Ditch Legacy Business Practices to Survive
Zero baggage might be the secret to surviving the downturn
‘If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light’, said Cesare Pavese. He was a poet, but the quote would hold good for many of today's business leaders.
Zero Baggage is a key pillar of the Size Zero business philosophy. Many assume that it just means shedding costs and outsourcing as much as possible. It’s like the accountants have taken over!
But, Zero Baggage is perhaps one of the broadest and most strategic of the Size Zero principles. You could run an entire strategic off-site on it alone. And we do!
Zero Baggage is a state of mind. Try to imagine that you’re a brand new, next generation start up entering your market. You come with no baggage at all. You have no legacy products or services. No established way of doing things or pre-conceived ideas. You’re literally starting from scratch trying to compete against large, powerful incumbent players and fully resourced leaders of an existing category.
If all that you do is copy the incumbents you’re destined to fail. Their brand, customer base and products are too well entrenched. Your only chance of success is to innovate for a new generation of consumer, a new set of circumstances and the latest set of technologies.
You need to harness the fact that you’re unburdened by the legacy ball and chain that shackles larger players, whether its legacy products, services, brands, materials, processes, supply chains, management, internal thinking or legacy debts.
If you were to set up a restaurant today, with Coronavirus still rife, you would make sure that it catered primarily for take out delivery. You would rent a unit with a large, covered outdoor space that could serve customers en plein air, year round. You would factor in new innovations such as outdoor eating pods.
You might design the menu around local repeat customers as God only knows when tourists will return. To acquire these repeat customers you might think about refreshing your menu weekly or monthly. Some introduce all new, themed menus on a six weekly basis.
You would probably focus your kitchen and restaurant layout around healthier eating and living. After all, the Covid generation will be more health aware, like the metoo generation are more into equality. Healthy food, with a smaller number of generously spread out tables for indoor dining and large outdoor spaces, could be the new norm. At least 50% of your business should be takeout.
If you were going to set up a brand new restaurant today the above approach might seem natural. Much harder is taking an established restaurant group and pivoting it to the new way. Incubating new ideas inside legacy businesses is one of the toughest challenges around. It’s so much easier to stick with what works and to tweak it bit by bit.
But look at the massive franchise Apple have built by cracking incubation at scale. They're not afraid to disrupt their existing products by introducing new innovations, so long as they win the longer term war.
We’ve been pushing to reposition the 21st century Letts Group organisation as a branded incubator group. We think it’s the future.
We believe that a secret to future success will be the ability to regularly incubate new products, new services and new internal process innovations. To do this you have to be able to operate with a zero baggage mentality and that means much less ‘legacy’.
History is important, so long as it helps us better understand the past to shine a brighter light on the future. Where we come from should help set the compass for where we need to go. Unfortunately our history can all too often have us looking backwards. And no one ever won a race looking back.
Large businesses need to incubate better, shed their shackles and constantly challenge themselves to innovate like a startup. Whereas new startups need to understand the market like a big, established player, test new products effectively, spot icebergs before hitting them and raise capital like a Goldman Sachs banker.
Zero Baggage frees the mind up to invent - unconstrained. Starting with a blank canvas each time. It's not about doing the ‘same old’, just better. It's about having the courage to invent a whole new way of doing things. The former is your future and the latter your current.
You could argue that the climate challenge could do with some Zero Baggage thinking. Imagine if we could wind back to a state of emissions pre-industrial revolution. Imagine if we had fully understood the cost of unfettered fossil fuels, urban sprawl and industrial farming.
Imagine if we shed these painful legacies and surround ourselves with renewable energy alongside regenerative, carbon farmed produce and rewilding lands teaming with wildlife. Imagine if our gardens acted as carbon sinks and spaces that celebrate the regeneration of plant diversity. Imagine if we invented a wild kitchen garden or allotment and a new, healthier wild kitchen diet.
Imagine if we taught governments, individuals and businesses how to take small steps which can make a big difference in tackling climate change.
Oh wait, we did.
Zero baggage thinking works. But could ExxonMobil have done the above? Or did it necessitate a nimbler, newer entrant such as the Letts Group. Incubating innovations from within a medium or large organisation may be hard, but it can be done.
At no point in modern history have we had such a unique time to step back, reimagine our lives and reinvent. Lockdown had everyone thinking differently. The question is how do we think differently, serially.
A few of us in the Surviving think tank are starting to ponder how society might practise Zero Baggage. Maybe this downturn will force us out of our legacy chains. Because one thing is for certain, nothing will be the same. Not even the established political order.
Consumer behaviour has received the single largest jolt in modern times. Our reaction to a fundamentally different consumer will determine how we survive this downturn, no matter how big we think we are.
Innovation from within might prove to be the best path to surviving.