Next to setting our objectives, running a tight ship and meeting our numbers, I would argue that it’s watching out for the blind side hit.
By blind side hit, I mean the kind of thing that Google did to Microsoft, that Barak did to Hillary, that hip hop did to Levi-Strauss, that Snapple did to Coca-Cola.
Watching for blind side hits is difficult because it means knowing our assumptions. And this is hard because assumptions are not for knowing, they are for making. For instance, in the late 1980s, I don’t think anyone at Coke believed that a new brand could use the Mom and Pop corner store as a platform from which to stage an industry coup. I mean, get real. The Mom and Pop store was too small, too quirky, too amateur. Right? Wham! By the time, Coca-Cola understand what had happened to it, Snapple had stolen a march on the market.
The trouble with assumptions is that they are by definition invisible from view. (That’s why we call them "unknown unknowns.") We hold ideas about the world without full awareness of what these ideas are or how they make us vulnerable.
Oh, I hear a voice of skepticism. Smart companies and gifted managers ferret these assumptions out. I mean, isn’t that why we go to conferences? Well, sometimes. But did management find them soon enough? And did management discover all of them. Is there, somewhere out there on the far, invisible horizon, a tsunami headed our way? Sorry, but the bad news these days is always and unequivocally, "yes." Somewhere, way out there, there is an innovation that is eventually going to turn our business model upside down. It’s not a question of whether, it’s just a question of when.
So what to do. How about, for starters, this three step "assumption hunting" process?
1) ferret out the assumptions. Hire someone to go through the operation of daily business and capture every assumption. Philosophers are quite good at this. Anthropologists are very good at it. This is after all the way they study culture, which is, by and large, a set of assumptions that helps us think and act fluidly precisely because we don’t know we are making them.
2) identify the parts of the world that could present challenges. Figure out just what the challenge is and when and how it will "come ashore."
3) Keep watch with a big board. In effect, what we are doing is "sunsetting" our assumptions with a view to discovery when they reach they end of their useful lives.
If I were Pine and/or Gilmore, I would write the book, get on the lecture tour, build the consulting company, and make a fortune. But hey, reader, feel free.
I took this photo with my iPhone, now equipped with a special feature (OS 1.1.7) that allows the camera to capture never-before-seen assumptions "on film." This particular assumption is large and powerful, and we were lucky to bag it. The boys in the lap are giving it a once over now.
Those of you are wondering what happened yesterday when I was waiting for royalty at PJ Clarke’s in NYC. Nothing. But our guest didn’t show. I guess if you’re royalty, you’re allowed. Andrew Creighton (McCann Canada) and I took the opportunity to reinvent the universe over a couple of beers.