Why putting yourself out of business is smart

The most dangerous threat to the success of our businesses and careers is a great last result. It breeds complacency. FATAL! We have to relentlessly work to improve: or we will be overtaken and will soon fade into history.  Here’s why, and how to do it.

Never rest on your laurels. John Chambers, a great Cisco CEO, famously said: “Stay paranoid.” David Ogilvy talked about “Divine discontent.”

Remember this- we are only as good as our NEXT result.

To grow successful, thriving and sustainable careers and businesses, we have to remain ‘divinely discontent’ and ‘paranoid’ about our capabilities, our edge, and our competitors. Here’s two great ways to do it.

1. Putting Yourself Out of Business

Chris Graves is global Chief Executive Officer of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. He should change his title to ‘Chief Education Officer.’  This guy is obsessed with learning and growing. He never stops reading, searching, asking questions, exploring. He keeps inventing ‘stuff’… new ideas, thinking, products, methodologies.

When I worked with him in the mid 2000s, he’d encourage us to workshop a session he called ‘Putting Yourself Out of Business’. This is how it works.

Pretend you’re your own fiercest competitor, or a new hot shop that has just opened and has big ambitions. The ‘pretend’ agency’s goal is to put US – our real firm- out of business. Brainstorm for an hour all the things we’d do as that pretend agency to damage and weaken US.

How could we hurt and weaken us in the biggest and quickest ways? They’d be good ideas, because we know our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Make a long list of all these actions. Identify the five most dangerous actions this competitor could actually take to hurt us the most.

Develop a 100 Day Plan to safeguard and protect, deal with or solve that gap or issue. Get on with it. Meet every 10 days to monitor progress. Lift your business to the next level of power, momentum and competitive edge. And then do the session again. And do it every 100 days.

2. Learn From The Best

I heard this idea at the Asian Marketing Effectiveness Awards in Shanghai in May 2011, and liked it.

Look at the best player in your category/sector- the competitor you admire and fear the most. What do they have? What do they do? How do they do it? (maybe it’s not a competitor in your industry, but just another business you really admire). Then look at your business. What do you do well? What could you do better? How do you move from better to best? Review these two outputs. What have you learnt? From that, what are the five actions you could take to lift your business to the next level of competitive edge and excellence? Or lift your career likewise. Develop the plan. Set deadlines. Get on with it. Monitor progress regularly.

Remain ‘divinely discontent’ and ‘paranoid.’ Never rest on your laurels. Never become complacent.

REMEMBER THIS- We are only as good as our NEXT set of results.

>View of a video of Chris retelling this post

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7 Responses to Why putting yourself out of business is smart

  1. Carl Sherriff November 2, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    All these years I’ve been trying various techniques to stop feeling ‘divinely discontent’ and ‘paranoid.’ And now I know it’s ok! Chris, thanks!

  2. David Packman November 2, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    Great post, Chris. Takes me back to the book “Only the Paranoid Survive” by ex-Intel CEO, Andy Grove. About 15 years on now and it still stands up reasonably well. No surprises there. It is surviving.

    • Chris Savage November 2, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

      Thanks David… I think it was Andy Grove I should have been quoting, not John Chambers!

  3. Sean Leas November 2, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    Hi Chris, cant agree more. We use the term devine dissatisfaction. Tx for the reminder of a periodical review of the competitor from hell.

    • Chris Savage November 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

      Thanks Sean. Not surprised Smollan already adopts these Practices. One of the reasons it is such a high quality organisation. Chris

  4. Clare Robinson November 3, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    Love the post – simple but effective, we’ll try it. I think examining the ‘hot shops’ is a great way to go they have usually found a grove or niche where other’s haven’t and that’s what’s getting traction…


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    […] 1. Only the paranoid survive. I am lucky. There’s nothing in life more paranoid than a PR guy. So I am constantly thinking worst case scenarios, questioning the next step, fretting about the future. It’s the first rule of crisis management- plan for the situation to get worse. When things are going really well, I start getting butterflies. Actor of old David Niven used the expression in his life: ” When the garden is in full bloom- watch out! That’s when the weeds are quietly growing.” […]

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