I have a confession. When I first read the work of our guest this week, Kaihan Krippendorff, Founder of Outthinker, I experienced a fair bit of professional envy. It’s really groundbreaking, and it’s really good. A strategy consultant, Kaihan has created a catalog of all the strategies that ever been used, modernized from a list of Chinese stories. Yes, like all things in the physical and human world, strategies are not infinite. In fact, according to Kaihan, there are 36 of them. Who knew? These strategies can be learned and applied to produce innovation, disruption, and amazing financial results.
If that wasn’t enough, he created a process using the strategies that systematically produces breakthroughs. And, by the way, it’s fun. To my mind, this body of work exemplifies the kind of meaningful thought leadership that many service providers (like me) struggle to achieve. It truly leads people to a higher level of thinking.
Given the marketing cloud disruption that’s coming for all B2B businesses (see our show with Mike Dickerson and Rachel Spasser), content marketing will become table stakes for all service businesses. In other words, everyone will be forced to establish thought leadership in order to get customers. Here are a few recommendations from the show.
Capture Universal Truths
One of the defining features of transformational thought leadership is that it captures a profound Truth and raises it to the level of awareness. In the case of Outthinker, Kaihan discovered that strategy, at its core, is not a process or a methodology that companies go through once a year which results in a plan. Strategy is a different way of processing information. “I think strategy is everywhere. Deciding what aisle to go down first in the grocery store, that’s a strategy. Deciding what school to try to put your kids into, that’s a strategy. I think strategy is a fundamental human act, that distinguishes us from most animals. When we were hunters and gatherers and the tribe would get together and say, okay, when are we going to pack up and where are we going to move next, that was a strategy. So, I like to view strategy as very much a human activity, that is a process by which we discuss what we want, and how are we going to get it,” Kaihan explains.
Moreover, he then found that the strategies that human beings have pursued since our hunter gatherer days, can be categorized and studied. The result is the 36 strategies on which Outthinker bases its practice.
Similarly, conscious capitalism, another breakthrough in thinking which we discuss frequently on CEO Exclusive, is based on the idea that businesses are fundamentally noble endeavors. And, focusing on a higher purpose makes companies more profitable. Brene Brown, who has the fifth most viewed TED Talk, with over 23M views, discusses the basic idea that vulnerability (ie. taking risks) is the only access to innovation and connection. Simple concepts that ring true, but no one was talking about them before.
Create New Language
Because breakthrough thought leadership operates at the boundary of what people know and discuss, more often than not, it requires creating new language–either new words or new ways of talking about existing phenomena. This means every framework carries an acronym to memorize. Of course, Kaihan has his own to summarize the Outthinker process and its five steps: IDEAS (Imagine, Dissect, Expand, Analyze, Sell). Here they are…
Imagine – Look outside, look at trends in your market. Talk about your company vision. Or your big, hairy audacious goal, or your core purpose. What do you want in the future? Step out into the future and look back.
Dissect – Look into the company. What are the key leverage points that you should be addressing now? Is it your product. It is missing some attributes? Is it a promotion? Are you not selling or marketing effectively? Is it positioning, like your brand positioning? Is it some processes? There are eight different areas that are helpful to examine.
Expand -Create strategic possibilities using the 36 strategies that have been used throughout time. Expand your options, ideate, brainstorm. Generate lots and lots of ideas. Come up with two or three hundred ideas, before you start narrowing down.
Analyze -Narrow the ideas down to a small set worth pursuing based on the criteria developed in Imagine. Which ideas should we pursue? It requires being thoughtful about how you choose between the strategic options, so that you don’t kill off that really disruptive, innovative idea just because it looks different or crazy.
Sell – Build support for the idea(s) that you’ve chosen. How are you going to sell this to the rest of your team or company? How are we going to sell this to your investors? How are you going to sell this to your partners?
Make It Accessible
After developing your bit of genius, remember to make it accessible to everyone else. In the case of Outthinker, their 36 strategies originated in China as phrases like, “Lure the Tiger down the mountain” or “Besiege Wei to Rescue Zhao”. Completely incompressible and meaningless, unless you have a tiger or a friend named Zhao. Those concepts transformed into Outthinker strategy number 4: Stay out of his stronghold and number 7: Launch a two-front battle.
Even the name of the company was an evolution, which started as the Strategy Learning Center. Yawn! Kaihan describes the process, “That was the legal name. Boring, right? Even our repeat customers couldn’t remember what our name was. But, why do I need to learn strategy? As we talked to our customers and said, ‘Why do you use us? What value do you get from us?’ We started getting this message repeating which was: Staying ahead of the future. knowing what’s coming, understanding what to do. And so, we massaged that into the phrase, ‘step into the future to execute with clarity today.’ That’s too long to put in a tagline, so we’ve shortened it to, ‘step into the future; execute with clarity.’ And then, we started banging that gong. We just kept repeating that.” It seems to have worked.
The same technology disruption that’s happened in B2C marketing and sales is already creeping in to B2B. According to CEB, 57% of the buying decision for most services is being made *before* people ever contact your company. What are they looking at? Whatever they find online. In the end, customers will end up shopping for services (like medical care or legal services or accounting) the same way they now shop for furniture (Wayfair), new cars (Carvana), everything else (Amazon). The quality of a service company’s marketing cloud strategy will significantly differentiate winners and losers. Thought leadership is the substance of that marketing cloud that will have prospects enter your sales process or someone else’s.