In challenging days such as the ones we are experiencing, it is common to see two lead types of business culture emerge – those that cower and cocoon and those that explore and redefine. They exist as a ying-yang, built on the halves of fear and curiosity.
The most successful organizations perfect an admirable balance. A dosage of fear spurs intelligent advancements in exploration and curiosity.
The cowering business populations can be discerned by their willingness to fall back on trumped-up numeric justifications and marketing babble. This group will live by rear-mirror metrics and will adhere themselves to the holes in the shadows they have cast under the broader banner of ROI (as if any given business does not want a Return On Every Investment – even during boom times – so much so that ROEI should likely make its way into the lexicon of the fear-motivated).
It is the tilt toward exploration and the adoption of an intrinsic curiosity that yields both tactical and strategic success when all appears lost and the ground appears to have become the sky. At the first gulp in the shatter of the present tense reality, it is important to turn on the lamps and study the shapes in the pieces everywhere.
On a recent business trip, I stopped at a Burger King – because fast food is the only option on the road and because I admit to a Bill Clinton-like weakness to the stuff. As I am also an American football fan, I had been exposed (yes, it is like radiation) to Burger King’s television ads supporting their new product offering – The Angry Whopper. Additionally, I am delighted by spicy foods – having dulled my taste buds through years of coffee and alcohol and other extravagances – so, this experience at the roadside Burger King was quickly shaping up to be the perfect storm.
But what Burger King has done exemplifies something that every business in every sector should come to understand. They have taken a challenge (a scary economy), identified the opportunity in the challenge (more families tightening belts and turning to fast food outlets), created a mild spin on an existing and popular product (spicy sauce and jalapenos on a Whopper), and priced it well (the Angry Whopper sits about two dollars higher than a traditional Whopper).
They have also positioned themselves as an innovator and a leader in their sector. Academic circles talk about thought leadership and point to graphs and other underpinnings – but The Angry Whopper is thought leadership incarnate in the gullets of the toasted meat consumer.
In recessions and in bullish periods it is important for businesses to make new noises from existing instruments. I used to travel with a lead programmer for a micro-business, and on micro-business budgets we would have to stay in the same hotel room. Outside of the usual concerns with this brand of business intimacy, he had sleep apnea – so his head would rattle with all manner of profound bleats. Well, I had read somewhere that the human brain regularly monitors every sensation and assigns a definition and a determination to further understand or to ignore – and it does this for self-preservation and for sanity. For example, we would all go quite insane if the brain did not program an ignorance to the action of our own eyes blinking – but an unfamiliar sensation (say, the sound of a window breaking at 3am) is cause for further understanding and exploration. So, back to the snoring creature in my hotel room: the only logical approach to shutting him up was to bring him back to a state of semi-consciousness – and to this end I found myself inventing and projecting the rather frightening sounds of some large and presumably toothy creature.
Making new noises with existing instruments will attract the attention of those who exist currently in a state of programmed ignorance. Consumers and business customers and prospects are hearing a lot of the same old sounds and the same old songs – and they are in a state that is both vanilla and welcoming of new ideas and approaches. Businesses and individuals that understand this will thrive – and The Angry Whopper is a physical metaphor for the measures in exploration and experimentation that are necessary in the world we find ourselves in presently.