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Why You Should Attack Your Assumptions

I rarely come across a product I feel compelled to rave about. But I can’t say enough about Harry’s. Harry’s sells shaving products that you can only buy online. Shaving products? How big of a deal can that be, you might be thinking. Happy you asked. Here’s what I love about Harry’s: The optimal amount of flex in the handle as the razor moves across my face. How the blades continually lie flat against my skin. The smoothness of the shave. The simplicity of their packaging. And I love that my wallet doesn’t get a major shave when it comes time to buy blades.

Yet for all I love about Harry’s, what impresses me most isn’t their razors, blades, or even their silky shave cream. It’s their business model. No going to the store. No having to navigate through way-too-many variations of razors and blades. Ordering their products is fast, easy and convenient. (Oh, and did I say inexpensive?)

What Harry’s has done is part of a larger trend, as Geoff Colvin writes in his excellent Fortune.com article, Why every aspect of your business is about to change.

The very assumptions upon which entire industries were built are under attack like never before. It has been well publicized how Uber has ravaged the taxi industry … yet owns no vehicles. How Airbnb has disrupted the hotel industry … yet owns no real estate. And how Alibaba is the world’s most valuable retailer … yet holds no inventory.

The dark omen for incumbents in any industry is not simply that this could happen to them. It’s that it’s almost unfathomable that an incumbent could create the disruption. Can you imagine the executive team at Hilton asking, “Why do we need hotels?” Or the brain trust at Walmart asking, “What if we didn’t stock any inventory?”

Yet in that unfathomability lies vulnerability.

Which is why my prime imperative for your business at the front end of your strategic process is that you attack your assumptions.

Question your bedrock assumptions. Insist that your team does the same. Assumptions about your products, services, processes and people. About your customers, competitors, and industry. About why your industry even needs to be an industry.

Change the context of your team’s thinking by asking questions such as: If we were a competitor, how would we put us out of business? How would we design our business if we were a start-up in our industry? How could technology and data analytics fundamentally redefine our industry?

The game today is not simply about refining products, or expanding into new markets, or driving productivity. The game today is about thinking differently. Radically different. Not being bound by preconceptions, precedents or preferences.

Think radically different. Attack your assumptions.

Make it happen.

Michael

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