Invasive Species

Learn how to act like invasive species: sneak in, grow quietly, show up big to overwhelm the competition and win new markets.

Scientist, artist, polymath Henry King first observed to BusinessWeek in 2010 that nature holds important lessons for corporate innovators.

KUDZU, A FOREIGN IMPORT AND INSIDIOUS INNOVATOR, OVERWHELMS THE DOMESTIC MARKET.King’s thesis, detailed at Man of String, illuminates the methods that invasive species—plant, animal and pathogen—use to gain a foothold in a new ecosystem. They arrive unannounced and stay below the radar. They win a small niche. Then slowly, methodically, patiently they extend their root system into the terrain. When they eventually spring forth at massive scale, it seems as though out of nowhere. Shock and awe greets the incumbents, often too late to recover.

Enter new markets like an invasive species.

Participants apply the original 10 Principles of Invasive Species inusing case examples in the workshop:

  1. Start, act and think small
  2. Take an outsider view
  3. Speed up your cycles to get to resources earlier
  4. Embrace disturbed environments and tumultuous times
  5. Think hybrid
  6. Exploit underutilized resources
  7. Play nicely with other invaders
  8. Know when to attack (grow fast, spread fast)
  9. Be a serial invader

Participants will learn of each principle in the context of nature’s survival of the fittest, paired with examples of commercial invaders in competitive markets. They will then examine these principles as they apply to a case study from their own markets.

Consider the evolution of AirBnB

How did a humble room rental on an air mattress follow a nearly uncontested growth curve to become the largest and most valuable lodging company in history – all without owning a hotel?

Put principles into practice.

These concepts may seem foreign at first. In fact they prove very practical. Participants play a quick game of mental gymnastics, as the CEO of a startup in an unfamiliar industry. Coming from a non-conventional perspective is both the challenge and the liberating permission to invent new and better solutions. Apply concepts from surprising sources to business problems. 

Look outside-in and inside-out.

Participants start with the customer. What are their frustrations that they may not even know they have? Hotels are too expensive. It’s impossible to get a cab in the rain. I hate having to shop from store to store to hunt for the perfect item. 

Then look at the supply side. What resources in their business ecosystem currently go under-utilized or under-served? How might assets scale differently, covertly, or using alternative sources of capital or ownership?

Teams compete to invade and protect their turf.

Participants subdivide into teams to play the role of legacy market leaders pitted against competing teams of crafty invaders. Familiar market examples bring the lessons home. Tesla—Elon Musk’s electric luxury car brand—defied the naysayers at every point on the journey to threaten the automotive oligarchy. This rings back to the earlier example, when Honda and Toyota first upended Detroit 40 years earlier.

Returning to their own growth plans, participants demonstrate how their new market entries could be positioned to stage a successful market upheaval employing the principles of invasive species. Presentations and critique allow each individual or team to hone their plans for implementation immediately after completing this program.