Reverse Engineering

by David Heitman

“We start with the perfect experience and then work backward.”

This from the highly successful CEO of AirBNB, Brian Chesky. “That’s how we’re going to continue to be successful.”

For a one-liner of a business strategy, this is pretty powerful.

It’s powerful because it’s vision-driven, rather than being couched in terms of industry norms already in play, or what current capabilities are limited to producing.

Stephen Covey put it this way: “Start with the end in mind.”

At The Creative Alliance, we bake this approach into the strategic planning and branding work we do for our clients. We begin our initial strategy sessions with an important question:

“What does a big win in marketing look like? A year from now….five years from now…when you are ready to sell your business, go public or pass it on to your kids?”

An equally important question is:  “What will success feel like?”

Vision—the kind that actually gets implemented—is as much felt as told. As much a matter of the heart as of the head. All great leaders in history and business had a sense of what success would look like and feel like. From Teddy Roosevelt to Steve Jobs, these luminaries had the ability to cast a vision and then gather a team to reverse engineer it into existence.

Thus, starting with the end in mind, with the goal of delivering the perfect experience to your customers, is the secret to successful business operations. Similarly, starting with the end in mind of what branding and marketing can accomplish in terms of audience share, revenue growth and profitability is the true measure of success.

If you’ve ever attempted to solve a maze puzzle, you’ve probably noticed it’s somehow easier to solve it going backwards from the endpoint in the middle of the maze, instead of from an entry point on the outside. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but it certainly makes the final goal the starting point, back to a point of entry.

Sounds a lot like marketing right? You start with a clearly defined—often audacious—goal, and then you strategize regarding the best path to get there. It would be naive to suggest strategy will pre-solve all the problems and answer all the questions. It’s merely a working hypothesis that gets adjusted on the fly as new realities present themselves. What a good strategy does is narrow the options to the most promising ones, as part of the reverse engineering process.

A vision implemented by painstaking reverse engineering almost always leads to great results. It takes hope and vision and a healthy dose of dissatisfaction with the status quo. But the result is an organization that is ahead of the curve and sustainably relevant with its customers.