In 2001 a major international pizza franchise came to me and said, “Alfons, you’re a shark. We’re getting eaten alive by other pizza fishes. Help us kill again!”
Within 24 hours I pitched this company—which you have definitely heard of—a concept so game changing that it would soon catapult them to the top of the pizza chain food chain: the Full House XL®.
You’ve enjoyed it many times I am sure. It had a thinner crust than their pan, a thicker crust than their thin, and it was extra large. This chain now has—according to Wikipedia, a crowd-sourced internet encyclopedia that I was instrumental in launching—over 6,000 restaurants in the United States and 5,139 additional “huts” in 94 countries and territories around the world. Those numbers continue to surge every quarter, and are the direct result of the revolution effected by the Full House XL® paradigm shift.
Close your eyes. All of you. Now imagine that you are me.
Your phone rings.
You don’t answer, “Hello?” That’s for tunas and tunas get eaten. You are a shark.
You say, “Go.”
A woman says, “Alfons, you’re a shark. A certain national chain named after a no-longer-popular cartoon character who draws his strength from spinach is killing us. We are an acronymic fried chicken chain that used to be named after a state. A white-suited southern gentleman is our mascot. Help us kill again!”
You’re on Highway 1, heading to a Big Sur concept-retreat hosted by an international roast beef sandwich consortium. They’ve tasked you to innovate their French fry offerings. Be careful: this is no time to get your wires crossed. Say the first word that comes to you… or you will die.
“Doublicious,” you say. You don’t know what it means and you don’t care. You live in the zone now.
“Doublicious,” she repeats in voice so soft that you can barely hear it over the howl of the wind. (Between me, you, and the TEDx Transmedia signs here, this woman’s corporation is ‘finger lickin’ good.’) As your machine rises over a ridge, the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean lies spread out and gleaming before you like a promise. “Tell me more,” she says.
You’re running on adrenalin and last night’s Grey Goose® Cherry Noir Vodka. The words just pour out of you. “The Doublicious® sandwich is the perfect combination of sweet and savory,” you say. “A juicy, boneless breast filet breaded in the Colonel’s Original Recipe®, topped with Monterey Jack, bacon, and delicious sauce. All perfectly complemented by a soft, sweet Hawaiian bun.”
A month later, you own another jet. Your client calls you and says, “Alfons, you did it! According to Wikipedia, we now have 577 restaurants across 36 countries in the Caribbean and Latin American region alone!”
You may open your eyes now.
Can you adopt my aggressive approach to innovation? Absolutely.
Is it easy? [Extremely long pause.] Absolutely not.
One day in the summer of 2006 I took a walk outside my Michigan Avenue office. My kill-or-be-killed ethos was doing wonders for my bank account, but the rest of me? I felt adrift and without center, like a bottled-water line that does not mention the words “spring” or “glacier” anywhere in the branding.
I soon found myself on a park bench next to an extremely old man. You should have seen the grin on his face as he threw breadcrumbs to pigeons and listened to a baseball game over a transistor radio. I thought to myself, Alfons, that’s the life. Guy probably doesn’t have a care in the world.
No more deals to ram through.
No more competition.
No more sleepless nights wondering if an extremely famous fast food chain would ever green-light his McHot Dogs concept for a 2007 central Pennsylvania test-run. (They eventually did. It was huge.)
Yep, I thought. Maybe it’s time to cash in my chips and just… relax. Forever.
That old man must have been a Great White and a mind-reader wrapped up into one. Because just as I was about to get up, head back to my major marketing firm that rhymes with BraftSGD and hand in my security card, he turned to me and said three simple words:
“Innovate… or die.”
I came here today in a hovercraft, ladies and gentleman. It seats twenty comfortably and uses a lot of gas. But don’t worry. I can afford it.
Because I never stop moving. I never stop killing. I never stop innovating. And I will never die.