Have You Eaten a Child Lately?

knife-fork-1498188Regular readers of this blog will know that I am extremely interested in productivity. Along with my interest in productivity, however, is an even greater interest in impact. At the end of the day, if what we do does not make a difference, then why bother?

So why do we repeatedly allow ourselves to work on too many projects in the face of too little available time? The predictable result of this diffusion of energy and attention is diminished impact.

It was in this vein that I began to consider cannibalism. To be clear, I am not literally suggesting that each reader give expression to their inner Hannibal Lecter. Rather, the type of cannibalism I had in mind was product cannibalism.

Consider Apple. In a 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, Phil Schiller (Apple’s head of marketing) admitted that Apple often pits one of its products against another:

Charlie Rose: Is there danger of one product cannibalizing the other product?

Phil Schiller: It’s not a danger, it’s almost by design. You need each of these products to try to fight for their space, their time with you. The iPhone has to become so great that you don’t know why you want an iPad. The iPad has to be so great that you don’t know why you why you want a notebook. The notebook has to be so great, you don’t know why you want a desktop. Each one’s job is to compete with the other ones.

On the other hand, consider Bausch & Lomb. According to The Economist’s overview of cannibalisation,

Bausch & Lomb invented the soft contact lens but failed to launch it because the firm did not want to lose the lucrative business of selling the drops that hard lenses require. As a result, Johnson & Johnson swept into soft lenses, and the market for hard lenses (and their drops) disappeared.

The uncomfortable truth of strategic product cannibalization is that you have to be willing to grow some children at the expense of others. Bausch & Lomb responded to this discomfort by trying to protect their eye drop business. I’m sure it seemed like a rational decision at the time. By contrast, Apple deliberately refuses to protect its products. Instead of wrapping their products in cotton wool, Apple insists that each product earn its place by being strong enough and excellent enough to fight off the competition — including internal competition.

Each law firm support function offers a range of products and services. Does your support function demand such excellence from each product and service that you do not have to waste time worrying about competition from within your group, from other parts of your firm or from an outside vendor? If your product or service is not best in class, then the smart thing to do is engage in a little strategic cannibalization.  If you are not willing to do it, someone else will do it for you. And, if you abdicate this responsibility to someone else, I can almost guarantee that you will not be happy with the results.

So be sure to ask your team this question regularly: Have you eaten a child lately?

[Photo Credit: Simon McEldowney]