“Train like your stronger, fitter, faster evil twin is trying to kill you.”

– popular CrossFit saying


Companies settle into what Jeff Bezos calls ‘Day 2’ all too naturally. It takes effort, often superhuman effort, to remain in ‘Day 1’ – that time when you were the start-up underdog that had to do everything fast and furious.

Now you are a large, successful company that employs tens of thousands of people in multiple business units selling billions of dollars of products and services each year. You have hundreds of thousands of customers with worldwide operations scattered across the globe. On top of it all, you also engage a vast network of suppliers, channel partners, and development partners. It is likely that over 95% of the effort and mindshare of your company is going into making sure this complex operating system doesn’t fly apart. This includes constantly updating your products and services to meet the new needs of your customers – the ‘Horizon 1’ sustaining innovations and ‘Horizon 2’ evolutionary innovations that are critical to survival and growth.

If you are lucky, the 5% of the company’s remaining time and attention is focused on Horizon 3, transformational offerings. These are the things the company is doing to prepare for the future by building on the company’s mission, vision and strategy. This is what shareholders count on to create long-term growth that is more than just keeping up with baseline GDP levels of growth. This 5% is the strategically transformational activities that fit the company’s perception of itself as an influential power in the ecosystem of the future.

The problem is that companies tend to treat this 5% as not much different in nature than the 95%. Perhaps a little more adventuresome and experimental, but by no means radically different or internally disruptive. As a matter of fact, the concept of internal disruption is anathema to most companies who want to be disruptors themselves.

Who in your company is working to disrupt the company from within? Who is working on the next company that will replace the existing one with a different operating model, different business propositions, different customer experiences and different offerings? Who is doing more than the traditional competitive analysis that almost never reveals disruptive surprises? Probably no one.

Rest assured that there is another company out there – a start-up, an existing competitor or another large company, perhaps not yet a competitor – that is thinking about this. They are actively looking for ways to put you out of business. They are your ‘evil twin’ looking to serve the customers you now serve, and the customers you intend to serve, in ways that will cause these customers to behave differently than what you are used to. This can be everything from a new product or service that replaces the one you provide, to a rearrangement of the value network your company participates in, to a new business model that alters the relationships and economic flows within the ecosystem you now operate in.

What if your company was to create its own ‘evil twin’? What if your C-suite had enough courage and foresight to set up an internal group whose job it was to kill the existing business? What if this group was protected from the corporate antibodies that are vested in the current way of doing business and will seek any chance to kill anything that challenges that? What if this group had an extensive network of cohorts throughout the company who felt the same way and who gave it insight into every strategy, tactic and initiative now being pursued? What if this group attracted the best and brightest from the established businesses to help it fulfill its mission to kill the existing business? What if this group was successful? What if they failed?

You could take this on as a mental exercise, or… you could actually do it. In today’s corporate environment, such an undertaking would be very difficult. Corporate culture and structure just don’t allow this type of activity to take place. But if it’s not taking place within your company, it is assuredly taking place outside it. The challenge is to create an internal ‘evil twin’ that will eventually benefit the company but, in the interim, will be challenged and attacked by every aspect of the existing business. The result? Either the existing business will survive and be much stronger for the challenge, or it will succumb and the new business will take over. In either case, the company will be much better off.

Read more about the causes of disruption »

Selected Readings

Why Amazon is eating the world

Why is Amazon recognized as an innovation leader (and dominating their space)? One reason is that they keep creating their own ‘evil twin’.

Original article | Read our short take

Great Businesses Scale Their Learning, Not Just Their Operations

Value creation is not just about new products and services, it’s about knowledge and capability. How companies learn is critical.

Original article | Read our short take

Managing for the Long Term: The Error at the Heart of Corporate Leadership

Is a new era in corporate governance emerging? Strong arguments for a different approach are gaining traction.

Original article | Read our short take