The Turducken Construct

Nov 15, 2010

I’ve been reliably informed by a friend that I can expect to eat some turducken with him and his family this Thanksgiving. From his reaction to my ‘huh?’, it would appear that I’m the only person in western civilization not to have heard of this… um… treat.I’ll wait until I’ve sampled the thing itself before passing judgment on it as food, but as it was being explained to me, I was immediately struck by how closely the basic concept (a chicken stuffed inside a duck, stuffed inside a turkey) matched one of the most common barriers to business growth – one which I’d never had a name for previously, but will now forever be called (by me at least) “The Turducken Construct”.

It occurs most often in service companies, though I’ve seen it manufacturing businesses too. What happens is that the original, core business offering gets wrapped up in (or stuffed into) other offerings, sometimes in many layers, with the business eventually losing the uniqueness – the ‘taste’, if you will – that set it apart in the first place.

A highly innovative web design agency bows to client pressure to do site maintenance. Before you know it, it’s offering coding as a service, then hosting, then domain registrations. The uniqueness that was the web design is lost: Turducken.

A lightning-sharp distributor offers warehousing services, then inventory control, then fulfillment services. With each addition, everything gets clunky and less good: Turducken.

A world-class business coach adds some seminars, then workshops, then starts selling products. The coaching clients now rarely have her attention they way they used to: Turducken.

What’s the difference between plotting strategic line extensions and ending up with turducken? Two-and-a-half things: Brilliance + (focus times 2).

First, brilliance: Average businesses benefit from line extension (see Microsoft, who usually get line extension right, eventually) brilliant businesses – I mean truly brilliant businesses, are weakened by it (see Google, who don’t).

Second, your focus: Most businesses do a terrible job of keeping strategic line extensions separate and focussed – they almost always end up stuffing them together until they blend into one bland meat-like substitute. Look at most companies in the communications industry like Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile: their product offerings are pure turducken.

In contrast, look at Apple’s ability to keep their three main product areas pretty much separately focussed – even though you can see all three in any of their stores, nobody’s trying to sell you a turducken – if you go in for your iPad, that’s what you’ll come out with.

Second-and-a-half, your customer’s focus: If your product or service offering is a bland mashup of stuff you gradually got sucked in to, what does the customer focus on? What does the customer see of you? Not your once white-hot center of brilliance, you can be sure – increasingly, they’re looking at turducken.

Get back to being brilliant. Kill the turducken.