In his previous books (e.g. Marketing Aesthetics, Experiential Marketing, and Customer Experience Management), Bernd Schmitt focuses his attention almost entirely on the aesthetics and dynamics of the purchase experience. What we have in this volume is a substantive, thought-provoking examination of how to develop a mindset that can be beneficial to -- but is not limited to -- marketing. Specifically, a mindset he characterizes as "Big Think" as opposed to "Small Think." According to Schmitt, "Where Small Think deals with the known, the pretested, and the prechewed, Big Think faces challenges creatively, reasoning about them from new angles and generating innovative ideas and actions to solve them. Bug Think does not just occur in the head. It involves action: managing people and teams, and driving organizational change. It is not simply creating something new; it is behaving differently."
Throughout his narrative, Schmitt cites a number of organizations that established and then developed a culture that has avoided or overcome what James O'Toole so aptly characterizes (in his brilliant book, Leading Change) as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom." These organizations include Whole Foods Market, Apple Computer, IBM, The Metropolitan Opera, Samsung, and Vodaphone.
Here are several of the questions to which Schmitt responds, with rigor and eloquence:
1. What are the strategy tasks of Big Think?
2. Which idea sourcing tools tend to be most productive?
3. By what process can an organization benchmark outside of its industry?
4. By what process can Big Ideas be identified, evaluated, and selected?
5. What are the four types of Big Think strategy?
6. How to formulate a strategy for a Big Idea?
7. How to executive that strategy effectively?
8. What are the most common hurdles to implementing it?
9.Viewing Big Think as a sprint, how to "jump over" these hurdles?
10. How to "weave Big Think into the fabric" of an organization?
Early in his book, Schmitt notes that psychologists have divided the creative process into four phases: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. "The first and last phases are analytical phases. In the first phase, you prepare the facts and immerse yourself in the problem," preferably a Big Problem. "In the fourth phase, you evaluate and verify the creative [i.e. desired] outcome. The actual creative ideas, however, are generated in the two middle phases of incubation and illumination." Schmitt recommends a number of "tools" to make connections in the brain during the process of formulating a Big Idea and the strategy needed to execute it effectively. He asserts (and I agree) that this process must involve everyone within the given organization but also anyone else (including customers) who can help to provide whatever information, perspectives, questions, and suggestions that may be needed. This is a key point, one that Graham Wallace, Friedrich Hayek, and Henry Chesbrough (to name but three) stress when sharing their own thoughts about an "open" business model.
As Chesbrough explains, "A business model performs two important functions: it creates value and it captures a portion of that value. It creates value by defining a series of activities from raw materials through to the final consumer that will yield a new product or service with value being added throughout the various activities. The business model captures value by establishing a unique resource, asset, or position within that series of activities, where the firm enjoys a competitive advantage."
Having thus established a frame-of-reference, Chesbrough continues: "An open business model uses this new division of innovation labor - both in the creation of value and in the capture of a portion of that value. Open models create value by leveraging many more ideas, due to their inclusion of a variety of external concepts. Open models can also enable greater value capture, by using a key asset, resource, or position not only in the company's own business model but also in other companies businesses."
This seems to be what Schmitt has in mind when urging his reader to think both "out of the box" and inclusively. "Big Think is a style of thinking and leading...[it] requires vision and leadership. It requires questioning deeply held [but perhaps false] assumptions about a business or an industry, considering the business or industry from a new angle, and then acting on the new insight." Big Think requires an "open" mindset, one that refuses to be confined by silos, bunkers, barriers, boundaries, etc. It is even open to the extent that it constantly seeks out "big juicy ideas" from sources that Small Think excludes. Competitors, for example.
I commend Schmitt on his brilliant use of two mythical figures. One is Odysseus who conceived of the Trojan horse and had the leadership needed to use it to penetrate and then destroy Troy. The other is Sisyphus whose pride angered the gods. His punishment was to roll an immense rock up to the top of a hill at which it would then roll back down. He was doomed to repeat this for eternity. Schmitt observes, "Small Think is despair - and we should leave it behind. Big Think, on the other hand, can salvage us from the daily pains of our habitual existence, by letting us create our own bold vision for our lives and work and transforming each of us from Sisyphus to Odysseus."
Those who share my regard for this brilliant volume are urged to check out Jim Collins' rigorous and lively examination of "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" (BHAGs) in Built to Last and Good to Great, Jason Jennings' Thing Big, Act Small, Gary Hamel's The Future of Management, Henry Chesbrough's Open Business Models and Open Innovation, and Built to Change co-authored by Edward E. Lawler III, Chris Worley, and Jerry Porras.