The Corner Office

Are you yesterday or tomorrow? Learning to take risks


In my career, I’ve closely examined many types of organizations working in different areas. But for all the differences I see in business perspectives and how an organization is run, I find that businesses tend to fall into one of two categories: yesterday businesses or tomorrow businesses.

A yesterday business falls back on “well this is how we’ve always done it, so this is how we should continue doing it.” And for much of American history, this strategy has been enough for plenty of businesses to succeed.

But in the last 20 years, we’ve seen a growing class of disruptors who take the old model and find a way to change it for tomorrow. Think of how money-transferring services like PayPal have all but replaced paper checks as an example.

When discussing this dichotomy, it can be easy to think that the default is that everyone should be a tomorrow type of business. But at present, the old school and the new school coexist more or less peacefully in most sectors.

That likely won’t last forever. But if you’re not worried about what could change in 20 years, you may not have a reason to be concerned about looking into the distant future.

I recently saw an example of this dichotomy when my car lease ended. Yes, every financial advisor I know hates my three-year leasing cycle, and no, I do not plan to change it. So, readers who work in finance, please be kind.

In my leasing cycle, I’ve seriously considered going electric many times, but I felt the industry needed more time to mature. So, when this lease ended, I decided to look at Tesla.

This experience was entirely at odds with every car-buying experience I have ever had. I’m used to the poorly lit car dealership where they try to upsell you on packages, nudge you into something else and then send you home so you can come back in a couple of days to sign a mountain of paperwork.

My Tesla experience barely involved talking to other human beings. It started by going on their website to schedule a test drive, putting in my driver’s license information and selecting my location. (Depending on where you live, they’ll even bring it to you).

When I arrived for my appointment, I didn’t even need to show my ID. Instead, they gave me a card to start the car, and away I went. After all, the car had GPS, and they already knew who I was.

So, I went out to the lot, found the car I’d scheduled to drive and was off. I returned and told them I was interested and wanted to hear what they had for sale. The associate told me they had no idea what was currently available, so my best bet was to check the app.

Thus, the human interaction portion of buying a Tesla ended. I went on the app and picked a car I liked, and I was pleasantly surprised to find everything was simple and clean without any “comfort packages” or other upselling opportunities.

While I could’ve had it delivered to my door, I went to the service center to pick up my new Tesla. After giving them my credit card number and basic leasing and insurance information, I was ready to pick up my new car.

The point of this isn’t to endorse Tesla or anyone in particular. It isn’t even to say you should get a fancy app or a shinier product.

The point is that Tesla has combined a shiny new product with an entirely new experience that makes you feel like you’re shopping in the space age fantasy of what the future will be like.

After all, Tesla is far from the only manufacturer of electric cars. But they stand out and are undeniably a forward-looking business because, while other organizations are selling new products the old way, Tesla has invented a completely new way to sell that matches their futuristic product.

This is what a tomorrow business does. It takes risks and isn’t afraid to start from scratch to be unlike anything else a competitor can offer.

Does this guarantee that Tesla will one day vanquish the old guard? Not necessarily. And I wouldn’t say that every business needs to reinvent the wheel (or the whole car, in this case).

Instead, the message is that a sufficiently inventive organization can change the game and quickly acquire vast market share. Whether you ultimately decide to be an inventor or a member of the old guard, knowing which direction your business is heading and what’s on the horizon for your industry is imperative.

Doug Phares is the former CEO of the Sandusky News Group. He currently serves as managing director of Silverwind Enterprises, which owns and provides management services to small businesses. He can be reached at


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