What do Deepak
Chopra, Jerry Adams, Moby, Ted Kennedy, Wyclef Jean, Dennis Kucinich, John
Legend, Mitt Romney, and Mohammad Yunus have in common? They and 390 other big
thinkers are all waiting to speak to you, right now, thanks to Big Think
Hopkins and Victoria Brown first met, as producers for PBS’s Charlie Rose Show,
they knew they were there to do something big. They saw the media world was
transforming more rapidly than media companies were willing to. And in 2006
they decided to do something about it.
proves a reliable guide, then their company, Big Think, may become one of the chief
restructurers of a new media world. They have surged from a start-up with an
odd concept into a significant platform of ideas, ushering content from some of
the world’s most insightful experts to some of the world’s most respected media
They have done
so, I believe, by choosing a series of well-tested openings that elevate Big Think
from the energy-draining churn of competition. Over the next several days, I
will share three strategies that we can learn from Big Think’s
When Mahatma Gandhi
asked his followers to embrace their oppressors, he was not following principle
alone. He was guided by a practical, well-calculated, strategy of warfare. When
you refuse to compete, you create no competitors.
As part of
their day jobs at PBS, Peter and Victoria got involved with Google,
helping the company digitize Charlie Rose content. That experience planted an
idea: that there was emerging a growing demand for video content delivered
over the web. So the team decided to get ahead of this trend – or skate to
where the puck was going instead of where the puck is, as Wayne Gretzky does.
When Peter and
Victoria decided to launch bigthink.com, the logical strategy would have
been to build a web site, gather content, capture as many eyeballs as they
could, burn through lots of money as they scaled up, and sell advertising. This
was the strategy everyone was following and that investors were funding. It
unfortunately Peter and Victoria could not afford it. As Victoria explains,
“From day one we had to think about how to run this business because we did not
have $10M to invest.”
So the team had
to zig to everyone else’s zag, and Peter and Victoria decided to adopt an
entirely different model. Instead of selling advertising, they would syndicate
their content to media partners.
setting up meetings with newspapers – who were struggling against on-line
attackers – and offering them high-quality video content from some of the
world’s leading thinkers. Newspapers were hungry for solutions and so were
eager to hear what Big
Think could do.
interesting marketing and sales strategies (which I will touch on later), the
team signed up several well-respected newspapers, like The
Washington Post. They provided their newspaper partners with
expert video content and the newspapers packaged it and promoted it on their
web sites. And Big
Think and its newspaper partners worked jointly to sell
Had Big Think
not thought carefully about it, they could have easily picked up a head-to-head
battle with traditional media. They could have taken on the old world by
building a web site that would steal away newspaper eyeballs. But instead the
company decided to adopt a helpful stance and actually support these would-be
This is pattern
#33 – hide a dagger behind a smile. By adopting a helpful stance, you
become your competitor’s ally. Your “friendly” appearance, whether authentic or
not, will avoid triggering competitive resistance.
understood this principle in its early days. By following the same, the company
emerged practically overnight as the world’s leading search engine. At a time
when everyone – Yahoo!, Alta Vista, etc. – wanted to become portals, Google
offered to take the search business off of their hands. Search was considered a
low-profit commodity. Google washed the other sites’ dirty dishes and people
This is such an
effective tool that it was the title of my second book, Hide A Dagger
Behind A Smile. By being friendly to direct or indirect
competition, you can encourage your adversary to let its defenses down and
welcome your services. Then you advance unhindered. So ask yourself the
questions below to see how you can use this strategy to gain new ground.
are my direct and my indirect competitors?
do we produce that is different or better?
there a way to share information, products or services with an indirect
competitor to attack a direct competitor?
one of my direct competitors a company that can help mine?
How could I partner with my strongest competitors take over our industry?