I was asked after a keynote last May how I would apply the ideas in Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath In Your Industry to jazz.
Apart from being a sales rep, he was a musician, and he saw the connections between these seemingly disparate subjects before I did. To my surprise, I had an answer. I can’t recall exactly what I said, but it had a lot to do with creating a “Polarize on Purpose” interpretation, making choices that were as close to your personal jazz-infused DNA as possible, something that could only credibly come from you.
Since then, I’ve been asked about these 10 strategies apply to areas of life and work that aren’t exactly aimed directly into the exciting world of corporate strategy, and one of those areas is how we can apply these principles to our careers in business.
To be clear, Killing Giants is a business book. It’s squarely aimed at the businesspeople that have to get up every morning and compete against a giant with more money, people and resources than they’ll ever have. But fortunately, winning isn’t always about having a bigger budget or more people. It’s about having a surplus of great ideas, passion and the desire to see it executed skillfully. These same lessons apply to managing your career, too. So if you feel out-gunned at work, here are a few thinking tools to get you back in the fight.
All the Wood Behind the Arrow(s).
“There was no way I could have been successful if I’d launched a single attribute brand. The big guys would have figured us out long ago.” Eric Ryan, co-founder of Method, described the importance of brand tension as it relates to his company’s inherent “interestingness.” The combination of aesthetics and user experience, from the bottle designs to the colors and fragrances, work with the company’s philosophy of sustainable formulation to create a complex, nuanced and interesting brand – one that a giant would be hard-pressed to squash.
In your career, take this idea of brand tension to heart. Being good at only one thing is never enough. Worse, it’s the road to being pigeon-holed as “the retail guy” or “just a finance guy.” Don’t be that guy.
Be Known for Speed.
An interesting insight that sprung from my interviews on speed cultures was that these companies didn’t just make faster decisions – they made better decisions. It isn’t just about hustle, in other words. These companies cut the fat out of the decision making process. Scott Wilder, Intuit’s former GM of Communities, described a “facts not feelings” approach to how the company made decisions, a culture borne of data collection and customer insight, that ensured that they could end the internal debate faster. This made producing products faster, too.
You can instill a culture of speed today, no matter where in the organization you reside. Your entire global empire, your division or just your team can agree that from this moment forward, you, too, are going to instill a “facts not feelings” philosophy to your decision making. Long-winded unsupported opinions will be policed by the team. You’ll get the best evidence on the table faster and make better decisions faster. And better, faster decisions are better.
The chapter, to be fair, is called “Fighting Dirty” – but I didn’t think that fit the overall narrative for this discussion. The point remains, though. Fighting an uphill fight is noble (sometimes), but it rarely ends in victory. As Dr. Conrad Crane of the US War College and the author of the US Counter-Insurgency Doctrine adopted by General David Petraeus told me, “There are 2 kinds of warfare: asymmetric and stupid.” Fighting the way the enemy wants you to fight him is usually a losing proposition. So shift your perspective and look at your battlefield from a different perspective.
For you, this idea of tactical shifting is critical. See my article with Dr. Steven Feinberg that we wrote in The Conference Board Review’s Winter edition entitled, “Seeing What Others Miss: Creating Advantages Through Tactical Shifting” for a deep dive on this topic. Shift the “givens” of a situation, then try shifting through time, interactions, perceptions and structures. You will uncover things you missed before – and that others, including your management team – probably didn’t see, either. They’ll be hidden in plain sight. But you won’t, if you can pull this off.
Killing Giants worked with jazz. It will work for you, too.