Don't Get Stuck In Strategy Sensory Overload

Henry Mintzberg is a man after my own heart. Too bad you, dear business builder, have probably never heard of him...yet. Emergent strategy is going to be the approach that makes sense for the agile, lean and <insert another word for business flexible> models.

You’re welcome.

Writing about strategy has been awesome for me. It’s forced me to really funnel through all the academic and corporate strategy hype so that I can bring you the most distilled and actionable pieces of strategy goodness. Recently I stumbled upon what is my new favorite definition of what strategy is - “the integrated set of choices that positions the business in its industry to generate superior financial returns over the long run”.

Integrated set of choices. It’s brilliant!

In this definition you don’t see the words: plan, technology, social media, or marketing. What we are talking about is getting to the heart of how you will decide to run your business. This post is dedicated to anyone wanting to up their strategy game and are paralyzed with conceptual strategy sensory overload. Here is your 3 part strategy jumpstart.

In thinking about your integrated set of choices you should be framing them (at least at the start) into one of two camps.  Are you going to differentiate or attempt to be the low cost provider?

I am drastically oversimplifying but if you are wondering what your first steps should be when trying to build a new strategy I would recommend the following 3 steps.

1. Work out your business model.

Business models can change over time and when most people think they are talking about strategic planning, they are really talking about outlining their business model. The what’s and how’s of their business. Flushing out your business model will give you a better idea of what the entire process might look like for the customer or client experience. This is how you will make money. Once you settle on something don’t worry about tinkering with trying to get a few extra fractions of percentage points in profit out of it. Odds are it will probably be changing over time. Leave it alone, start doing the work you outlined and start collecting outcomes.

2. Pick! It’s really hard to be the low cost innovator in any industry or business.

How you get to the golden “disruption” is by experimenting and iterating with your customers. I’m not saying it’s impossible to fly out of the gate and be the instant lowest cost and most needed differentiation in the market - I’m just saying you might get a better return on your immediate investments by picking one and working at it for a little while. I’ve seen many guru’s and self-titled experts misguide clients with hopes of finding the holy grail of competitive advantages that will place them leaps ahead of their competition. That’s not how it works. You need to pick first and then start doing the work to best serve who you think your best customers are right now while doing the best you can to understand the drivers and motivations of your market - especially your competitors because they are going to be the ones reacting to you!

3. Work on systematically making choices that support your pick from number

Any time a decision has to be made you need to be able to objectively qualify it as either supporting your overall strategy or not. If it doesn’t, is there a way to tweak it so that some part of it still might. This is where the fun stuff happens. It’s all in the rationalization. What I mean by systematically making choices is to constantly be evaluating how your are conducting business.

Here’s an example: As part of a service offering you provide paper copies of all your materials. You could go to Staples and keep buying paper because it’s closer, convenient, and instant. Because of that convenience you are probably not getting that paper as cheaply as you might be able to if you worked on creating a relationship with a wholesale or office supply dealer. Now, if you are competing for low cost you might want that mass distribution discount rate but if you are differentiating and Staples offers a very specific, specialized paper then you will have to translate some of that cost over to the end consumer.

This is the decision part. Are you the low cost provider or are you trying to differentiate?

Situations like this happen every day and it’s important to make choices consistently - yes even the smallest ones. This is how real strategies gain momentum, by adjusting behavior and monitoring outcomes. Yes there are bigger frameworks like Porter, Blue Ocean, and Resource Based View that you could be considering. You absolutely should but, don’t get bogged down in the learning and understanding that you never put those frameworks into practice.

Take the first steps and make a few choices now and hold yourself to them. Then iterate as you go!