Mad Cow Strategy


By John Barrington

Viewers of the TV series “Boston Legal” claim that he suffers from Mad Cow Disease. At 75 years of age, the character, Denny Crane, played by William Shatner, certainly has some erratic behaviours, including shooting his therapist in the shoulder at point blank range and even firing a pistol into the knee of a client. Strange behaviour indeed from the Managing Partner of the supposed leading Law Firm in Boston.

In one case, he defended his next-door-neighbour on three charges of 1st degree murder, 2nd degree murder and manslaughter. Much to the delight of the Partners of the Firm and, of course, the client, he won the case. He did so without the usual ‘second chair’ or backup Lawyer. Much to the concern of his Partners, Denny was adamant he would defend the case on his own. His erratic behaviour in the past and his total lack of recent experience in defending cases made this a very risky proposition.

At the outset of the Court proceedings, and true to form, Denny’s behaviour is not just eccentric, but outlandish. The Presiding Judge is unimpressed; the Jury is confused. Later in the episode another Lawyer from his firm asks if he has his closing statement prepared, to which he answers, “Of course”. When she opens his file to check the notes, just two words, “Denny Crane” are written repeatedly down the legal pad. In his subsequent closing statement, Denny asks the Jury if they think he is crazy. Given his earlier behaviour, they are not sure. But he has, at times, cogently argued the case and certainly was able to draw on legal precedent with a mental acuity that belied his claim that he has mad cow disease. But still that niggling feeling about his erratic and bizarre behaviour earlier. There was just lingering doubt.

And that is exactly what he played on. He asked the Jury in his closing summation if they could be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that he was in fact mentally unstable. This was the condition that he claimed his client had: temporary insanity. Could they be sure, he asked, that his client did not experience temporary insanity when she hit her husband over the head with a shovel in their front garden. No, they could not and the foreman of the Jury reported back that they had found the woman not guilty on all three counts. 

Fictitious? Of course, but it is interesting to relate Denny’s strategy to how one can usefully exploit a SWOT analysis in a different way.

Typically, an organisation’s opportunities will come off its strengths. But sometimes it is useful to look at the other side of the ledger, just as Denny did. What weaknesses does the organisation have that could be translated into an opportunity to be exploited. Denny recognised that he had some unusual tendencies; tendencies that everybody else believed would see him fail in the Courtroom and see a woman sent to Prison potentially for life. His legal pad scribblings of his name written repeatedly captured his strategy in two words. Turned his known weakness into a strength in playing to the seed of doubt that he had placed in the Jury’s minds. All he needed to be was a living case study of someone who could exhibit the finest legal mind with moments of seeming insanity.

What weaknesses does your organisation have that could, in fact, be turned into opportunities to be exploited in better servicing the needs of your target market? What resultant strategies might arise that only a mad cow would pursue? They might just allow you to identify and exploit an otherwise unseen opportunity in your chosen markets. Unless, of course, your competitors suffer from mad cow disease.

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