“The most important thing to learn in life is how to learn.”

This isn’t an expression I first heard during a product meeting, a board room huddle, or a rousing speech at some shareholder conference. I didn’t even encounter it during my academic career — not in the early-morning lectures or the late-night study sessions.

I heard this phrase for the first time much earlier in life, at a time when I was too young to fully understand. Since then, I’ve heard it hundreds of times. In fact, I still hear it to this very day. That’s because it comes from my grandmother.

Grandma Joy is a remarkable woman.

The world has changed many times in her 90+ years, but Joy has been ready for each new age. She did what so many of her generation couldn’t — and what so many of our generation still fail to do: She embraced the coming changes. She looked forward to the opportunity to learn something new.

That’s because Grandma Joy has always understood the big picture. She knows that to survive, let alone thrive, you must evolve. That isn’t just the key to surviving as a business; it’s the key to surviving as a species.

And none of us wants to become the next dodo of the business world.

Why is it so important to learn to learn?

The world is changing fast, and so is the rate at which it’s changing. This is something Joy saw first hand when she was working on her grandpa’s farm. It was during the Manufacturing Age, an era dominated by companies like Ford and GE — organizations where success depended on their ability to create products on a mass scale.

After high school, she received a scholarship from George Washington University where she studied physics. Later, she went on to work at the Pentagon. Then, a seismic shift happened.

We entered the Distribution Age, a shift that came and went much sooner than prior ages. Companies like Toyota, UPS, and Walmart reigned supreme. And in the span of just a few decades, Grandma Joy found herself in the Information Age.

She now had unlimited access to data. Unthinkable amounts of information were now at her fingertips. While this intimidated many of her peers, Joy couldn’t be happier. She was invigorated by new opportunity — by new challenges.

She went back to school and got a degree in nutrition. She taught video production at a high school and puppetry at a college. All the while, she kept up with the latest technology. To this day, she has a standing Genius Bar appointment at the Apple store.

Then came one of the biggest shifts of all.

What is the Customer Age?

Starting around 2010, there was another seismic shift. We entered the Customer Age, or as some have called it, the Experience Age. Regardless of how you refer to it, the focus became less on manufacturing, distribution, and data, and more about answering one very important question: How do we help the customer accomplish what they really want?

At the end of the day, it’s not our products customers are after. They do not care about the packaging of our widgets or how cost-effectively we can produce them. They are not concerned with our ability to scale or how clever we are. All of that is secondary.

What they really care about is simple — they want their problems solved.

Increasingly, that means helping our customers solve problems they might not even know they have. We see this far too often in the identity protection world. Identity thieves aren’t just stealing credit card numbers. They’re using a victim’s health insurance to get costly medical procedures. Or using a stolen SSN to apply for FEMA aid, hindering victims from receiving assistance during an actual emergency.

But, I digress.

What’s really at hand is how quickly the world is changing. To see just how quickly, let’s take a look at the timeline below: 

Timeline of different ages

Not only are seismic shifts occurring faster and faster, but they are bringing about even greater change than the prior age.

How companies can compete in the Customer Age

Learning how to learn is your company’s greatest hope for survival. Only then can your business focus on the three core areas that will set you apart from the dodos: adaptability, service, and experience.

Everything comes down to adaptability. It doesn’t matter how many millions or billions you have in the bank today. Your fortune could change overnight. Just ask Blockbuster. They were once great leaders of an even greater industry. Now neither the company nor the industry exists.

They didn’t just fade away; they were destroyed by an organization that has repeatedly illustrated their ability to adapt: Netflix. At first, they simply mailed DVDs. Then they pioneered streaming entertainment, offering on-demand content from some of the top producers around. Then they started creating original content, garnering a slew of critical acclaim in the process.

Second, a company must provide incredible service to customers and prospects alike. Amazon is an excellent example. They are on a mission to become the most customer-centric business on the planet. Why is this so important?

Service is about much more than how good you are at getting a product from point A to point B. If that was all that was required for success in the Customer Age, Toys-R-Us would be too busy selling toys to blame Jeff Bezos for their woes. In reality, the problem wasn’t Amazon, at least not entirely. It was Toys-R-Us’ inability to solve their customers’ problems in a way that mattered.  

In the Experience Age, service is how you develop trust. And, in many ways, it is now synonymous with the product your company is selling. That’s one of the many reasons Amazon is dominating so many markets and have the intent — and the ability — to dominate so many more.

Finally, your company must discover how to provide that next-level customer experience. It’s not enough to provide a better experience than your competitors; you must create an experience so unique that you make your competition irrelevant.

When we say “experience,” we’re talking about the big picture. We’re talking about carefully crafting every touch point customers may have — from their very first introduction to your company. This is an area that Uber excels at.

Uber is not a perfect company. In fact, they are engaged in an ongoing PR nightmare that could be their undoing. But one thing they know how to do is provide a next-level customer experience — one that hinges on their ability to remove friction points for their customers.

Uber users don’t have to worry about carrying cash; they can make payments directly through the app. They don’t have to look up their closest taxi location and place a call; their app handles all of the hard work. Best of all, perhaps, Uber has removed the uncertainty. We can see on a map, in real-time, where our drivers are.

Prior to the Customer Age, there were many different types of businesses. But now, there are just two:

a) those who have mastered adaptability, service, and experience; and

b) the dodos. 

Learning about yourself

To compete in this new era, you must first learn how to learn. Part of that process — maybe the most important part — is learning about who you are as a company. It’s not enough to determine what your business does and how you will do it. You must answer why you’re doing it.

At InfoArmor, it’s simple. Everything we do is guided by our belief that everyone deserves peace of mind. It might not occur in the next few weeks, months, or even years, but we will not stop until we have secured all of humanity. That’s our passion.

What’s yours?