The Golden Thread, or A Movie and Three Questions

Grab some popcorn; we’re going to watch a little movie and then have a discussion. The movie is a short version of a story we’ve told here before—the story of Jaipur Rugs, the story of Founder’s Mentality in action. Please enjoy.

We ended the video by mentioning that Jaipur Rugs is a useful parable for any company, which is why we’ve returned to its story. When watching the video, it is easy to think of all the reasons why this story doesn’t apply to you: It is too colorful, too exotic and has too many camels. But if you get beyond the differences, you notice the similarities to most of the world’s companies:

  • Great companies start with a clear insurgency, but the endless demands of growth dilute the core mission over time.
  • As this happens, what was once seen as the core set of capabilities that drove competitive advantage is gradually seen as just one of many things that need improvement. Endless functional excellence programs distract management time and attention away from the few spikey capabilities that really matter.
  • Even though the company continues to grow, customers notice this drift toward the average. While they once came to you because you were different and better, they now seek you out because you are the same but cheaper. For many on your team, this simply seems to confirm that customers aren’t searching for better things and that they just focus on price. This leads to a further dilution of whatever advantage remains.
  • For many, the story might stop here. You’re bigger but have become an undifferentiated player in a less interesting industry. Your people notice this, and maybe the best go elsewhere to find the next insurgent that sees things like you once did.
  • But for some, the story might take a wonderful twist. The leadership team rediscovers the company’s core insurgency, renews the commitment to a few spikey capabilities, reconnects the heroes of the company with the best customers and starts a wonderful conversation that leads to the next wave of growth.

Jaipur Rugs’ story is this story in full, including the happy twist.

We hope you feel some connection with that story and that you see some of yourself or your company in this parable. But that is not solely why we created the video or wrote this blog.

As you finish your popcorn and wipe the butter from your fingers, we hope that you ask and help answer these simple questions of your leadership team:

  1. Do we have a compelling story of maintaining or rediscovering our Founder’s Mentality? (In other words, could someone make a video of us?)
  2. If yes, do we tell that story to our people, using such storytelling to reconnect them to our mission and customers, to reenergize them and help them reenergize others?
  3. And if no—if no one could make a video like this about our company—then how can we begin to write an equivalent story about ourselves? Can we bring our original insurgent mission to life? Can we take actions to nurture and adapt that mission? Can we start initiatives to ensure that the heroes of our business engage with this mission every day and use it as coaches? Can we show how we engage our customers, start a conversation and use our mission to identify new areas of growth?

At its simplest, a great deal of leadership is storytelling. The best companies have a million stories told each week to a million customers. But most of these fantastic companies share a company narrative—a golden thread that weaves throughout these stories, creating a continuous carpet.

What is your golden thread? And who else knows about it?

This entry was posted in Frontline obsession, Insurgency, Owner mindset by James Allen. Bookmark the permalink.

About James Allen

James Allen is a senior partner in Bain & Company's London office and recognized as a leading expert in developing global corporate and business unit strategy. He is co-head of Bain’s Global Strategy practice and a member of Bain & Company's European Consumer Products practice. He is co-author, with Chris Zook, of Repeatability (HBR Press, March 2012) and Profit from the Core (HBR Press, 2001 and 2010).

3 thoughts on “The Golden Thread, or A Movie and Three Questions

    Great case and thanks for sharing, James!
    How did Jaipur Rugs “link, leverage and learn” as it grew from 2 to 7,000 locations? To what extent if any were digital technologies lige e.g.: IT and the Internet employed?
    Regards Peter Sørensen/PSB-Management

  2. Hi Jimmy,
    Excellent video. I am curious if you can formulate explicit – in just one sentence – The Founder’s core mission in Jaipur Rugs? And also: Can you formulate explicit his few core capabilities?
    Kind regards

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