Once advice that almost everyone agrees to, when it comes to defining our strategy (personal, professional or organisational) is that we need to
“Play to your strengths”.
If you are a business that has already seen some amount of success, the chance is that you know what your core strength is.
So, you build on it. You continue to invest in your strength to get even better at it.
You continue to invest until you are the best-in-class on this topic in the whole wide world.
This strategy works really well, until it doesn’t.
The irony is that most of us still want believe that continuing to invest in our strength is the best investment. So, we double up our investment. But, it still doesn’t work.
And when it doesn’t work anymore, this erstwhile engine of growth & competitive advantage becomes our biggest liability and weakness.
The fact is that this will happen – sooner or later.
In all likelihood, the world has moved on. You might still be the best in the world at this one thing, that is your strength. But the problem is that the market doesn’t need or value this strength of your’s.
Unfortunately, you haven’t invested in building strength in anything else either. So, you scramble. Some, are fortunate enough to still have enough time and the culture that supports the transformation, but most fail, falter and die.
The only way to avoid this situation and at the same time, fully capitalise on the “Play to your strength” strategy, is to follow a dual strategy:
Continue to invest in and build on your current strengths (65%)
Continue to explore what new skills or capabilities that you might need in the future and invest in building them (35%)
The exploration and investment in new skills is critical in order for the organisation not to get blindsided when the market shifts. Also, the point to be noted is that we need to invest in building multiple skills or capabilities for the future and when the time comes one of these will become our core strength and propel our growth.
Playing to our strengths is a great strategy until it is not. As organisational leaders, we need to be constantly in the “sense and respond”, where we are looking at potential areas which might have the potential to become our core strength and propel the next level of growth.
Every organisation that has seen some success has some form of a cash cow, which continues to grow and provide the fuel necessary for the organisation to invest in new products or services, which can bring in the next level of growth for the organisation.
It is also inevitable that at some point in time the growth in the cash cow would slow down. If by that time, the organisation doesn’t already have another product/service that can take the place of the cash cow, then the organisation is in troubled waters, when it comes to continuing to grow.
The general response, in this scenarios is for the leaders to do one of the following:
Spend more money in advertising the cash cow, assuming that by spending more money (in the form of advertisement or offers), they will be able to continue the growth in the cash cow for some more time.
How will you innovate around the key product to satisfy the promise?
How will you deliver the innovations?
He goes on to share how organisations as diverse as GoPro, Apple, Disney, SAP, Lego, CarMax and others found answers to their growth by finding answers to these questions and how they can lead any organisation to create a set of complimentary solutions that not only help continue the growth but can also lead to significant competitive advantage as your product strategy is no longer uni-dimensional but becomes multi-dimensional.
He also goes on to share some of the mines that organisations would need to be careful of when engaged in this approach and shares how to do so.
In conclusion, I think that most of what David shares in his book, is applicable to any organisation which has seen good success in a product category and wants to cement their growth and presence in their category. What is great about this approach is that this doesn’t require the organisation to bet their entire organisation or strategy on a new, untested product or service but find growth through existing, well tested products or services.
If you are tasked with growing an existing product or service that is showing signs of slowing down, do take some time and read the book – “The Power of Little Ideas” by David Robertson. He has a lot of insights that will benefit you in finding growth again.
What was most interesting to me in the entire story was how he brought about the demise of the klan.
The Klan had influence over every known source – police, judiciary, political system and could not be brought down by the traditional methods.
He collaborated with one of the most popular radio show on air at that time – Superman. The show also wanted a new villain for Superman to fight in the stories as the war (WWII) had just ended.
When they were approached by the insider with the proposal to make the Klan the next villain and that he would share the inner workings & practices of the Klan that the creators can use in their stories, they agreed and created a 16 episode series where Superman brings down the KKK.
The power of the Klan was the secrecy and the rituals that were only known to the insiders. Once these were exposed publicly, the mysticism and the fear reduced. The association with one of the most popular radio show listened by 100’s of 1000’s of people with KKK as the villain changed the perception about the KKK from being the saviours of the day to the villains.
Almost all children listened to the show and then did what they always do.. Play act and portray KKK as the bad guys (in their own homes).
All of this ridicule started to have an impact and the number of members started dwindling.
So, what happened here and what does this have to do about Disruptive Innovation:
Turning Competitive Advantage to a Disadvantage:
The power of the Klan came from all the secrecy that surrounded them and their practice. Once the radio show took away the secrecy that surrounded the Klan, their power dwindled.
In a business parlance, the show turned the tables on the competitive advantage and make that work against the Klan.
When a startup or a competitor takes your core strength that has made you successful in the and turns it against an incumbent, it generally paralyses the incumbent and if the disruptor over fast, then by the time that the incumbent understands what is happening and react to the situation, the damage is already done and it is extremely difficult to regain ground for the incumbent.
Blind sighted Incumbents:
The Klan was ready for any frontal and traditional assault on them. What happened in the form of a Superman Radio show attacking them, was something that they were not prepared for. None of their leaders knew the world of radio and never in their dreams would they have expected an attack from a comic character on a radio show – they were blind sighted.
The same thing happens during disruption. The incumbents are generally ready for any traditional attack on their business and business model. In order for a disruptor to be able to have an impact,they need to find a way to blind sight the incumbent, be creative and find a way to turn the tables against the incumbent in a way that blindsight them.
The power of unusual partnerships:
In part a big reason why KKK was brought down was that the insider was able to partner with the creators of the Superman Radio show.
It was probably the most unusual partnership that you could think of when you want to bring down an extremely powerful Klan from the inside. I don’t know what made him think of the partnership and should credit the creators of the show for taking up the idea and running with it.
This was an unusual partnership in all ways that you can see.
Disruptors should explore whom could they partner in order to be able to turn the tables on the incumbents competitive advantage. They should spread the net wide and far. Once they are able to find the right partners, their chances of disrupting the incumbent increases multifold.
Know thy enemy (competitor):
One of the most important reason why the Klan was brought down was because he was undercover and knew their strengths, practices and codes. Once he knew all of that, he was able to find ways to turn the tables on them.
If you are trying to disrupt someone, it is absolutely critical that you understand what makes the incumbent tick and what their strengths and weaknesses are. You don’t necessarily need to agree to them, you don’t necessarily need to respond to them, but you need to know them, as they provide the insight on what truly gives the incumbent the competitive advantage, that if turned on its head, can lead to the incumbent being disrupted.
These are my learnings from the entire episode.
What are your learnings?
Do share the same in the comments below.
PS: You can find all the 16 episodes of the Superman show below:
In today’s episode, we host Peter Shankman. He is an author, entrepreneur, speaker, and worldwide connector. He is recognised worldwide for radically new ways of thinking about Customer Service, Social Media, PR, marketing and advertising.
The New York Times has called him “a PR all-star who knows everything about new media and then some,”. Peter is a spectacular example of what happens when you merge the power of pure creativity with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a dose of adventure, and make it work to your advantage.
In my opinion, his thoughts about customer service and how businesses can use customer service to not only differentiate themselves from their competition but also to use it as a competitive advantage is as sound as it can get. If you run a business and want to understand how and what needs done to delight your customers, Peter is your go-to man.
In this free wheeling conversation, we talk about a wide range of topics around customer service and how easy/difficult it is to create great service experience and yet how uncommon it is. We also talk about how you could use customer service in growing your business.
Most important learnings from the conversation:
Great customer service can become your key differentiator in growing your business and it doesn’t cost much.
We are now moving to a customer service based economy.
Customer service has the potential to become a competitive advantage for a business.
You don’t need a lot of budget to create an awesome experience for your customers.
Hire people for their empathy and not for their skills.
Being Human is critical for any business..
Focus on making the customers you have feel amazing and the customers you want will come to you.
In today’s episode, we have Dr. Dean Shroeder & Dr. Alan G Robinson, authors of the best selling book “Ideas Driven Organization”.
Why are they on the show
Dr. Alan G. Robinson, is an award-winning author, educator, researcher and consultant. He has co-authored six books, which have been translated into more than 20 languages. His specialties include managing continuous improvement, creativity, ideas and innovation lean production. He has advised more than 200 organizations in 25 countries. He is also Professor at the Isenberg School of Management of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Dean M Schroeder, PhD, knows management matters. It matters to people, and it matters to performance. His mission is to help organizations by leading them to experience the positive changes that happen through improving their management systems and techniques. He is also an award-winning author, consultant and scholar. He is the Herbert and Agnes Schulz Professor of Management at Valparaiso University in Indiana.
The best-selling book, Ideas Are Free, which they co-authored was voted the Reader’s Choice by Fast Company magazine and selected as one of the 30 Best Business Books of the Year by Soundview Executive Books.
What are we talking about
In this episode, we talk about their book “Ideas Driven Organization”. We talk about
What is an Ideas Driven Organization? Why is it important to build such an organization and their importance in the context of the times that we live in
The significance of building a culture where ideas are not only welcome but are also actioned on.
Why command & control systems might not be the right way to manage organizations in today’s economy?
The best process for creative problem solving that works
The importance of small ideas & the competitive advantage they provide.
The importance of carrying ideas to different parts of the organization.
How knowledge industries can benefit from building processes around ideas?
How can governments benefit from building an ideas driven organization?
Importance of having the right strategy in order to truly accelerate the benefit from building an ideas driven culture?
The importance of goal alignment
How can a start-up build a culture of Ideas driven organization right from the start?
The role of a leader in the organization
We had a great conversation and I learnt a lot from both Dean & Alan.
You can find more information about the Ideas Driven Organization at their blog here.
Buy their book
You can also buy their book on amazon by clicking on the book image below. This is an affiliate link.
PS: The posts that i speak about in the conversation are: