Lisa Bodell plays a sick and twisted game with the companies that hire her as a consultant. She gathers a group of forward-thinking people from across the hierarchy, tells them to imagine they’ve just been hired by a new competitor, and asks them to use everything they know to kill their old company off. She wants them to exploit all of the inefficiencies, take all of their market share, and leave them with no decision but to shut the lights off and walk away. It may sound like a crazy exercise, but its outcomes are powerful.
Just think: What if instead of asking how we are going to grow, or what if instead of worrying about all of the ways we were going to shrink, we asked how a competitor would beat us at our own game? How would adopting a competitor’s mindset change our view of our own company and our own competition?
Charlie Munger famously uses the expression, “Invert, always invert,” for a reason. Changing our approach to a problem by giving ourselves opposing perspectives is enlightening. When Bodell asks us to kill the company, she is inviting us to define the constructs that are holding our businesses back. By inviting an entire team into the fray and not just one hierarchical class, she is asking every level of the organization to unite behind one mission. It may sound dark, but for a brave leadership team, it provides a friendly platform to put everything out on the table.
We all have countless challenges we face every day. Whisper “my inbox wants to kill me” on a crowded elevator and people will likely look at you with compassion and understanding. Finding anti-examples of things we shouldn’t do are easy. We can all rattle off a bunch of process, procedure, and capacity wishes that “if we just had a magic wand, we would solve these right away.” But, when that same list is invoked through the lens of a competitor who is trying to kill us, the answers and the implementation become a lot more real.
What could kill our business? Not at the industry level, but at the local level? Is it better customer service? Faster response times? Deeper, more personal relationships? Consider our defense as the moats, walls, and drawbridges around a castle. What could we do to reinforce them? How are the defenses different for different employees and roles in various locations? Are we really doing all we can to keep everyone on the same mission? Killing a company is a lot more inspiring than punching the clock – so how does our mission motivate everyone involved?
Bodell’s work is much more than an exercise in “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” it’s an exercise in setting and raising our own internal bar to do the work we need to do, today and into the future. Her book, Kill the Company, is full of powerful, mind-inverting insights. It takes bravery to think this way, and the payoffs can be massive.
Invention is required to be successful. Reinvention is required to stay successful.