Fidget Spinners – A Tale of the Unexpected
08 September 17
Back in January this year, fidget spinners were unknown to all but a handful of people. They started sweeping the US in February. By May, the 20 top selling toys on Amazon were fidget spinners or their close relative, fidget cubes. The fad took only three weeks to cross the Atlantic and go global.
As the craze went global, the toy industry struggled to cope. They favoured long lead in times and careful planning. Usually based on Christmas and frequently linked to film themes. This was very different. Kids discovered the fad through YouTube and Instagram. It quickly spread through word of mouth. The toy retailing adults were no longer in control.
Even worse for the retailers: no patent or licence existed. Anyone could make and sell them. No surprise then that Chinese manufacturers transformed their production lines to meet the demand. And what a demand.
50 Million Fidget Spinners Sold
Analysts reckon more than 50 million spinners were sold in the first six months of 2017 alone. But with low value, mass production and fragmented supply chains the true number is likely to be many more. (We have at least six in our house).
The toy industry had to change in two ways. First it needed to spot trends and fads earlier and in different ways. They had to get down with the kids and understand the new ways they communicate and share.
Second, they had to improve their ability to respond ultra-rapidly as these fads grow. Long term planning and market creation remain important but very quickly scaling up a new product became as crucial.
Disruption is yet another business cliché. What was once innovation, invention and risk taking is now disruptive. Regardless, the fidget spinner certainly disrupted, and not just school lessons. They upended and threatened the traditional practices of an established industry.
More remarkably, it was entirely unexpected, unplanned and went global in weeks. The nimble adapted and undoubtedly cashed in. They’ll be able to watch and react to the next big thing. The traditional business better hope they’ve learned their lesson.
This extraordinary tale is instructive for business across all sectors.
We might look over the horizon to driverless cars, 3D printing, nuclear fusion, wireless power and envisage a very different world. If our businesses plan well and react appropriately as these expected new technologies develop, there could be big opportunities. No doubt some will not adapt and fall by the wayside.
No Industry is Invulnerable
But no product, service or wider industry is invulnerable to sudden, unpredicted upheaval and change. The best companies plan for the future and also adapt successfully and quickly to the completely unexpected.
The mindset of top teams in organisations is critical here. Too often team members complain about opportunistic behaviour. Where the company veers off strategic track and seeks unexpected opportunities. Of course, being clear about strategy and sticking to it is important. But so is seizing a good, unexpected opportunity when it comes along.
Because if you don’t, someone else will. And that might have been a whole new and important market lost.
(Acknowledgements to the Economist for some of the original material for this article)