Dear CMO:

The elephant in the room. The 800 pound gorilla. Or, my favorite Japanese proverb, a “duck bearing onions.” These all generally speak to those things which we do not wish to acknowledge out of fear that their acknowledgement will destroy our carefully constructed self-delusions. We all know situations where stating the obvious is uncomfortable. So let’s state the obvious and talk about it for a moment.

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But first, because it has to be said: “a duck bearing onions” is just too good not to explain. Roger’s recent Kurosawa post had me re-reading old notes and books from my Rikkyo University days in Tokyo, so this old kotowaza is something I first heard over twenty years ago. Ever had Peking Duck? (It never became Beijing Duck, did it?) You’ll know then that it has amongst other ingredients, duck and, of course, onions. Therefore, a duck that walks into the room “bearing its own onions” is in common English idiomatic use a “sitting duck”. Ducks seem to bear the brunt of most proverbs in many cultures, don’t they?
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Vonage recently “discovered” that it was driving on the donut of existence the other day. Apparently, there is now some question as to whether they will be able to continue operations because they are infringing on a sizeable number of Verizon VOIP patents. I wonder when they figured this out. I wonder how long it festered in the boardroom. Who knows, this may have been a meteor coming through the skylight; or, conversely, perhaps it has been a brilliant long-term strategy to accomplish something I can’t figure out.

Sony had this chronic problem for years with their fondness for linear recording technology in a world quickly going nonlinear. Lord knows their reluctance to face MP3 and chip-based storage was long in coming. I was in the room for that one. Just the MiniDisc brain trust, me, and the 800 pound gorilla sitting next to the duck bearing its own onions. Not to mention the elephant in the corner.

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Key Takeaways:

> Would it be worthwhile to start a staff meeting, maybe just once a quarter, by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, what completely believable market forces or technological shifts would completely obliterate our business in the near term?”

> If you agree with the above, then would it be worthwhile to develop a few what-if-Mars-actually-does-attack recovery plans? Small group, guerilla style game plans without the ponderous bureaucracy double checking every semi-colon?

> And if you like this, too, then perhaps ingraining this insurgent-for-a-week mentality through your extended team might not just help you stay economically alive but develop a skill set that could be turned on your competition, as well?

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The worst case scenario happens all the time. But nothing says it has to be your worst case scenario. Maybe you can turn this to your advantage and make it their worst case scenario, instead.

So invite the elephant in the room to sit at the table. Greet the gorilla. But never, ever, offer to hold the onions for the duck.


Copyright © 2007 Stephen Denny