Can You Survive in Gunkville?

👨‍🦲 Steal Bezos' Strategies for Innovating and Winning

👋 Hello fellow Ladderers!

This week we’re helping you stay relevant and avoid a comfortable, yet terminal place called “Gunkville”, by borrowing the secrets of one of the world’s most famous bald guys.

If you missed last week’s deep dive into Ryan Reynolds and Fastvertising, you can catch-up here

I hope you enjoy.

Turn around bright eyes,

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When I'm eighty, I want to have minimised the number of regrets that I have in my life, and most of our regrets are acts of omission, things we didn't try, the path untraveled. Those are the things that haunt us.

Jeff Bezos

⏱️ ~ 7 minutes 13 seconds read

One of the greatest fears for a marketing leader, particularly a new one, is seeing your once groundbreaking product or service gradually lose its lustre and relevance. A torrent of traction slowing down to a trickle of sales 👀

Not fun.

Just imagine you were heading up marketing at our favourite late 2000’s technology company/ case study/ punching bag, BlackBerry.

A company that levelled-up mobile communication with its innovative smartphones and secure messaging services.

If you’re as old as me, you’ll remember a time when having that little brick with a full qwerty keyboard and little scroll-ball was the ultimate corporate-power accessory and signal of status.

At its peak, BlackBerry seemed invincible, boasting record sales and the vast majority of profits from the mobile phone market. It’s hard, even awkward to say this, but dare I say, a loyal customer base too.

And then, in that now world-famous 14 minute keynote, Steve Jobs introduced to the world “A widescreen ipod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a break-through internet communications device” - in one.

The IPhone happened, and it was pretty much all over for BlackBerry.

A simple tale of ‘disrupt or be disrupted’ huh? BlackBerry simply didn’t see it coming.

But did you realise that BlackBerry actually “IPhoned” another mobile phone business just 8 years earlier, a little technology company by the name of Nokia.

So it’s not like BlackBerry didn’t know how things work in the consumer mobile phone market.

The problem was they simply didn’t know how to respond.

Although it was a much quicker process than slaying Nokia, BlackBerry still had several years after the IPhone launch to respond. But instead they were like deer in the headlights; frozen with indecision until it was too late. Splat.

NOT FREEZING UP, BUT “GUNKING UP” 🥶 

It’s a scenario seen all too often: a brand hits a hot streak with a game-changing product, and the accolades start pouring in.

For a moment, the top feels like a permanent residence rather than a short-stay AirBnB visit.

Luxuriating in their moment of glory, they make a critical misstep: they slow down on innovation.

This is rarely on purpose, often success and liquidity/ cash flow attracts more really smart strategic “thinkers” who opine for literally years on decks about their strategy and next big move.

Building alignment, collaboratively co-designing a strategic innovation pipeline or other such utter nonsense.

Oprah Winfrey Meeting GIF by MOODMAN

So to wrap up this meeting…

Before you know it, 24 months have passed and not a single thing of substance has hit the market and anything that did was 10 times more painful, half-baked and watered down than it should have been.

Welcome to Gunkville.

GUNKVILLE 🦥 

Sunny Gunkville, where the decks are huge, the zoom workshops are long and the stakeholder lists are even longer.

Although it sounds rather miserable to you and I, you’ll be surprised to hear that most inhabitants, particularly senior leaders in Gunkville, are very comfortable.

They manage to keep themselves very busy power-walking from Board Paper Bingo, across the village to Ways of Working Watercolor Classes.

There’s simply no end to the things they can happily fill their days with.

But whilst they’re keeping themselves blissfully busy, the outside world keeps on spinning. And importantly competition and the market itself keeps moving.

Many a brand that spends too much time in Gunkville, find themselves eventually becoming stale, rusted on in their processes and indulgent introspection - completely disconnected from the consumer and market.

Eventually to be gently nudged to a cold and run-down little hamlet on the edge of Gunkville; Obsolescence Creek.

And it’s as good as it sounds. Coming back to our example, this is exactly where BlackBerry found themselves by the early 2010’s.

Cool story Troy - so how do I stay out of Gunkville? Particularly if I’m looking after a legacy brand?

Well that’s the purpose of today’s edition of The Ladder.

Today I’m going to walk you through an express summary and give you the key take-aways from a book called “Invent and Wander” from a little-known author by the name of Jeff Bezos.

You may have heard of him, he created one of the world’s most prolifically innovative (and biggest) companies on the planet, and now spends his time figuring out how to get to Mars.

Because, billionaires 🤷

HOW TO NOT GUNK IT UP 🙅 

OK, this book is an absolute humdinger, and I thoroughly recommend you read it for yourself. But as we peel back the layers of Jeff Bezos’s strategy playbook in Invent and Wander, it becomes clear that avoiding the kinds of fate that befell BlackBerry and Nokia requires more than just vigilance—it demands, dare I say it, a kind of business revolution ✊.

Today, we’re diving into the three core principles that have propelled Amazon’s history of innovation and success:

  1. Maintaining a "Day One" mentality

  2. Adopting a three-year perspective

  3. Embracing and learning from failures

Each of these principles offers a transformative approach that doesn’t just prepare us to face disruption but teaches us how to be the disruptor in our own space.

Let's dive in 🏊️ 

GROUNDHOG DAY 1 📅

Maintaining a 'Day One' mentality is more than a philosophy for Jeff Bezos—it's a blueprint for perpetual innovation and customer devotion at Amazon.

This approach compels one to treat every day with the zest and urgency of the first day of any new business. Quite simply, no new business can succeed without delighting customers and solving their problems.

When Bezos left his secure job in New York and drove to Seattle to start Amazon, he was driven by a vision to radically improve how people shop. Buying online was a pretty terrible experience back then, so Amazon focused relentlessly on what customers needed at the time: reliable delivery, a wide variety, and the best possible prices.

Some 30 years later, when it comes to those fundamentals, not much has changed. And that’s the point—every day is like that first day of business.

Why? Because every day is also day one for potential competitors—so get cracking!

This mentality is crucial, especially for established organisations, as it emphasises the need to delight and obsess over customer satisfaction in every possible way.

Good Morning GIF by Travis

Everyday be like

Furthermore, for Bezos, the customer’s happiness is paramount and notoriously short-lived, necessitating a constant and relentless pursuit to reinvent and refine the customer experience daily. By embedding this customer-centric obsession into the fabric of Amazon’s operations, Bezos ensured that the company never stagnates but instead continues to innovate upon its own offerings and maintain genuine responsiveness to customer needs.

Day 1 is full of potential and possibilities—so go get it 👊 

ZOOM OUT GUY 🕰️ 

When it comes to playing the long game, Jeff Bezos takes the cake.

I mean, the guy literally built a clock in a mountain that ticks once a year and will keep ticking for at least another ten thousand years. Why? As a symbol of long-term thinking!

This guy is the GOAT of long-term thinking and patience.

So it’s no surprise to learn that Amazon is built upon the idea of long-term horizons and not expecting to lock in your winnings in a matter of weeks, months, or even quarters.

Mr Bean Reaction GIF

CFO on those sales numbers from last weeks promo

When Wall Street pats him on the back for a stellar quarter, Bezos is reflecting on the decisions he made three years ago that made that quarter happen.

This principle guided his day-to-day and week-to-week planning at Amazon, being perfectly prepared to roll the dice on an initiative that might not pay dividends for years—but once it does, it’s a game-changer.

This forward-thinking approach allowed Amazon to take a punt on Amazon Prime, which seemed like a risky bet at the time.

Initially, Prime looked like a financial sinkhole, haemorrhaging millions in its infancy as eager customers jumped on the two-day shipping like it was an all-you-can-eat buffet.

But Bezos wasn’t worried about the short game. He zoomed out, saw the future locked-in loyalty, and predicted a harmonious balance between high and low volume shippers.

Prime became one of the all-time great savvy business moves of the early 21st century.

This visionary mindset filters out the noise of immediate losses, focusing instead on stable, long-term gains.

By consistently asking, 'What will still matter three years from now?' Bezos kept Amazon laser-focused on perpetual customer desires—lower prices, rapid delivery, and extensive selection—rising above fleeting setbacks to secure enduring triumphs.

FAILING FORWARD 🤦 ✅ 

If there's one thing Jeff Bezos has mastered, it's the art of failing forward. In a culture of innovation, failure isn't just a possibility, it's a necessity. Read that again—it's a necessity.

Bezos often says, 'Failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.'

This mindset permeates Amazon’s culture, where the scale of their ambitions and success is entirely predicated on their willingness to encounter spectacular failures.

As Amazon has grown, so too has the scale of its experiments—and its failures.

Whether it's losing hundreds of millions on the Fire Phone or other less publicised ventures, each failure is not seen as a misstep but a vital step on the path to greater successes. These misadventures allowed Amazon to develop the groundbreaking Echo and Alexa technologies.

For a company to continuously innovate and lead, it must not only accept failure but embrace it as a crucial component of the invention process.

Fail Season 9 GIF by The Office

But we’re have a ‘Learning’ culture here

This is a vital point—so many businesses espouse a 'fail fast' or experimental culture. Talk is cheap. But when it comes down to it, if an innovative initiative doesn’t yield exceptional results, it’s hastily branded as a 'failure.'

Too often, the ghosts of failures past wander the halls, moaning and terrorising leaders into shying away from attempting anything else mildly innovative.

Great leaders, like Bezos, foster an environment where every failure is loudly and publicly announced as a learning opportunity. It’s looked at without judgement, with an objective eye—the sole purpose is diagnosis and understanding, not blame and 'accountability.' 🙄

BRINGING A LITTLE BEZOS BACK TO THE OFFICE 👨‍🦲 

As a marketing leader eager to channel a bit of your own “Bez”, here are some action items you can deploy within your team and organisation.

First, to instil a "Day One" mentality, start each weekly team meeting with a brief item called "Fresh Start." In these moments, encourage team members to share any new ideas or customer feedback that might spark innovation, no matter how preliminary or raw these ideas might be. They don’t need to be actioned - but rather simply discussed and acknowledged publicly, so that they might be returned to at a later date.

This practice keeps the team focused on continual improvement and customer-centric solutions.

Second, adopt a three-year planning horizon for your marketing activity. Schedule annual strategy workshops where you and your team map out long-term three year horizon objectives and the necessary steps to achieve them, but also remain flexible to adapt as market conditions evolve. This helps in setting ambitious yet achievable goals that align with longer-term strategic objectives and customer needs.

Third, create a culture that not only tolerates but celebrates failure as a stepping stone to success. Implement regular "Fail Forward" forums where team members can present their projects (and co-present others) that didn’t go as planned, discuss what they learned, and how these lessons can fuel future projects. This forum should emphasise learning and growth rather than blame, fostering an environment where risk-taking is encouraged and supported.

By having a crack at some of these practices, you not only bring a little Bezos into the office but also begin to cultivate a marketing team that is resilient, innovative, and sharply focused on long-term customer satisfaction 💪 

I hope you enjoyed our dive into ‘Invent and Wander’ today. It’s a great book and a wonderful guide to keeping your organisation out of ‘Gunkville’.

  • How do you keep the 'Day One' mentality alive in your daily operations?

  • Considering the three-year perspective we discussed, what is one long-term multi-year goal you are working towards in your strategy?

  • Can you share a time when a significant failure turned into a valuable learning opportunity for your team? How did it change the way you approach innovation and risk-taking?

Hit reply, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you enjoyed this edition, please forward it to a friend who’s looking to level-up their innovation game - they’ll love you for it (and I will too) ⏭️ 💌

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