A few years ago DirecTV had a set of humorous TV commercials based on the idea that a single event can set in motion a series of events that leads to a less than desirable outcome. One of those commercials went like this:
(from an ominous announcer’s voice) “When you have cable and your picture freezes, you get irritable. When you get irritable, your work [as an criminal defense attorney] suffers. When your work suffers, the wrong man is convicted. When the wrong man is convicted, he has time to think. When he has time to think, he thinks about you a lot. And when he thinks about you a lot, your house explodes. Don’t have your house explode. Get rid of cable and upgrade to DirectTV. Call 1-8-0-0 DirectTV.”
DirecTV had many commercials in this series, all ending with bad outcomes. As humorous as these commercials were, they serve as a great introduction to the second major tenant of strategic thinking. That tenant: Preemptively Explore the Ripple Effects.
Preemptively Exploring the Ripple Effects is the acknowledgement that taking an action or making a decision leads to another action or decision that leads to another action or decision and on and on. Preemptively Exploring the Ripple Effects means consciously anticipating as many iterations of that cycle as possible before making the initial choice. To think this way repeatedly is to think strategically.
52,000,000 Reasons to Pay Attention
A Rube Goldberg machine is a device that is built to intentionally set off a chain reaction of many steps. Championed by engineers and designers, Rube Goldberg machines are a fanciful and physical representation of ripple effects in action.
My favorite Rube Goldberg machine of all time was built by the musical group OK Go. The machine was built for their second music video for their song This Too Shall Pass. (Yes, they made two videos for the same song. If you can spare 4 minutes, you should absolutely click here to watch the video.) The machine in the video produced a chain reaction of events that lasted more than three minutes and 20 seconds. But it’s length is not why I love it. It is compelling to me because it is a multi-dimensional example of Preemptively Exploring the Ripple Effects.
The first way it exemplifies Preemptively Exploring the Ripple Effects is simply the rube Goldberg machine at the heart of the video. The second way it displays Preemptively Exploring the Ripple Effects is in what it has produced.
If you’re a musical group, what's the one thing you want more than anything else? People to listen to your music. Whether it's financially or artistically motivated, that's what you want. OK Go put enormous effort – as in 60 engineers and five months -- into building and recording the Rube Goldberg machine for the video. That seems fairly nonsensical from a musical perspective. The machine had little if anything to do with the song itself. So why do it? Because of the ripple effect it produced.
The video was so unique that in its first six days online it received 6 MILLION VIEWS. To date the video has been watched more than 52,000,000 times. If you’re OK Go, that’s a pretty darn good return on your effort and expense. Many, many, many more millions of people were exposed to OK Go’s music through the video (including myself!) then ever would have heard of them if they hadn't made the video. OK Go thought strategically and won because of it.
And Now for the Leadership Application
We can’t be strategic thinkers without considering the full repercussions of our actions and decisions. That’s a pretty simple idea with which most everyone would agree. The problem is that we don’t usually go far enough in our thinking about ripple effects. We find it difficult -- if not off our radar completely -- to think about the second, third, and fourth order implications of our choices.
Let's give this a little more teeth by highliting a couple of concrete examples. Imagine you're a project manager who wants to reward your team for their recent tireless efforts. You decide to create a few perks and niceties as a thank you. The team feels appreciated. You feel good about having been proactive in recognizing them…that is until it ends up costing the company millions because the law said that such perks and niceties have to be offered to all project teams if they were offered to even one. In another example, you decide to leverage your company's coffers to cut the price on one of your South American products in order to eliminate one of your competitors from that market. It seemed like a great idea…that is until you learn that your competitor has retaliated by starting a similar price war with your company in larger Asian markets where you can't afford to match their new pricing.
Leaders who think strategically understand that the world is rarely as simple as it looks. They consider the complexities and interactions that could be set off by their decisions before those decisions are made. In the end, these strategic leaders make better decisions than leaders who don’t pause to think beyond the single domino standing right in front of them.
Stay tuned for our next blog when we take look at a simple idea that, when applied, helps leaders more consciously and consistently Preemptively Explore the Ripple Effects.
Links you might be interested to see: This Too Shall Pass music video by OK Go (a must see! )Interview with OK Go about the This Too Shall Pass video Behind the scenes video from OK Go's This Too Shall Pass video Rube Goldberg contest web site The first video OK Go shot for This Too Shall Pass (creative in its own right, this video has over 11 millions views itself) DirecTV's video about blowing up the house All the commercials in DirecTV's chain reaction series
photo credit: screen shots from OK Go’s This Too Shall Pass video posted on YouTube