Aunty Jane used to live in Stockwell. When we went to visit, I always looked forward to walking past the brilliantly named:
‘Curry & Pizza World – The Best of Both Worlds’.
Of course, in many respects, it was an absurd, messy proposition. Certainly no prissy pizza producer or self-respecting curry chef would likely want to find him or herself working there. But the customers loved it: you want a Margarita, your brother wants a Chicken Jalfrezi, Pauline has Rogan Josh, and Granny will always go for a Quattro Stagioni. Brilliant; everyone is taken care of, no one gets left out.
Curry & Pizza World had looked at their potential customers, what they wanted, and decided there was a niche; a rich seam that they could tap. As a result, they did a roaring trade. Maybe they still do.
In 1990, Chrysler, GM and Ford had combined revenues of about $250bn.
They employed over a million people, and their total market capitalisation was around $36bn.
In 2012, Google, Facebook and Apple also had revenues of about $250bn. They employed just 130,000 people. And their market capitalisation was $790bn.
I’ve written a lot about the pressure, disintermediation and commoditisation wrought on Western business by both the rise of Asia and the explosion of digital. But nothing, for me, has brought that macropicture to life as vibrantly as these Detroit vs Silicon Valley statistics: three companies that, in 1990, either didn’t exist, or – like Apple – were a bit of a joke, enjoying more than 20 times the market cap of their long-established Motown counterparts.
They’re overvalued, of course. But that isn’t the point. The point is that the iterative, focus-on-efficiences, refine-and-hone model that was for years the supposed source of competitive advantage for corporations and their senior executives alike – ‘Operational Excellence’ – has now reached a tipping point where it offers only ever-diminishing returns.
The car industry is a fabulous example, but there are countless others besides.
Because of this, businesses in the West have to reinvent themselves; fundamentally, relentlessly.
Here’s the good news. That reinvention ain’t gonna come from the ‘tried and tested’ methodologies of the big management consultancies. Those methodologies have been tried, been tested (not least by Detroit-based automobile businesses). Fresh thinking isn’t what the consultancies do.
It is, of course, with differing degrees of success, what agencies think they do – and so it should come from them. But agencies are not, typically, particularly switched on when it comes to really understanding strategy (despite talking about it endlessly), and certainly not when it comes to charging for the stuff – indeed often they give it away, in order to get the TV campaign, the website, the DM, whatever.
The real difference to clients will be made when grown-up, credible thinkers take needle-moving ideas to corporations; providing them with the fuel and the know-how for real, tangible and much-needed change – and crucially without the institutional expectation that such assistance will always, necessarily manifest in some sort of classic external advertising or marketing campaign.
That’s what the corporations want, and that’s certainly what they need. So that’s what we should supply.
Just like Curry & Pizza World.