The Unicorn Model™

Like any object moving at high velocity, scaling up faces opposing forces that must be overcome to achieve the speed and agility required to succeed. Four primary forces work against any object in motion, including fast-growing, rapidly-scaling companies:


In the realm of science, drag is the resistance of air against a moving object. In the business context, it manifests itself at the strategic level and can result in adverse indicators such as sluggish market moves, inability to change direction with agility and misalignment of strategies and objectives.


Scientifically speaking, inertia is the resistance to any change in the current state of motion. Corporate inertia is often responsible for waning product performance and competitiveness, feature fatigue and poor innovation pipeline throughput.


Friction occurs when moving parts rub against each other, and in business it is a common cause of slow adoption speed, poor customer experience, retention/ renewal difficulty and undelivered customer outcomes.


It is ineffective work more than inefficient work that produces most waste in organizations. Ineffectiveness comes performing unnecessary work, which restricts value flow.

The Unicorn Model™ responds to these four forces.

The original back-of-the-napkin sketch looked like this:


The Principles

Strategic Speed

Strategic speed is defined as the optimal speed for strategy design, deployment, and decision making. It is possible to reduce drag and achieve optimal speed with less effort with the organizational equivalent of drafting. Professional cyclists, racecar drivers and migrating birds know, and studies show, that speed is dramatically improved while saving over 25 per cent in energy costs by drafting. The faster you go, the more energy you save. It’s a virtual cycle.


Constant Experimentation

It goes without saying that continuous product innovation has become a survival need and competitive must. It’s simply ante to the game, yet founders and senior leaders to forget what brought them early success. Without constant experimentation driving the innovation flywheel, corporate inertia will set in. The goal is to make simple, fast and frugal experimentation the operating norm before ‘big-company syndrome’ sets in.

Accelerated Value

Enabling customers to obtain frictionless value quickly promotes product adoption and positively impacts community spread, customer retention, and revenue expansion. Identifying target areas to accelerate value begins with mapping out specific jobs-to-be-done by plotting customer objectives and desired outcomes against your internal processes and noting key improvement opportunities to close any gaps.


Lean Process

Lean process is focused on workflow optimization by eradicating waste, and involves the 80+ year-old methodology of continuous improvement, developed in the United States during World War II and transferred during its post-war rebuild of Japan. who termed the method kaizen, meaning “change for good.” Lean kaizen sprints are a central performance improvement mechanism in the Unicorn Model™.

Esprit de Corps

French for ‘group spirit,’ esprit de corps figures centrally in military and paramilitary organizations, which are notorious for being results oriented.

It takes a team, and a special breed of leader—what the authors call “Glue & Grease”—of and within that team, to create the kind of environment enabling the first four operating principles to come to life.


A cursory glance at each of the individual principles in the Unicorn Model™ and S.C.A.L.E. framework might lead one to ask whether there is anything new here. What is unique is the lean interpretation of the principle: well-worn terms like strategy and value and experimentation take on new meanings when viewed through the lens of lean. The synergy created from integrating any one of the individual principles with the other four and using the collective model to scale efficiently and achieve sustainable growth by leveraging a lean mindset is unique. 

Like any set of traits purporting to describe the differentiating attributes of star players—athletes, artists, unicorns—one does not need all of them in equal measure, nor can having all of them guarantee ultimate success. But some degree of each trait tailored to your specific situation can certainly help your odds. 

Just how to find the right mix is what a unicorn knows.

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