Friday, November 2, 2007

Elephant hunting on the Champs Elysées

The top 12 executives of the Publicis Groupe came together on the Champs Elysées last week to embark upon an elephant hunt. Before all you animal lovers out there revolt, let me explain. At the heart of Blue Ocean Strategy is a grid which talks about transformation and reinvention coming from figuring out what you need to:

  1. eliminate
  2. reduce
  3. raise
  4. create
Most organizations talk about transformation (when they really mean incrementalization) and what comes out is generally a lot of additional activities. They are in the raise and create boxes. What really counts in today’s fast moving, fast paced, consumer-led society is what you can reduce and eliminate. This is what allows you to provide time, space and room to maneuver, and inspirational freedom for your people to fulfill themselves and perform.

Cirque du Soleil did a fantastic job in this elimination area when they reinvented the circus. When we were growing up and visiting circuses, the key thing we all went to see were the big exotic animals – lions, tigers, elephants. You won’t see any sign of these at Cirque du Soleil. They didn’t get rid of a process or a layer, or a region or an office; they got rid of the elephants. That's pretty tough to do when most companies have no taste for it. Most companies won’t even acknowledge there is an elephant in the room, let alone get behind the idea of hunting it. And if the elephant is identified, it’s usually shipped off to a bunch of people to study. Lo and behold, time passes and the elephant survives. In the meantime the competition are busy stealing your lunch.

Companies today are faced with the fact that transformation is an inevitable constant. Technology is the great enabler, people are the great barriers. Most people are inherently resistant to transformational change and would rather give another fistful of hay to the elephants than shoot them. One company I know that isn’t inflicted with this disease is Toyota. Through kaisen, continuous improvement, they have made elephant hunting a way of life. We could all talk about their manufacturing process and the Toyota Way and so on, and there are tremendous things to learn here, but at the heart of their success is their constant desire to hunt elephants. It is the way they eliminate waste and focus only on activities which serve customers. And yes, we did find a couple of real elephants at the Champs Elysées session and we’ve got them in our sights. Now all we have to do is pull the trigger.