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Every great strategy stands on the shoulders of a big idea. History is littered with once-extraordinary companies that became mediocre when their strategies drifted away from the big ideas that made them great, or when their once-big ideas lost their commercial punch.
Consider Walt Disney Company. In 1957, founder Walt Disney had the idea that family-friendly characters brought to life through animation and live-action films could power a broad constellation of entertainment businesses. Disney animated his idea with a hand-written diagram still held in the archives at his namesake company. It has Theatrical Films in the middle of a giant network of other businesses including books, comics, merchandise licensing, music, TV, and Disneyland (the original resort park in Anaheim, California). He drew connections between every node of the network and annotated them to describe how each business supported and gained support from every other.
For example, he wrote “feed material to” on the line between theatrical films and comics, and “promote films” on another line between comics and theatrical films. He had a line labelled “provides characters” pointing from theatrical films to merchandise licensing, and another with “exploits films” pointing in the opposite direction. Disney’s idea was to put together a portfolio of different businesses that operated as its own internal ecosystem. His idea was as creative as the characters he invented and films he made. And with it, he built a beloved company of world renown.
Yet, by 1984, 15 years after Walt Disney passed away, the company was in the sights of corporate raiders. The once-proud enterprise had become a chronic underperformer, no longer relevant to a generation of baby boomers who had been raised on The Mickey Mouse Club, Davy Crockett, and The Wonderful World of Disney. The company’s box office share had fallen to 4%, the result of years of underinvestment in animated film-making, the very antithesis of Walt Disney’s big idea. (Fortunately for the employees of Walt Disney Company — and for legions of future Timon and Pumbaa fans — the Disney board hired Michael Eisner in 1984 to stave off ruin. And he did so brilliantly — by returning to, and building on, the big idea that made Disney a great company. More on this below.)
Big ideas loom every bit as large in successful B2B strategies.