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Flying Seraph

Infect Your Business With A Virus

The lovely Launa Inman, who ran Target a number of years back, was one of my favourite clients. A lady to her fingertips, she surprised her Agency by asking us to help her create an ‘Oh Shit’ moment.

Her reasoning was right. Before she ran it, in 2000, Target made its first ever loss. Which caused everyone to pull together and try something new. Flush with success, the company soon became complacent once more. Launa was looking for a major shock to the system to get things moving again.

In my experience – and I’ve been round the block a few times now – Market Leaders seem to find the jumpstart the hardest thing to do. It comes more easily to those snapping at the leader’s heels. Leaders are held back by a range of issues including complacency, the bonds of legacy systems, short-termism etc.

Many years ago Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote that there is only 1 strategy available to the Leader – to have the courage to attack and supersede itself.

I found this enormously appealing. Truth be told, I despise status quo. I am most interested in organisations and brands that ‘want to have a go’. I agree wholeheartedly with the inspirational Diageo marketeer Matt Bruhn:

The two ‘I’s – Incrementalism and Inertia – are the 2 biggest evils in business today.

A number of years ago, working on Kellogg, we tried something that became really potent. We created 2 teams made up of Kellogg people (from various disciplines including supply chain, finance, production, sales, food tech and marketing) and Agency partners. Each became the ‘shadow’ planning team for a major competitor (Sanitarium and Uncle Toby’s at the time). We went on factory tours – the opposition’s factory, not ours. We visited printers – theirs, not ours. We interviewed retailers. We studied their websites and histories. We scrutinised their media behaviour.

Each team made believe they wanted to inflict harm on Kellogg. And we developed shadow business plans to attack ourselves.

We then put the most imaginative and potentially damaging (to Kellogg) plans in place.

On behalf of Kellogg.

And we did our ‘Business as usual’ jobs too.

Basically, we created 2 viruses. And then we developed 2 antidotes.

And just as modern medicine would have it, we inoculated ourselves.

You can do better, I’m sure.

We did this annually – as the planning cycle commenced in April.

You should be doing this continuously.

Remove a few people from ‘business as usual’. Free them up to genuinely focus on the future. Because we know that, increasingly, today’s ‘urgent’ will drive out tomorrow’s ‘important’. Ensure their skill-sets are diverse. Encourage them to think and behave like rogue elements. And then cycle them through the ‘Virus squad/Skunkworks’ and back into the business.

Have a permanent virus within the business. Continuously looking for ways to outmode what you currently do. Perpetually creating notional ‘Oh Shit’ moments.

It’s the only way I know to remain the Leader.

Please follow me on Twitter: @MarkSareff

Follow Mark Sareff’s series here.

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