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Reframe the game

In a pivotal scene in the biographical movie Invictus, Nelson Mandela asks Francois Pienaar, the captain of the South African National Rugby team, "How do you inspire your team to do their best?" Pienaar unflinchingly responds, "By example. I've always thought to lead by example." Mandela reflects, "That is exactly right. But. how to get them to be better than they think they can be? That is very difficult, I find. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness?"

The answer to Mandela's question becomes clear during the rest of the film. Though not expected to perform well, the Springboks won the 1995 World Cup- driven less by a desire to be rugby world champions than the opportunity to unite a nation fractured by the legacy of apartheid. Mandela and Pienaar effectively reframed the very nature of what winning meant, and by doing so dramatically increased the team's work ethic and motivation.

As we spoke to the most successful CEOS, we were struck by how they similarly reframed what winning meant for their companies. They didn't just raise aspiration levels; they changed the definition of success. Mastercard's former CEO Ajay Banga, for example, shares his game-changing vision and how it came about: "I was walking through the office and saw this slogan written in a staircase: 'Mastercard, the heart of commerce.' It made me think, "But commerce is mostly in cash, right?' I realized that in the company nobody talked about cash. If anything, they talked about Visa and Amex and China UnionPay and local schemes.

"That led me," he continues, "to figure out the percentage of transactions in the world that were happening with cash. That number exceeded eighty-five percent just for consumer transactions. From then on I talked about our vision as being to 'kill cash. Instead of fighting for a piece of the fifteen percent of transactions that were electronic, we fought for a piece of the eighty-five that weren't (yet). We then converted the vision of killing cash into strategies for growing the core, diversifying our client base, and building new businesses."

To take another example, imagine if Netflix cofounder and CEO Reed Hastings had promoted among his employees a vision "to be the number one DVD company in America." Back at the turn of the century no one would have batted an eyelid at such a vision, which ostensibly was Netflix's core business. Had that been his goal, it's doubtful we'd have interviewed Hastings for this book, and probably his company would have gone the way of then-dominant video rental company Blockbuster. From the outset, however, Hastings had his eyes set on a bigger, bolder playing field than DVDs. In a 2002 interview with, he was asked what his vision for the company was. "The dream twenty years from now," he said, "is to have a global entertainment distribution company that provides a unique channel for film producers and studios." He added in speaking to us, "That's why we called the company Netflix and not DVD BY MAIL."

Hastings's response may seem logical today, given what Netflix has become. With his more expansive vision, however, the big strategic moves that followed made sense in ways they would never have otherwise: moving into video streaming, betting on the cloud, creating Netflix Originals, driving exponential globalization, and so on.

This tidbit is from the book CEO Excellence by Carolyn Dewarr, Scott Keller, and Vikram Malhotra

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