A look at what – and who – is pushing the future in new directions

Diamonds in the Rough: What companies can take from criminals


The April issue of Wired features an incredible retelling of the 2003 Antwerp diamond heist, where thieves managed to penetrate 10 different security systems in order to reach their loot. They would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for the careless disposal of a garbage bag carrying incriminating information…a garbage bag that they happened to have tossed on the land of a man who is gets red-faced when he says litter on his land. August Van Camp made a habit of calling the police every time he found garbage on his property and the day the diamond thieves left behind theirs was no different.

Now, 4 out of 5 involved in the heist are serving jail time. The man known as the “King of Keys” has never been found and neither has the estimated $100 million in diamonds. Leonardo Notarbartolo, their ringleader and the man who finally agreed to speak with Wired, is not giving away the location of the loot, but what he is willing to tell us – is the method behind the sheer, brilliant madness of their plan. It a method that Cecily argues, business can learn a lot from.

In 2005, the Push Conference featured a segment entitled “Business Models: Lessons from Deviants” where Cecily pointed out that innovations often come from society’s outliers — people who deviate from the norm. “For example, take the next generation of video technology,” she explains. “Where does that usually come from?”  I think I might know the answer to this one: if storks brought us babies and the eagles carried freedom and democracy for all, it seemed plausible that the pelican would bring us movies…You need a fair amount of space to store that large, unwieldy film reel, right?

“Pornographers,” Cecily informs. “Law breakers are really more like law get-arounders. People who can pull off capers such as this demonstrate sophisticated research, analysis, systems thinking, and planning. To what end? To exploit vulnerabilities in the system. This is why innovators in the pornography industry are usually the ones coming up with new ways to ‘share their wares,’ as it were.” I raise my eyebrows…Go on….

“I’m certainly not endorsing criminal activity, ” Cecily assures. “Consider the Antwerp diamond thieves. They planned for that heist for a long time and in intricate detail. They built a replica of the vault to rehearse every detail of their strategy to determine, precisely, how to get around many, many layers of security surrounding the vault. Whatever else you may think, you’ve got to admire how crazy smart it is, as well as the commitment, patience, organization, and execution of the caper. That kind of thinking is what’s needed in the innovation process too.”

“Because we learn and process information best through experience,” she continues, “simulations — such as the diamond theives had — priceless (or at least $100M worth).” The diamond thieves may have walked off with light prison sentences (Nortarbartolo is serving the longest at 10 years) and loot that is mysteriously stashed, but their real goods are the qualities they already had to begin with: careful planning, patience, and precision in execution. Luckily for the business world, these kinds of goods are available anywhere as long as you take the time to foster them.

Article By: Ashley Dresser

View Comments to “Diamonds in the Rough: What companies can take from criminals”

  1. [...] at our 2005 conference feature “Lessons from Deviants” and more recently in our “Diamonds in the Rough” post, more often than not, there is a method to one’s madness and that method is worth [...]

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