Monday, September 20, 2010

Outside the Box--chapter 4

Corporate staff decided to launch an electronic marquee for automobile drivers, sort of an instant message board to talk to other drivers. Leaping outside their core competence, two key leaders latched onto the idea. Our protagonist had suggested a more cautious approach, but it was related to the company's core business and a legacy business, yet an emergent growth segment. Seeing much larger numbers dancing in their heads, the CEO and VP of Marketing could hardly let go of the idea, imagined consensus where there was none, and launched an R&D effort that would drive the company into the ground.


As Dave left the conference room, he shook his head. Jane, another plant manager, came up beside him. "What is it?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," Dave replied slowly. "It doesn't feel right to go in this direction. Our production lines aren't set up for it. We don't have a design team that's worked on these kinds of products. We don't have a marketing channel for them. It seems like a long, long shot."

Expressing similar concerns but being optimistic that the R&D team will fully research the issues, Jane promised to stay in touch because she and Dave would be asked to provide resources to this new venture. Dave said goodbye and walked to his car. As he started the engine, he realized he'd be giving a report to his staff in the morning. He would want to sound enthusiastic about the outcome of today's meeting. He wasn't sure he could manufacture that enthusiasm. If he just reported the "facts" of the meeting, the team would see through his neutrality and know he wasn't fully supportive of this new product. To be a team player, he would present the decision and express his full support behind it by talking about doing their part to make sure it doesn't fail for a lack of their efforts. He could do that. Cruising onto the highway, he realized he could also stay in touch with the product team, checking on their needs, offering support where needed and making suggestions if they seemed to get bogged down. His suggestions might be in the form of a question, "Shouldn't we get a marketing expert to make sure we can sell this?" He could also offer the time of one of his team members to research component suppliers and get some product insight that way.

Okay, this wasn't sounding so bad.

Unfortunately, the problems Dave envisioned were but one fourth of the "holes that would sink the ship". Because this was outside the corporation's core competence, the leadership team and the R&D team didn't even know what they didn't know (to paraphrase Socrates, Aristotle or some other wise guy who knew this stuff thousands of years ago), yet they committed a lot of resources to this great adventure. Not even Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand committed a significant portion of their empire to have Columbus search for a new world or new route to the Orient that may or may not be there.

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