Has your company reached its peak and stagnated? Are your competitors disrupting the status quo? Mat Lock and his coauthor Uli Grothe are here to teach you how to get back in the game with their new book, Rocking the Ship.

In this episode, Mat teaches us how he and Uli turn corporate managers into innovators and business model mavericks. By the end of this episode, you’ll have a bulletproof strategy for getting ahead of the competition.

Listen in to Mat to learn:

  • How to go from corporate drone to business model maverick
  • Why fear is a much more effective driver of change than optimism
  • What to do when faced with your nightmare competitor

Get Mat and Uli’s new book Rocking the Ship on Amazon.

Find out more at RockingTheShip.com.

How did you first become interested in business management?

I remember it clearly. It was a Sunday morning early in May 2014. I was out riding my bike as I like to do before heading into the office and although it was a beautiful morning, I was distracted because of the realities of where I was in my own management role.

A man bikes down a road.

I was expected to grow the business yet at the same time, the business was calling for greater efficiency, cutbacks, and even redundancies.

It dawned on me that this dichotomy was one of the fundamental reasons why our large organization was seen as being inflexible.

Every time we tried to move in a new direction, to re-create, or be innovative, all of the internal politics grew stronger. 

It just seemed that I was surrounded by barriers, bureaucracy, and BS frankly.

But as I was cycling, I wasn’t alone. I was with a number of other riders, as is the way around Singapore. They would rotate around every couple of minutes and so I’d get to chat with each of them for a little bit. They were all expat corporate manager types.

After a few conversations, it dawned on me that in fact, all of my frustrations—the endless travel, the growing number of calls, and the internal meetings—were shared by all of the other people I was riding with, regardless of what industry they were in.

Business was declining as frustrations and challenges seemed to be increasing. Profits were being squeezed and even though there was a lot of talk about being entrepreneurial, encouraging entrepreneurial spiri,t and being innovative, the opposite seemed to be true for these large corporate organizations.

In spite of a desire to be innovative and cutting-edge, these corporations, including the one I worked for, seemed incapable of coming up with ground-breaking business innovations. That’s when I knew I had to look into this problem more deeply. 

What ultimately led you to write Rocking the Ship?

Well, my business partner Uli had experience running strategy workshops and seminars for executives around the world. 

What was interesting was that while Uli wasn’t directly in a corporate environment, he was very much connected to the corporate way of doing things because his audience was primarily corporate executives.

While I was experiencing these frustrations first-hand, Uli was observing them in his work life from the outside, and we both had the same epiphany: 

Why are all of these talented, experienced, and expensive managers from around the world unable to drive creative business innovation from within their organizations?

Why is it that these managers seem to be suppressed rather than allowed to flourish and grow the businesses that they’re tasked to manage? 

Uli and I decided that it must be possible for established companies to think and act in the spirit of startups. So we set out to find out how that might work.

Established corporations have seemingly everything in their hand, yet it’s the little startups that seem to be capable of dominating traditional industries, or in fact, re-creating and forming new industries. Why is that?

The result of answering that question is our new book.

How do you get organizations to become more innovative?

It’s much more than just a handful of people driving innovation behind closed doors, it’s about the entire mindset of that organization. If you think about any organization, it’s nothing more than a collection of individuals.

We talk about companies not being innovative, but that doesn’t make any sense. It’s the people within the company who are or who are not being innovative.

One of the fundamental challenges with the traditional approach to business innovation is that it focusses on opportunity. Traditional business innovation focuses on what could be, what the potential is. It’s full of optimism and a positive outlook.

What we have discovered over the course of researching and writing this book and through working with clients is that a fear-based approach is far more powerful.

That’s one of the key departures that we make from the traditional approach to innovation.

Why is a fear-based approach to innovation more effective than a positive approach?

Block letters spell the word "fear."

If you think about it, we, as humans, are wired to respond more immediately to danger, say when we get shocked or surprised, than to reward.

When we experience fear, our fight or flight response kicks in. That immediate pulse of adrenaline instantly speeds up our breathing rate and our heart rate.

Now, if we think about something nice that we’d like to have that’s aspirational, we don’t have that kind of response.

From a physiological perspective, we’re wired to respond quicker and more effectively to fear.

Why do traditional corporations shy away from the fear-based approach to innovation?

First, startups are operating in a very different environment than corporations, but going back even further, most children in the western world grow up thinking that fear is something to be avoided. Fear is considered a bad thing, it’s negative, and something that we should avoid.

The reality is that fear is something we should be embracing. Fear is simply another tool you can use. What we do is teach managers how to use fear to playfully attack their own organizations.

Instead of looking for calm seas you should really be attacking your own business model, or the predominant business model in your industry.

Do startups have an advantage when it comes to disruption and innovation? 

Certainly; startups have the liberty of doing whatever they like because they have no connection to a specific industry, they’re not married to the status quo or to any established infrastructure.

They don’t have a large inflexible collection of departments or people involved in organizational politics. They don’t have the bias of thinking they know what the customer wants.

In fact, this brings us to the second thing we discovered while writing the book which is large organizations tend to become very inward focusing when they should be customer-centric.

I’m sure all of your listeners working for corporations can relate to this. Corporations spend an incredible amount of time on internal issues. Think of how much time out of your working day, week, or month is dedicated to internal meetings discussing internal topics.

A corporate boardroom sits empty.

Startups aren’t doing that. They don’t have time to do that. They’re focused on one thing: what their customers actually want.

What types of companies do you usually work with?

We tend to work with medium to large corporate companies.

If I had to pick a number it would probably be around 500 employees and up.

Let me give you an example of one company that we’ve worked with that really took the principles outlineed in Rocking the Ship and ran with them. 

The company is called Zeppelin. 

You might associate Zeppelin with the airships back in the good old day, well it’s the same company. It’s a very classic German family company with thousands of employees these days but a company that stayed true to the spirit of its entrepreneurial founder.

They wholeheartedly adopted the principles in Rocking the Ship, and in fact, it’s now embedded in their company culture. 

During executive meetings the heads of their business units don’t stand up and talk about numbers, they discuss how to continue to be the nightmare competitor of their industry.

Here’s just one example of how that approach changed the way they do business:

A large part of their business now is re-selling heavy industrial equipment, things like mining trucks, bulldozers, and diggers. They sell and service all of this heavy machinery. 

A bulldozer sits at a mining site.

Well, after going through the nightmare competitor exercise outlined in Rocking the Ship, they realized there was a huge gap within the industry that was just waiting for some innovative startup to fill. It was a huge risk to their business. 

One of the challenges they have as a re-seller of such specialist equipment was that many of their customers were buying this equipment and only using for a fraction of the year, perhaps they only needed this equipment for three months of the year. That’s a long time for very expensive equipment to sit idle. 

So the executives at Zeppelin thought, “What would our nightmare competitor look like?” Well, it’s pretty easy to see that any company could easily create the Airbnb equivalent of heavy equipment sharing. Instead of buying these trucks from Zeppelin, a company could simply rent them for three or four months from a competitor when they weren’t being utilized.

What did Zeppelin do? They created a separate company that is the Airbnb of the heavy industrial equipment industry, and it’s become hugely successful.

It may be in conflict with Zeppelin’s other revenue streams but they decided that the fact that it conflicts with their current business doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t become a reality eventually, so better that they do it and let the market decide which model customers prefer.

The worst thing they could have done is sit back and hope no one else comes up with the same idea because clearly, that’s a massive risk to their business. 

Which industry would benefit most from the principles outlined in Rocking the Ship?

One of the joys of Rocking the Ship is that it’s not industry specific. We have yet to find an industry that we can’t apply this to or that the managers within that industry can’t apply it to. For us, our aspiration is to get this into the hands of as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

I don’t know that there is one industry that we could pinpoint because there are so many industries which have so much potential that isn’t being fully used currently.

It really starts with a desire. As long as there’s a hunger, a willingness, and a readiness to put aside the status quo and try something different, there’s no reason why the principles outlined in the book wouldn’t be able to help any organization in any industry. 

Personally, I would love to step into the financial sector.

We’re already starting to see some major disruptive potential, and I’m not just talking about PayPal.

I would love the opportunity to work with one of the big banks. Pick one, it doesn’t matter. Any of the big banks.

If they were able to really embrace the ideas in Rocking the Ship they need to understand that, in the beginning, the initial changes will be pretty uncomfortable because they will challenge a lot of what they do today. But change is already underway in the financial sector, and although it’s happening slowly, managers need to be ready for it; our book can help them prepare for that change. 

What’s one challenge that Mat Lock could give to listeners so they could start practicing what you teach in the book?

Start by asking yourself, “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?”

In my experience, most people say, “Oh I’m part of the solution of course.” We all like to believe that we aren’t the problem, but if you’ve adopted the nightmare competitor approach and you really look at your organization and your role within that organization from a perspective of change, the results can be quite dramatic. 

I urge listeners to stop and be honest with themselves, think about the daily gripes, the white noise as I would call it, in their business, their grievances, their frustrations.

Ask yourself whether you are part of the system that is facilitating those frustrations or are you really doing something about the problem and making yourself part of the solution. 

When we run workshops around this issue, most people that start out thinking they are part of the solution will switch at the end and say, “You know what? You’re right, I’m part of the problem.”

It’s usually not a deliberate attempt at making life difficult, there’s no bad intent at all. but by default, we often end up being part of the big machine and we dutifully play our part.

So, I challenge listeners to tap into their inner mavericks to drive change from within.

Get Mat’s new book Rocking the Ship on Amazon.

Find out more at RockingTheShip.com.

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