Remember Pixar’s Monsters, Inc?! What a great movie! A power company generates energy by using monsters to scare kids. Eventually, they figure out that – regardless of its dubious ethics – this strategy is suboptimal from a purely business perspective. It turns out that more energy can be generated by making kids laugh. So, they switch strategies from horror to comedy – this is the “Monsters, Inc. moment”! – and everyone wins. The company makes more money, and the kids have fun instead of living in fear.
Radical change or back to how things were?
Living with the threat of a global pandemic, it is easy to give in to fear. And I’m not for a minute suggesting that COVID-19 is a laughing matter. But what if it is an opportunity to rethink some of our underlying strategies – in business and in our personal lives? This could be our Monsters, Inc. moment!
Some make the argument that we need a radical change. They say that human ambition and aspiration for growth ultimately end in disaster. It’s true that our modern way of life, and especially globalization, has allowed the pandemic to spread at speeds that would have been impossible a century ago. But that doesn’t mean we should see it as nature’s payback for consumerism, and pledge to stop flying, consuming, and producing altogether. We can be smarter than that. Some others simply want things to go back to how they were. We can definitely be smarter than that too!
When discussing strategy I usually hold the view that “you can’t camp in the middle of the river”. But in this case, we need to take a more differentiated approach. How about climbing onto a raft in the middle of that river and navigating to our very own Monsters, Inc. moments! Let’s look at two examples: one in the field of corporate strategy and one concerning our lifestyle.
Rethinking the definition of a great strategist
Harvard Business School strategy professor David Yoffie famously said, “Being a great strategist is not for the faint of heart. Great strategists make big, bold bets which work, in part, because they scare competitors.” We are realizing, however, that competition is not the be-all and end-all of business. When it comes to breakthrough achievements, we need to work together. Collaborations that would have taken years to negotiate or weren’t imaginable a few weeks ago are made possible overnight. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly joined forces with AbCellera Biologics to develop a coronavirus treatment. Rivals Apple and Google teamed up to collaborate around developing a contact-tracing app. There are many, many more examples and the crisis is barely three months old.
So, let’s rethink our definition of great strategists from those that scare the competition to those that inspire others to follow their lead in ways that will benefit us all. Even after the pandemic, we can and should join forces in so many areas to achieve progress in a fraction of the time. And we’ll save billions in unnecessary duplication and bureaucracy on the way.
How much travel do we really need?
Then there’s the most obvious change forced on us by the lockdown. Left to our own devices, business people have a tendency to run around like crazy, jetting from one city to another without always considering whether it’s necessary. Yup, that includes me! Guilty as charged! Reflecting on my personal experience in the past weeks and the numerous conversations I had with affected people around the globe, I’d estimate that 50% of our travel, if not more, is not only unnecessary but actually harmful. It’s not only bad for our environment but detrimental to our performance as individuals, teams, and organizations.
So sorry dear airline industry, but we’ll have to cancel a significant part of business travel for good. One way of bringing that specific Monsters, Inc. moment to life could be to establish new reward and incentive programs: instead of Miles&More, let’s promote Zoom&Boom.
Let’s make this our Monsters, Inc. moment
Like Monsters, Inc. terrorizing the kids, we have been trying to squeeze ever more – and often too much – from ourselves, our organizations, our society, and our planet! Marc Benioff’s book Trailblazer makes the argument that businesses are the best platform for change. I couldn’t agree more! So let’s reshape those platforms. Let’s have the courage to change our perspective and reimagine the way we live and work for the better – and not because we have to, but because we want to. And because it makes good (business) sense. Let’s make this our Monsters, Inc. moment and find smarter, better, more sustainable, and fun ways to achieve our goals.