strategy boardroom blindspot banksy

The quickest way to the top of your business...

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On my way back from the Olympics this week, as I sat in the plane in the midsts of tired travelers and athletes, I picked up the book I bought in the airport bookstore and there it was : " The quickest way to the top of your business is to turn it upside down".

The book is "Banksy" by Will Ellsworth Jones, and the quote hit home. It reminded me once more that the best ideas and inspirations one gets is always when turning in to new territories. This sentence encapsulates everything companies have been trying to reach, any ambition the business leaders set for themselves, every objective the countless hours of strategic meetings try to achieve. Yet, it was a grafitti street artist who wrote it best.

Countless examples remind us that the companies who truly dominate their industry have been able to do so by taking a key principle that their industry have held true for years, and challenged it.

I call it  to "challenge unchallenged assumptions", in the same vein as turning a business upside down.  Amazon has turned its industry upside down by taking out of the equation the bookstore, and continues to do it as it enpands its business model and manages to sell the same book twice ( as a new book, then as a used one once you've read it). Apple turned its industry upside down when the company found the key to online music - and was the first company to outsource part if its R&D development with the app developpers.

So who is the new player who will turn the industry upside down ? I notice a number of industry that are in the bad need of disruption:

  • The telecom industry is likely to see new players emerging that will challenge the industry's most basic assumptions. Skype has paved the way, even if it is now dying of a slow death.
  • The banking industry will see in the next 10 years some new major payer emerging: will it be the likes of M- pesa which challenges the notion that payments have to go through a bank, or will it be a another company that will shake the root of this industry ? I could not help but notice the arrogance of well established players: at the Olympics, the Organizers's notice in the walls of the official stores" Proud to accept Only Visa" is deemed to raise some eyebrows and will likely back-fire. How long before a new player takes this industry upside down and customers and businesses alike break free of the quasi monopoly of credit card companies ?
  • How would the car industry turn its assumptions upside down ?

 

" Look at the blank spaces"

Concretely, Banksy provides us with a few clues about how you can bring this discussion in the corporate meeting room. One of the genius moves of the artist was to sneak into famous museums around the world such as the Tate his own pictures and captions. He describes the reconnaissance:

"It was funny. I was going to all these galleries and I was not looking at the art. I was looking at the blank spaces between the art". Banksy

 

Hence one suggestion for your next strategic meeting: as you are mapping the industry you are in, the players, the profitable segments of customer you need to approach, why not look at the blank spaces ? Western Union has done it by serving the underserved and building a very profitable business by serving immigrants sending money home- those same people bank would not even consider for a bank account as they often are missing legal papers.

This leads me to a question to the strategic planners in the corporate world: has anyone in your company ever asked you to turn your assumptions upside down ? Are you hiring those who can help you do so? Do you welcome in your boards those directors who have the background and skillset to get you there ? Who is your Banksy ?

 

 

Note: Banksy, thank you- I trust you'll let me borrow this quote as the title of this short article and for the inspiration. You are welcome to comment below here ...

 

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