I have heard it many times. Business leaders tell me that they want to think big. They tell me that their organization’s growth — and in some cases, its survival — depends on big, bold ideas. They are envious of the big success stories that they read about: Starbucks, Whole Foods, Apple’s iPod, Google. These were big ideas that not only succeeded and brought profit to their companies but transformed their industries: casual dining, supermarkets, music players and the Internet.
Yet in many organizations, Small Think rather than Big Think prevails. Managers are stuck in a thinking mode characterized by inertia and resistance to trying out the unknown. Those charged with developing strategy stick with the status quo, the same old procedures, planning tools and strategy maps, even when they fail to produce bold ideas.
To break out of this mold, it is key that we question our deeply held assumptions — the sacred cows of a business — and develop alternatives to them. That's what Samsung has done in consumer electronics by focusing on customer experiences rather than on technical product features alone, thereby challenging Sony and quickly turning itself into a creative powerhouse. That’s what Dove did when it challenged the entire beauty industry with its Campaign for Real Beauty, featuring ordinary women of all ages, sizes and shapes. That’s what is happening at the Metropolitan Opera. The Met is no longer just an opera stage in New York: it broadcasts its opening night live in Times Square, has made deals with Sirius Satellite Radio and beams its Saturday afternoon performances into movie theaters worldwide.
Pulling off bold strategies that change markets requires leadership through every step of strategy development, planning and implementation. But the first step for companies who aspire to thinking big is to look beyond the conventions of their own business.
Kill those sacred cows!