Michael Porter has argued that ‘the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do’ but the real world essence of strategy is figuring out the best route from available means to desirable ends. Strategy is about shaping the future.
Too many leaders are encouraged to act as bottle-necked guards to beautiful possibility. It is all too common for executives to regally behead new ideas as part of a celebration of timid obedience.
Some leaders forget the most important part of their role is to increase willingness to discover, venture and imagine. Yes has power. Yes gets things done. Sometime less is less, more is more, and the only way to better is to explore before you can exploit, bet before you win.
Michael Porter argues that the ‘essence of strategy is choosing what not to do’ but ‘the real world essence of strategy is figuring out the best route from available means to desirable ends’.
This dangerous fashion for saying ‘no’, choosing what not to do’ and ‘taking emotion out of strategy’ flies in the face of what inspires innovators. Doing less, being realistic, avoiding risk is lifeless language in a world of living strategy and necessary passions…
Google grows when it does what it’s good at. And its official strategy makes that clear. It seeks to ‘organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ and it’s great at doing exactly that. It has successfully revolutionised search. Not just search for text but search for video, images, audio, books, and news. But when Google strays into what it does not understand it stalls. Its money wasted if they don’t become better. Its money wisely invested only if Google becomes the best in those new markets.
Toyota decided to compete with Mercedes. But instead of copying the way how Mercedes made luxury cars, they used their own unique production system. They knew what they were good at and used these capabilities as a strategy to compete. Ideally you find something customers value but competitors don’t understand. Something beautifully non-obvious (to them) and wonderfully obvious (to you).
Strategy is not just about actions and opportunities. It is about figuring out how opportunities relate to your strengths and weaknesses. If you can’t do something that is necessary to the success of your plan, then your plan will not succeed unless you can fill the gap. Alternatively you can stay with plans that depend on strengths that you already have. This is particularly powerful when your strengths are relative to others in the same competitive space. It is even more powerful if you create strategy from an overlap between strengths and opportunity or can stretch from where you are to where you want to be.
How can you build from where you are to where you want to be? Some people give up because they don’t have what their plan needs. This kind of strategic stretch can be very attractive but is only likely to be successful if the gap is understood. More specifically, it is more likely to be understood, if the strategic stretch can be made more or less naturally from one position of strength to an extended position of strength. Some gap filling can come from learning. Other weaknesses can be addressed by recruiting people with the experience and skills you think you need. The key to success is a flexible, clear understanding of the strengths of your organization – what you do best – and how they relate to the strategic opportunities that are available to you.
Don’t worry if this all seems difficult, the difficulty is what makes the effort worthwhile. It is the creativity with which you use those fundamental strengths that will enable or limit your growth. Understanding what you are best at is not meant to stop you learning. The search for what you are best at is not about mindless repetition. The aim is to understand what you are great at in a more flexible, holistic way.