Lately I have been contemplating business models – what makes them unique, and what attributes are apt to produce really big wins. A few of these, such as Bubba Gump Shrimp and Crocs, I have discussed in past blogs, but today I want to talk about what I call the “crazy” factor.
I am coming to the conclusion that the thing that can give the most value to any new business or business model should be an operating strategy that causes someone to ask the president or CEO: “Are you people crazy?” In fact, if that’s something you’re not hearing in regard to your enterprise, my recommendation would be for you to come up with some really “wild and crazy” idea that challenges conventional thinking, and run with it until you do start eliciting such comments.
Recently I was reflecting on working with Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, and how he managed to create a business organizing philosophy that permitted almost any bank to issue its own Visa card. At the time, he was being called crazy for the unique vision he espoused of a “chaordic” blend of order and chaos that enables self-governing organizations to become successful. Today Visa has grown into one of the largest companies in the world, processing a trillion dollars worth of transactions, despite the fact that most people don’t even know where its headquarters are located or who its CEO is.
It was Dee Hock who taught me one exercise that I now feel compelled to share. It consists of drawing three concentric circles. In the inside circle you would write down the functions of every sector of your business, including both typical aspects such as purchasing, manufacturing, sales and customer service and customized ones, be they people, coding, patents, acquisitions, whatever. The second circle would be reserved for certain connections your company has, say, with a university or a bank, or perhaps a unique customer relationship. In the third circle, you could talk about aspects of your operation that most of its executives seldom think about, from its cell-phone contract to the kind of music played by its personal computers or piped into its lobby or over the phone during “call waiting” intervals (which can sometimes serve as a subliminal factor in inviting people to stay, as when supermarkets broadcast “oldies” over their intercom that appeal to a large segment of their customer base). And, as you have probably guessed by now, this would be the “crazy circle” where you could incorporate that off-the-wall idea that ends up putting your company on the map of edgy and innovative organizations.
An example of what I’m talking about was our getting a popular M.D. and health expert, Dr. Andrew Weil, to both help us formulate and then endorse Pet Promise pet food. It was a move that made many people in the industry think we were crazy — but it served to give the product line instant credibility with the public, and to leapfrog over other brands to achieve a top ranking in the natural pet food category.
So my question to you is: what are you doing in your business that gives it a reputation for craziness? If the answer is nothing, make that a goal for the rest of the year — to do something outlandish that ultimately results in your being asked, “Are you people crazy?” Then you’ll know your organization has made an impact – and has achieved a definite strategy for outmaneuvering and outpacing the competition. (And that is what’s commonly known as being “crazy like a fox.”)