Sometimes in order to think big and act bigger, we have to first admit some hard truths about ourselves, to ourselves -- that we suck. I've gone from Wall Street to Main Street and back again, and I can't tell you how many times (whether it be owning my own company, or being the CMO of Kodak) that I've had to admit I sucked.
First off, you can't just admit you suck and do nothing about it. In my book Think Big, Act Bigger, I examine two iconic brands, Cadillac and Domino's. These two companies knew that their customers were changing, and therefore customer demands were changing, too. Both of them took BIG steps to ensure that their brands changed, along with the audience, and came back even bigger.
For Domino's, what was really great was that the company created an entirely new marketing campaign, directly telling their customers how bad their product was. Domino's owned their mistakes and communicated them openly, honestly, and transparently. In saying they sucked, they also said, "We listened to you and we are aware. Our chefs are going to satisfy your taste buds and give you the best quality product for the money." What I learned at Domino's underscores essential lessons in genuine leadership when it comes to finding out what you don't know and thinking big and acting bigger.
Here are some key lessons we can all take to heart:
- Never underestimate the value of honest and open communication and radical transparency;
- Don't be afraid to find out what you don't know;
- Listen to your customers;
- Respond to your customers;
- Listen and respond to your own people;
- Be "radical" by being transparent, open, and honest
Whether it takes a crisis or simply a moment of serious self-scrutiny, the most important thing is that we act honestly and be radically transparent. Telling their customers the pizza sucked worked. Domino's sales grew 14.5 percent. Its stock doubled to an all-time high. Hell, they almost ran out of pepperoni!
Cadillac, however, was facing a different problem. They were trying to overcome a series of catastrophic events for the brand -- like overcoming old perceptions and a really bad economic downturn, especially for the automobile industry. Basically, they needed to get their mojo back, but how?
Cadillac was founded in Detroit in 1902 and by the 1950s; it was synonymous with "best" and "coolest." But by the 21st century, Cadillac was a brand that everyone under 40 associated with old people. After bankruptcy and a bad economy, Cadillac finally realized it was far from the iconic brand it used to be. They needed be like a phoenix and rise from the ashes, but their main obstacle was overcoming old perceptions while retaining their distinctiveness. Cadillac needed to ask themselves two questions: 1) what the hell are we doing? 2) Why are we doing it like that? They needed to stop associating with relics of a bygone era and implement radical changes. As a result of those changes, Cadillac has moved past Lexus into third place among luxury car brands, with only BMW and Mercedes ahead of them.
Domino's and Cadillac admitted they screwed up, and that's okay, as long as you have a plan to turn the ship around. Here are some key questions to ask yourself about your own business.
¥ What are the key attributes of your business? What do your employees and customers say? Are they saying the same things you are?
¥ What do you suck at and what don't you know? What do your employees and customers say? Are they saying the same things you are?
It's easy to ask these questions during or after a crisis. But did you ask these question when things were going well? When was the last time you asked them after you kicked ass? Did you even ask them at all?
Being aware of what's going on around you lets you see what is possible and where you're going next. That is thinking BIG!
As I've said before, companies big and small need to stop falling back on old patterns that were part of the stories of yesteryear and start writing new stories, especially while you're in the prime of your career. Businesses should act more like athletes -- practice harder than anyone else, be on the field first and be the last one off the field. Focus on who you are, not on what you don't know, and be sure to get your groove back!