image thanks to Hugh McLeod

image thanks to Hugh McLeod

Writing about strategy, and practicing its development with clients, there are always a number of things that do not fit comfortably into the various academic boxes.

That is the nature of the beast, uncertain, instinctual, and driven by insights that usually evolve over time.

I have recorded them just so they do not get forgotten in the general “whoopsy” that goes on in a strategy process. The orderly, sequential process so beloved by scholars and PowerPoint designers is a rarity in my experience.

I am sure you have stumbled across others, but following is my list of reminders.

  • Almost all strategic outcomes evolve from trends and developments outside your business, things over which you have no direct control. The best you can do is prepare, anticipate and react better and quicker than your competitors.
  • Peter Drucker said that  “the only truly sustainable competitive advantage is innovation” and he was right. However, innovation for itself is of no value, it only gains value in the hands of a customer. Therefore the earlier you can get an idea, new product, new business model, whatever it is into the hands of your customers the better, then you have real market research to work with. What often passes for “innovation” that is internal is virtually always (I have never seen it otherwise) better called operational improvement.
  • Competitive advantage arises not just when your product is a new gizmo, with new packaging, it arises when you beat up on your competition, create new demand, and open new markets. That is why you are doing this stuff, to win, so don’t be seduced by clichés.
  • Strategy is as much about, if not more about, what you will not do, rather than just what you will do. At a base level, strategy is about choice, which markets, which customers, which priority resource allocations are made.  These choices should, in a fundamental way, drive everything else
  • Size usually does matter,  but in the case of strategy, it is one of the few exceptions. In fact, it often seems to me that the smaller enterprises benefit more from a good strategy well implemented than a large one. Perhaps this is a measure of greater opportunity due to the lesser existing coverage.
  • Speaking of size, growth for the sake of it is stupid. Commercial activity is all about  returns on the funds employed, putting your money to work doing “A” instead of ‘B” because the long term returns are better. Size for the sake of itself only plays a role when human ego gets involved.
  • Setting out to “delight” all customers is nonsense. Nobody can be all things to all people, and it is probably the case that if you are  not annoying some you have backed away from some of the hard strategic choices. Net result of that is your overall strategy is weaker.
  • Committing to a well thought out strategy does not require heroic quantitative predictions about the future. Commitment to a strategy requires that the tough choices be made that create a framework for future priority setting, resource allocation and decision making which together anticipate, accommodate and leverage the future as it arrives.
  •  An understanding of the differences between agility and flexibility is required. Being strategically flexible implies that you change your strategy as events unfold, which is a sure sign that tough up front choices have not been made. Agility by contrast implies that you are able to accommodate events as they unfold in the most appropriate manner without losing sight of the overall objectives. Generals have known through the ages that strategy rarely survives the first contact with the enemy, the same applies to commercial strategy, “lose the battle, win the war”. This truism demonstrates the difference between agility and flexibility.
  • Finally, you get 1/10 for talking, the other 9/10 are reserved for doing. Moving ahead with a strategy that may still have some holes, and learning as you go, is far better than waiting until all the i’s are dotted, and t’s crossed, as that involves lots of talking, not enough  doing.

What things have you come across that could be added?