Be the Gryphon: How you can be a digital predator like Amazon

The Gryphon is a mythological creature that has the body of a lion and the wings and head of an eagle. It has been depicted through the ages in art and classic literature. The Gryphon’s hybrid strengths and capabilities give it a powerful advantage over creatures existing in our ecosystem today. You can find out more at any good independent bookstore or, more likely, through Amazon.

As a business metaphor, Amazon is a Gryphon. So, too, are Uber, Netflix and Airbnb – these more easily brought to mind as digitally oriented start-ups that have entered and disrupted their chosen categories at will. Perhaps because it is older, larger or more diversified, Amazon is often underestimated as an omnipresent, apex predator.

We like to deal in specifics. The spotlight of media scrutiny is put back on Amazon when it accelerates the roll out of Amazon Fresh, because we can see the implications for the grocery retail sector. It snaps up the former Top Gear presenters for a new show for Amazon Instant Video, which we interpret as a signal for its intent in entertainment. Drones, drive-thru store trials? We see impending chaos in retail distribution.

If you’re at ground level, peaceably grazing on the verdant abundance of one of these industry plains, the shadow of a Gryphon passing overhead will trigger the fight or flight reflex – although in truth you’re a little late to do either. If you’re looking up for the first time and seeing Amazon, your existential game is up.

There are contradictions and controversies that come with such laser-focus on purpose, as was seen in the recent New York Times article on Amazon’s employer practices. They surfaced only a few weeks after Amazon shares exploded 15 per cent in after-hours trading following its last earnings release to as high as $567 per share after the company beat expectations on the top and bottom lines. Based on the after-hours spike, Amazon's market cap is now worth about $264bn. Wal-Mart is worth $233.5bn, making it the world’s largest retailer by market cap.

Amazon is a business with a disruptive culture that challenges convention and brings with it both trials and extraordinary triumphs. It displays almost all of the characteristics that define a Gryphon organisation: from ongoing commitment to change and a digital core to visionary leadership, speed and agility, and customer centricity. One of the fascinations of Amazon-watching is not what it will do next, but why. Its actions are rarely as unpredictable as observers make out; its behaviours and characteristics can, in fact, be modeled and are replicable.

To be a Gryphon is not about age or size, but about state of mind. Digital startups have it, but so too does Apple and Amazon. The next time you see Amazon make a play, the question shouldn’t be ‘how about that?’ but ‘how do we do that’?

Nigel Vaz is global chief strategy officer and European CEO at SapientNitro. ‘Be the Gryphon: Transform Rather Than Be Disrupted’ is part of the SXSWPanelPicker vote.

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