Where No CEO Has Gone Before …

THE BIG IDEA: Courage and boldness are defining characteristics of visionary CEOs committed to customer-centric innovation and redefining their markets.


Your starship is staffed with competent officers who possess specialized training and knowledge.

Your warp drive is ready. That is, you possess the creative capital, ingenuity, and resolve necessary to enter new, uncharted territory.

You need only give the officer manning the Flight Control the proper coordinates and say, “Make it so.”

The adventure into the unknown takes boldness and courage—one of the Seven Rules of Cult Brands.

Cult Brands are successful because they are willing to be unlike every other competitor in their market. They cut through a sea of doubt, criticism, and opposing market forces, daring to stand strong for what they believe while blazing ahead.

The Courage to Invent, Fail, and Be Patient

Amazon.com’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, has been willing to operate his mega-retail business at a loss for nearly 20 years, staying true to his vision of Amazon being “the earth’s most customer centric company” and “to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Bezos doesn’t only demonstrate the courage to innovate. He shows the courage to experiment continuously and to fail often. And most of all, he demonstrates the courage to be patient.

“I don’t think that you can invent on behalf of customers unless you’re willing to think long-term, because a lot of invention doesn’t work,” Bezos explains. “If you’re going to invent, it means you’re going to experiment, and if you’re going to experiment, you’re going to fail, and if you’re going to fail, you have to think long term.”

One such invention is their Amazon Prime program. An estimated 40 million customers now pay $99 annually to receive free two-day shipping and other perks like free streaming video and music. Prime customers spend more than twice non-Prime members.

A recent study of online shoppers found that less than 1% of Prime shoppers (versus non-Prime) are likely to consider other mass-market retail sites like Target.com and Walmart.com in the same shopping session. Amazon Prime is essentially eliminating the competition from the mind of Amazon Prime customers. A bold innovation.

The Courage to Reinvent Your Organization

For your enterprise to go boldly into the future, you need a high degree of collaboration among your people. The culture and environment of your workplace is a deciding factor in your ability to navigate into uncharted, often precarious market conditions.

Few CEOs appreciate the power of culture as much as Zappos’ Tony Hsieh who built his online retail business around the concept of core values.

Hsieh is once again pushing into uncharted space, eliminating all management positions in his company. Called a holacracy, this management structure moves beyond the traditional top-down hierarchy by providing an open system that supports self-management and self-organization.

Hsieh notes that studies show that when cities double in size, innovation or productivity per resident increase by 15 percent. In businesses, however, innovation or productivity per employee tends to decrease as companies grow.

“In a city, people and businesses are self-organizing,” Hsieh explains. “We’re trying to do the same thing by switching from a normal hierarchical structure to a system called Holacracy, which enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.”

Can you imagine what would happen if your employees become fully self-directed and self-managed? What kind of innovation, productivity and growth can develop in an organization that forms a fluid, dynamic, and integrated whole, operating at a level far greater than the sum of its parts?

The Courage to Operate with Integrity

As Chipotle Mexican Grill started to grow, founder and co-CEO Steve Ells became aware of how food was produced and processed in the United States.

He discovered a sad state of affairs: animals like pigs and dairy cows were confined in stark pens. Cattle, pigs, dairy cows, and chickens were injected with hormones and antibiotics that injured both the animals and the humans that consumed them.

Chipotle launched the “Food with Integrity” initiative to highlight their commitment to sustainable farming and sourcing livestock and produce from ranchers and farmers who employ humane, chemical-free raising methods.

With over 1,800 locations and a market capitalization of $20 billion, Chipotle has almost single-handedly proven that sustainable food sourcing is profitable, not just an ideal.

And the company continues to find creative ways to educate and inform its customers about their mission.

Where Will You Take Your Enterprise?

Visionary CEOs hold a clear vision in mind. This alone takes courage. Then they inspire their organization to actualize that vision. This takes boldness.

Remembering that the purpose of your business is to create customers and serve them better than anyone else, where are you leading your organization?

What big problems are you going to solve for your customers? Where is no other businesses in your category willing to go? How can you redefine your industry?

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