Chief Paranoia Officer

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2005-08-04 Print this article Print

Competitors aren't a corporation's only challenge. Political, economic and societal pressures can all drag a company down.

One way to pick up on this intelligence is to designate an executive to "collect the paranoia," he advises. That person must be senior enough to be able to see the impact of controversial information and appraise it properly. At chipmaker Intel Corp., it was Andy Grove. "It takes a particular kind of curious leadership and processes and systems to be able to make sense of streams of incoming data," he says. In the 1980s, Grove heard and saw that Japanese chip companies were swarming into memory chips and decided to shift Intel into computer microprocessors, where it eventually ruled the market.

Day also suggests that companies mount scouting parties of two or three people from different departments to focus on one question. An example: "What's the worst thing that could happen to our new product line this year?" Draw up a list, then go out and look for signs of those things happening. And then, after envisioning the worst, fantasize about the best.

For example, in the 1970s, Day says, scientists at AT&T's Bell Labs pretended the phone system was wrecked and that they had to build a new one. What wild features and functions would they put into it? Voice mail and voice-activated commands, among many ideas, according to Day. Although the then-industry giant didn't know how to add them into its phone system immediately, those concepts became ideal design points for future projects. Today, we take them for granted.

Another technique: Look at the same data in new ways. Rather than market share, a consumer products company might delve into "wallet share." Mattel's Barbie may still be the No. 1 fashion doll in terms of worldwide market share. But wallet share showed that girls are spending increasing amounts of money on music CDs, hip-hugging jeans and karaoke sets—indicating that Barbie's traditional customers are no longer dreaming about princesses, but about becoming stars on American Idol. That intelligence could be exploited to develop new products like American Idol Barbie, which Mattel did this year.


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