Ways We Innovate: Face Your Killer

Facing Your Killer: Make It Existential

One of the other exercises we use, which we find very rarely used in many companies who have been around for a long time – established, high or consistently profitable companies who don’t really need to worry about their customers or their product, imagines what, or who would be your killer.

Startups do this all the time: even if they’ve been able to gain some traction, revenues, and even profit, they are inordinately sensitive to the possibility of another startup, or even another big company, entering their and space and literally completely obliterating the need for them.

Case in point, when Twitter first launched, it created and encouraged a very healthy ecosystem of apps which leveraged their data. I thought, at the time, that they were being forward thinking in that they understood that in order to become a completely pervasive global communications medium, that they would need to become a platform as quickly as possible. They focused on providing the platform and allowed others to step in and become the interfaces to the platform. This allowed them to grow very quickly – I remember attending their first developer conference back in 2009 when my startup has built a Twitter and Facebook topic harvesting engine called Tweebus. I looked around at the hundreds of developers in the room, all leveraging the Twitter ecosystem in order to develop applications using Twitter data (as we were) or as new interfaces to Twitter. I say some very interesting innovative new interfaces which I wish were still around today.

A few years later, there was a management shakeup, and Twitter cut off some access, reduced access to others, and basically hobbled their ecosystem. Many developers lost their businesses completely because they were totally dependent on the Twitter ecosystem. They died. Twitter was thier killer.

Startups are acutely aware of the competition and of the delicate nature of the ecosystem that they play in. In one stroke, you could be worthless.

More mature corporations feel that they are more resilient, that they don’t need to worry about their ecosystem collapsing, or that their legions of customers won’t suddenly switch to some other competitor. They feel that they are insulated against such stresses.

Welcome to the world of disruption. No one is immune from total collapse from market forces, competitors, and sweeping technological, cultural and societal changes. Companies deemed “too big to fail” can and will fail. In fact, they are more likely to fail, since they can never think the unthinkable – that they will fail.

How do you alleviate that? Simply come up with a killer, or combination of them, which will kill your company. What has to happen in order for your company to die? Could it be a competitor? A market crash? Widespread adoption of Bitcoin? Autonomous vehicles? All or some of the above? Remember, in this world of disruption, anything is possible.

Spend time brainstorming and build the perfect storm of competition, technological, cultural and social changes which may occur which will basically crush your company. Start it like this:

If X, Y, Z occur, then our company will die

Spend half the meeting coming up with the above. Once you have that scenario mapped out, let it sink in with your team. On the same day, or a few days later, pull the team together and think about what you would have to do in order for you to deal with that possibility. How can you address it? What will you need to do/build/be in order to stay alive in that perfect storm?

There you will find innovation.