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Interview: Ralph Welborn and Sajan Pillai, Authors of ‘Topple: The End of the Firm-Based Strategy and Rise of New Models for Explosive Growth’

I had a chance to interview Ralph Welborn and Sajan Pillai, business leaders and authors of Topple: The End of the Firm-Based Strategy and Rise of New Models for Explosive Growth (Greenleaf Book Group Press, May 29, 2018), which I reviewed on this site. Their book points to the accelerating rate by which businesses fall off the Fortune 500 list, and shares strategies for companies to stay on top of the new competitive landscape.

Where did the idea for ‘Topple’ come from?

Topple came from an observation, initially, supported by data, eventually.

Let us explain: Technologies advance. Markets shift. Customer expectations change. All of which put pressure on organizations to figure out how to respond to this changing environment. Some do so more effectively than others in terms of in growth, customer preference and profitability — key measures of competitive strength. Many fall, or topple, from the competitive position they once held.

Our initial observation was that change in one’s competitive position is accelerating — the result of existing or new competitors nibbling away at one’s customer base or market share. The supporting data came from monitoring the “topple rate” of the Fortune 500 companies, which is accelerating.

How is the thinking around ways to drive growth changing in today’s business environment?

What made organizations successful in the past is not what’s needed to be effective in the future. A senior executive of a national insurance company realized in an ah-ha moment: The core asset (set of capabilities) of an insurance company has been how it prices risk. “What happens,” he asked, “when our core asset shifts from pricing risk to preventing accidents?” He acknowledged that, “What has always driven our value to our customers will change… because the capabilities needed to price risk are completely different from those to prevent accidents.”

The key capabilities that underlie your business and determine how you do what you do is changing. There’s always been roughly 20 percent of capabilities that drive 70 percent of the value an organization delivers to its customers. The reality is, there is now a new 20 percent of capabilities needed to capture the new sources of value, triggered by a changed competitive landscape. The question becomes: What is that new 20 percent and what do you do about it?

How are companies applying new strategies to take advantage of explosive growth opportunities?

Companies are looking at the lessons of high growth companies — not merely the typical high tech ones, but others as well, and learning how to apply their key lessons.

Our competitive landscape has changed for good. A new competitive landscape requires a new strategic question. A new question changes how you look at your competitive environment and, consequently, take action on it. These new actions are based on four key lessons underlying explosive growth. That’s what more companies are starting to pay attention to and starting to execute around.

The lessons?

1) Plant a flag around specific business needs and opportunities, based on asking the new strategic question.

2) Identify the new sources of value you can deliver as a result, which often has implications on how you engage with customers, the products and services you deliver, new ways to engage your partners, as well as the extension of existing and the creation of new revenue streams.

3) Mobilize around your new 20 percent of capabilities (skill-sets and technology assets) critical to capture the 70 percent of new value.

4) Orchestrate your ecosystem of partners and customers around this new 20 percent.

How does a company identify where to “plant a flag” in a business ecosystem?

Explosive growth always comes from identifying points of friction, non-consumption or market breakdown. Tackling these is the key to figuring out where to “plant your competitive flag.”

Note that planting a flag has little to do with refining your existing set of products and services — which is an “inside-out” perspective. Instead, it requires starting from an “outside-in” view regarding what are critical points of friction, non-consumption or market breakdown, and what is required to tackle those. Then, and only then, do you figure out what products and services are needed, including the ones you have today.

Learn more at the authors’ website.

About Patricia Gale

Patricia Gale has written and ghostwritten hundreds of blogs and articles that have appeared on sites such as Psychology Today, Forbes, and Huffington Post, and in countless national newspapers and magazines. Her "beat" is health, business, career, self-help, parenting, and relationships.

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