representatives, like Pickett’s troops, marched into Hill-strongest Rom’s position.
Stryker representatives would have to persuade hospital C-suite officials that the Stryker bed was worth a shot in order to win. The two-dozen minor feature enhancements were unimpressive since there was no compelling unique technology that could connect with hospital leadership. Despite the fact that the floor nurses favored Stryker’s bed, the hospital management had a long history with Hill-Rom. Most people didn’t see any need to take a chance on Stryker since buying new mattresses was a fifteen- to twenty-year commitment.
Hill-Rom, on the other hand, was well-prepared for the attack. The brave Stryker bed sales team was confronted with the full force and fury of Hill-marketing Rom’s and sales power when they charged. Because they readily gave up territory in their country, the business did not become a near monopoly.
Hill-Rom has cutting-edge information systems that provided a comprehensive picture of the types and ages of beds in every hospital in the nation. They were aware of which hospitals could be in need of additional beds. When their sales and marketing teams learned that Stryker was involved in a deal, they acted quickly to put a stop to it. They would sow doubt about Stryker’s quality, offer cheaper pricing, package additional items into the contract, or renegotiate with substantial trade-in allowances since they had the ear of hospital management. Furthermore, Stryker’s bed had been overpriced.
Shortly after the bed was introduced, Stryker’s bed division was saddled with a product that was 70 percent over budget. Because salespeople were eager for orders, they sold the beds for 30% less what Hill-Rom was receiving before Stryker entered the market. To make things worse, soon after the first units were delivered, Stryker’s bed was subjected to a major recall.
The battlefield was strewn with weary Stryker salesmen, tired-out service personnel conducting recalls, and a dejected home office a year after the sales launch, much like Pickett’s brave Georgians. Profits in the medical sector were deteriorating, and the bed business was nearing its breaking point.
Lessons for today’s entrepreneurs
The tale has two important lessons for every small company or startup:
Lesson 1: It’s critical to evaluate your technological skills.
Stryker’s strategy was doomed from the start since they believed they could create the technology needed to match the capabilities of the rental beds and sell it.
The market for beds with low-air-loss mattresses and other sophisticated characteristics had become a rental industry for a variety of reasons: the basic technologies were costly to install and needed extensive cleaning and maintenance. Breakthroughs were required to achieve comparable efficacy with a “for-sale” product that didn’t need as much cleaning and maintenance, but they proved too complex to create. Years away were the enabling technologies that would accelerate the creation of “for sale” low-air-loss surfaces.
All of the key enabling technologies existed inside Apple or were just coming of age in the consumer electronics market when Steve Jobs’ team created the iPod. Apple’s engineers had to polish and package them, but they didn’t have to create them from the ground up. Similarly, the iPhone, perhaps the best consumer electronic device ever released, pushed the boundaries just enough. Apple’s laboratories had multi-touch, and low-power microprocessors were on the way that could run a sophisticated, PC-like operating system. Apple took risks, but only in the sense that they were calculated ones.
Stryker fell into the illusionist’s trap, trying to reach beyond the realm of possibility. A more comprehensive and ruthlessly honest examination of the state of the art could have led them to discover a new and truly exploitable exposed flank in Hill-med-surg Rom’s bed supremacy. However, the attraction of believing in an illusion is very powerful. Plans are created and sold to senior management or investors, egos are tied to them, and the train eventually comes to a stop at the metaphorical wall at the end of the tunnel. Similarly, Samsung’s management and engineers got invested in the Galaxy Note 7’s rapid charging capabilities, and it would have required a lot of guts to remove the function once they realized the dangers and the need for further testing.
Lesson #2: Go for a weak flank.
After realizing that creating a cutting-edge bed capable of capturing some of Hill-market Rom’s share was a pipe dream, Stryker’s bed division executives made their second fatal mistake.
They might have searched for a different weakness in Hill-position, Rom’s but their past success model in the hospital stretcher market, where greater features usually won agreements, proved to be a disadvantage. Winning the support of nurses in the emergency department or recovery room, where nurse supervisors often influenced purchasing decisions, was a successful stretcher tactic. It was also effective for specialized beds. The nurses, on the other hand, were just a minor part of the decision-making process on the patient floors. The acquisition of med-surg beds was a major one, and the decision-makers were hospital executives, not nurse supervisors.
Stryker’s bed division leadership, not fully knowing the depth or significance of Hill-connections Rom’s with administration, felt that a “try-harder” frontal assault would work—assuring themselves that the false low-air-loss flanking strike was not necessary. They were persuaded that their better sales staff would win the day, similar to Confederate leader Robert E. Lee, who believed in the superiority of his rebel troops on the eve of Pickett’s fateful assault at Gettysburg. Competitive flames rose, and Stryker’s representatives pushed into the fight, much like Pickett’s brigade, who believed victory would come if they could only charge fast enough and shout loud enough to breach the Union line. They grossly underestimated the extent to which their specialty bed success was due to Hill-med-surg Rom’s monopoly’s exposed flanks.
Stryker finally discovered a route to success in the med-surg bed market after years of struggle with frontal attacks and two leadership changes in the bed business. However, if they had behaved differently after seeing the foolishness of their initial flanking assault, they would have likely averted most of the personal and professional devastation. In Hill-strong Rom’s position, they needed to dig further to find a new vulnerable flank.
Stryker discovered that flank four years after their first launch and began to have success. The irony is that the technology required to exploit this exposed flank was already developed during the original bed development effort. They might have achieved success much sooner if they had focused on clearly distinguishing the new bed from Hill-products Rom’s in a way that would appeal to the hospital’s C-suite executives.
A bed-exit warning system, which consistently indicated when a patient was about to slip out of bed, was a crucial patented feature in Stryker’s bed. Hill-Rom had a major flaw: faulty bed-exit equipment that didn’t trigger an alert until the patient had already fallen. A major underlying problem was the high frequency of patient falls from the bedside, with related expenses and liabilities for the institution. Stryker ultimately rebranded and marketed their bed as the Stryker Secure Bed, a safe, secure alternative with unique technology that may assist patients fall less and solve other patient-safety concerns that plagued Hill-beds. Rom’s
With Stryker at the helm, the dangers of falling were brought to the forefront. Hospitals that were forward-thinking realized that falls were costing them and the healthcare system millions of dollars. Stryker’s secure bed helped the company acquire a 50 percent share of the med-surg hospital bed market over time. If the original program’s bed leadership had remained committed to attacking the enemy’s flank, they may have been able to retain their jobs and achieve tremendous success by adopting this strategy years earlier.
In the end, victory came when Stryker stopped their rendition of Pickett’s assault and refocused on a really exposed flank in Hill-bed Rom’s technology. Stryker broke Hill-monopoly Rom’s in med-surg beds and became a major player in the equipment market for the general hospital room after a lot of hard work and many epic sales battles in hospitals across the country. With differentiated features that mattered to decision makers, Stryker broke Hill-monopoly Rom’s in med-surg beds and became a major player in the equipment market for the general hospital room.
Significant financial losses, lost jobs, and terrible personal suffering littered their road to triumph. There were important lessons to be learned from all of the chaos for planners and leaders. When you’re up against a tough opponent, look for and attack a vulnerable flank in the opponent’s position, which they’ll have a hard time reacting to.
If your flanking assault is based on creating new technology, make sure you stay on the cutting edge of what is feasible. Conduct brutally honest technology evaluations to really comprehend your team’s skills and limits, as well as the technology available in the market. Many excellent company ideas include pushing the technological boundaries to the limit. Many noteworthy failures, on the other hand, go too far and end up on the bleeding edge.
Finally, don’t do what Samsung did and launch the Note 7 nonetheless if your hoped-for distinguishing technology is far out on the bleeding edge. Recognize the situation for what it is, and strike another vulnerable flank. In these circumstances, it’s easy to get overconfident in your team and think that launching a frontal attack would be successful—but don’t attempt to out- McDonald’s McDonald’s.
Find a new flank with obvious difference that matters to the target market’s decision makers and go for it hard. You will get the success you want.
“Leading edge” is a term used to describe the latest technology. “Bleeding edge” describes new technology that is not yet mainstream, but still in its early stages. “Cutting edge” refers to an older technology that has been around for a while. Reference: cutting edge vs leading edge vs bleeding edge.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between leading edge and bleeding edge?
A: A leading edge system is one that can be upgraded to the latest version. This means it will always have access to new features and better performance than a previous generation of technology. Bleeding edge systems are not upgradable, which makes them more expensive due to lack of cost optimization for businesses.
What are leading edge technologies?
A: Leading edge technologies are new inventions that have not yet been widely adopted.
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