Dear CMO:

I always knew cows were the enemy. This, from a soon to be published report from the UN, as reported in the UK‘s Independent:

A United Nations report has identified the world’s rapidly growing herds of cattle as the greatest threat to the climate, forests and wildlife… livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.

Just when we were sure we had this all figured out, it turns out that Da-Iri was the killer after all. Like Colonel Mustard with a candlestick in the drawing room, we never saw this one coming.

Here’s a personal flashback in the same vein. I took a behind-the-velvet-rope tour of the Mercedes Benz factory in Sindelfingen, Germany, right out of graduate school, given by the head of European Delivery. Poor guy, getting peppered with immediate post-Wharton MBA business-speak by a cocky American for two hours or so. In response to how they viewed the Japanese in their competitive landscape — this was 1990, for the record — he dismissed them with tangible, visible, audible contempt. BMW was the competition. Period. The Japanese can never compete with German engineering. Harumph. History proved him very wrong, of course.

An even funnier example was in my waning days at Sony, where the MiniDisc Brain Trust dismissed MP3 with similar disdain. No audiophile would wear this. Quality is no good. Pay no attention to that train whistle approaching, it’s just the air conditioning.

* * *

Key Takeaways:

> Danger is often hidden in plain sight. The real threat to your business is more often than not viewed as either passive, friendly, or ridiculous. Up until the moment it steps on your chest on its way over you, of course.

> We’re conditioned and often rewarded, to some degree, to belittle potential competitors out of loyalty to our own brands. Those who raise warning flags are often labeled nay-sayers. Listen the next time that guy in product management raises his hand in the back of the room with something interesting he just saw.

> How you scan for problems and opportunities, collect competitive intelligence, and correctly identify over-hyped tomfoolery is a competitive edge.

* * *

I guess Al Gore and I have to start living “Lactose-Neutral Lifestyles” from now on.

But for you, dear CMO, your task is far more complex. You need to put your instincts and ego in check and be able to understand that what looks warm and cuddly today may kill your business tomorrow. You must deal with your own personal biases, listen to things you’d ordinarily dismiss, and be able to tell the difference between the rumblings of the air conditioning unit in the conference room and the sound of the on-coming train.

You must see the forest for the trees. Or at least the herd for the cows. Or something. You get the picture.


Copyright (c) 2006 Stephen Denny