“There is an ancient Vulcan saying: Only Nixon could go to China.”
At work we do a lot of thinking about creating sustained competitive advantage for our clients. One of the best ways to do that is to crack the wicked problems that exist in their industry. What this opens up is the ability to be logical yet unpredictable.
Being seen as logical yet unpredictable (LYU) is of vital importance to sustained advantage in today’s hyper-competitive markets because it achieves two things:
- It delights customers by bringing to market things they didn’t know they wanted but can’t live without, and which match their expectations of your brand
- It infuriates competitors by staying one step ahead of them and taking control of the rules of competition. Competitors are constantly kept off balance.
Wicked problems provide a foundation for LYU because by solving them you gain a deep level of understanding into people’s needs and what your business is really about (in a Xerox-we’re-not-just-copiers-but-about-documents kind of way). You get to look underneath the surface and see how things can or could work at a more fundamental level. You become aware of the trunk on which the branch of your business sits, which allows you to travel back to the trunk and go down a different branch, or even create a whole new branch. This growth will seem a logical fit for your brand and make sense to your customers because you’re still obviously coming from the same tree.
Google has to be the current master of this practice; while the general logic of their strategy is becoming clearer the specifics are still unpredictable. Yahoo is rapidly improving, but achieving it more with fast-follower aquisitions of small companies (such as they are trying to do with Facebook) rather than home-growing it.
The Mr. Clean products that P&G has been introducing, such as the car washing hose attachment, are a great example of LYU: a great fit with the Mr. Clean brand, but a completely unpredictable diversion from their long past legacy of being simple floor-wash soap.
In contrast, over at Gillette there is little tolerance for unpredictability it seems. As I’ve written before, the 5-bladed razor they introduced a while back was so logical and predictable that The Onion jokingly predicted it a year ahead of time:
Sure, we could go to four blades next, like the competition. That seems like the logical thing to do. After all, three worked out pretty well, and four is the next number after three. So let’s play it safe. Let’s make a thicker aloe strip and call it the Mach3SuperTurbo. Why innovate when we can follow? Oh, I know why: Because we’re a business, that’s why!
What part of this don’t you understand? If two blades is good, and three blades is better, obviously five blades would make us the best fucking razor that ever existed. Comprende? We didn’t claw our way to the top of the razor game by clinging to the two-blade industry standard. We got here by taking chances. Well, five blades is the biggest chance of all.
Gosh, that makes Schick’s job easier doesn’t it? I think I see some disruption on the horizon…