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Of flexibility and Jokers

Recently I was taking a flight on Kenya Airways. It was a last minute decision. As I am a vegetarian, my special meal request was logged a few hours before departure. And no problem at all. It was registered in the system and I got my meal on all the sectors.

If I contrast that to Singapore Airlines, they need at least 24 hours advance notice, and I think on some sectors it is up to 48 hours, to take any special requests.

This brought to my mind responsiveness of organisations to events in the market.

I remember working on a large multinational brand and the competition had just launched a potential market disruptor product. After the typical deer in headlights reaction, the response of the company was a lot of meetings, processes, legal etc etc and it took well upto 2 years for them to respond.

This is not unique. In most companies the established processes are so rigid that it leaves limited scope for a quick response.

A challenge that gets aggravated in the era of connectivity and social media when the direction of ‘attack’ and momentum is unpredictable.

How do companies be prepared?

Processes and systems are invaluable as big global brands operate seamlessly around the world. But they often leave little room for the short term immediate plays.

Perhaps what is needed is a CJ (Chief Joker).

Like in cards the joker has the ability to do nearly anything, the CJ’s office has the ability to cut through systems and processes to act in, say, hours. Some guidelines around the frequency of invoking the CJ need to be laid down to ensure that it is not being abused by those who want to bypass all systems.

The CJ would suddenly provide the elephants with the nimbleness of a gazelle. And that would be a real dangerous combination.

I believe many of the technology brands of the last decade lost primarily because they adopted the processes of big companies but unsuitable for the demands of the industry.

Yahoo, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia all would have benefited from having a CJ!


  1. October 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Great insight !
    The SMALL versus Large debate springs eternal – which is why it pays to have a jovial atmosphere in an office where people can “joke” around !

  2. October 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I saw this in real-life last week at another large multinational. And was impressed at the turnaround time, all things considered. I am shortly going to be doing a post-mortem for them on what should have been done differently/better – and there are several – but the fact is they were new to issues in the digital world and the speed of response required, and yet somehow they reacted in under a week. That’s a hundred years in digital time, but not a bad record for a first-timer. The Chief Joker is a great idea. Or Chief Change Agent. Or, as one of my clients memorably had on his business card, Chief Anti-Gravity Offer

  3. ian
    October 11, 2012 at 12:25 am

    My wife and I have also flown on Kenya Airways and the pilot tried to land the plane 15 minutes before the runway was in sight. He even made a joke about descending at a 45 degree angle and heading toward a hillside. A vegetarian meal was the last of our worries. However, I get your idea and it’s a good one. The title needs work but the sentiment is rock solid. Bigger should mean better. Being fast and agile is the key. Then again, sending a seal into shark enclosure would be great fun to watch.

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