Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets
June 14, 2016
Play Bigger is a playbook for developing a strategy and running plays that will make you a "category king."
I'm going to probably bury the lede here, and tell you the first thing I noticed about the new book Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets, was the name of the last co-author listed on the cover, Kevin Maney. The reason that's potentially burying the lede is that it's the other three authors that founded the company, Play Bigger, that gave the book both its title and its underlying idea. Maney was brought on to help further develop those ideas and "deepen their understanding through journalistic and data research."
The reason Maney's name stood out to me is that he has long been known to us here at 800-CEO-READ as a writer of the highest caliber. A longtime journalist, his first mention in our archives dates back over thirteen years, when Jack took notice of his book about IBM's Tom Watson, Sr., The Maverick and His Machine. Maney's 2009 book, Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t, was named to the shortlist of the Big Ideas category of our Business Book Awards six years later, and he was involved in one of my favorite projects of 2011, Making the World Work Better, published by IBM to celebrate their 100th birthday, in which Maney looks at how that company has pioneered the science of information, covering everything from the development of the bar code to the creation of IBM's "Watson"—a machine named after the subject of his earlier biography. The last line in the essay he contributed to that project were:
Throughout the past 100 years, [a] combination of computer-driven trends has caused us to rethink life, business and institutions. It's abut to happen again.
For a century, society has thought that we were on a path to make computers that could think. In fact, that was never the case. We've been on a path to constantly recreate thought. That path continues.
Which is a perfect segue into Play Bigger, which is all about ways "to rethink life, business, and institutions"—more specifically on how to build companies that create entirely new business categories that prompt us to do each in a different way or a different light:
The most exciting companies create. They give us new ways of living, thinking, or doing business, many times solving a problem we didn't know we had—or a problem we didn't pay attention to because we never thought there was another way.
In this way, they change the focus from disruption to creation because "for the smartest pirates, dreamers, and innovators on the planet, disruption is never the goal. Creation is the goal." The companies that do this most successfully are what they call "category kings," companies that open up and dominating new business categories, and the book is their guide to developing a strategy to build that kind of organization.
The book contains some of the usual tech examples, with the creation story of Uber right up front, but right next to that is the story of Clarence Birdseye coming up with the idea for, and creating the infrastructure to deliver, frozen foods in the 1920s. The idea for Uber came on a snowy night in Paris, when the companies founders couldn't seem to catch a cab. Birseye's epiphany came on the frozen landscape of Northern Canada, when in his work as a naturalist for the U.S. government he witnessed Inuit people flash freeze fish they had just caught by tossing them on the ice. The idea for a new company and business category was born:
As he built his company, Birdseye realized he has to design and build the category himself, because before Birdseye, the was no ecosystem that would get frozen food from a factory to consumers, and no demand for frozen foods because consumers didn't even know they might want it. He developed freezer cars for railroads and sold rail operators on the idea. He developed freezer cases for grocers and convinced them that frozen food would increase sales. He even convinced DuPont to invent cellophane. And he ran ads that positioned frozen vegetables as something different from canned vegetables.
But, of course, the primary focus is on the world of today. And with today's technological infrastructure, the barrier to that kind of category creating and defining change is at lower than ever before. But the mix of organizational muscles required for that work are different than before, as well. One thing they'll quickly hammer home is the idea that even though their focus isn't only on tech companies, "every company in every industry, is now a technology company." The alternative, they will tell you, is that "you are a soon-to-be-dead company." And on top of great product design and marketing, and a great experience design for your customers, the key skill to develop with today's organization is category design, which includes all those previous types of design but is not limited to them.
Category design involves creating a great product (along with its experience), a great company, and a great category at the same time. It is a broad, deep discipline that impacts every part of a company and its leadership team.
The four authors team of Play Bigger will teach you the discipline of category design, and along the way teach you what it is not—like that "It's not any of this first-mover advantage bullshit that has been a Silicon Valley calling card since the 1990s" noting that Apple, Facebook, and Tesla weren't first in any of the categories they've come to dominate (Apple in multiple categories). Consider the book your playbook for developing a strategy and running plays that will make you a "category king." Like the work involved once you put down the book, it will be an intense, far-sighted, and immersive experience. It's also a little foul-mouthed and incredibly honest (both of which I found brought it down to Earth), and we have 20 copies available.