Partner at Newport Board Group & former international group CEO coaching business owners, management teams and individual senior executives.
Why do we need a strategy to conduct business?
Well, that’s so obvious that no one would even ask the question, right?
Perhaps. But I have been asking it nonetheless. I am convinced it is a question that we must now ask more often in business if we expect to keep up with the pace of change and move forward. Because for many of the businesses I have been involved with — as a coach, consultant or manager — the strategies in use are beat up and tired. How much of a difference is traditional strategy making for your business?
I believe there are two direct answers to the question of why we need a business strategy. One comes to us from the economics classroom, the other, from the jungle.
The economics answer is that resources are finite. There is only so much available to work with and use in order to get what we want. The jungle answer is that somebody else wants what you want. And they will fight you to the death for it.
Although the first answer gets us thinking, the second answer gets us moving. Heck, we’re in a fight. And being in a fight, we intently watch what our combatant — our competitor — is doing. We react. They react. We lower the price. They lower the price. We differentiate. They differentiate. And what we’re fighting over — the rewards of winning the business — gets lessened with every exchanged business blow.
But when we dare to disregard the direct feedback of economies and jungles, a curious question begins to emerge. Is it possible to compete with a non-competitor: the customer? Obviously not, you may logically say. That’s sheer paradox. You cannot compete with a customer. But I say the question must be asked all the same. Because asking it brings us to the new paradox of business strategy.
The paradox says that if we compete with our customers, to discover that which will provide them with value before they have discovered it themselves, we put our business in a competition from which the profitable rewards will only grow the more we compete. Imagine: the reverse of our previous resource-constrained jungle. A competitive arena with no more reaction. Only proactive action. With no more lowering price. Only discovering value. With no more differentiation. Only the provision of new.
Imagine leading your customer to value instead of always striving to catch up to their demand for it, all the while being struck down by your opponent who follows on the same path. Imagine your customer following you to what you identify is possible for them based on your deep commitment to discovering ahead of them what that value can be.
Is it possible to compete with somebody who we are not actually in competition with? With the new paradox of business strategy, the not-so-obvious answer is yes. But alas, how?
With our infinite imagination strapped on tight, we re-enter jungle and start looking “underneath” the customer’s value metrics. Do we really understand what helps them win? Test these assumptions with them. They will welcome the conversation when they know what you’re trying to do. Look for under-examined needs, under-appreciated services, under-fulfilled tasks, under-valued outcomes and under-assessed events. Jobs under-done.
Couldn’t your business use a fresh business strategy? One that overcomes both scarce resources and the battle of the jungle? It’s no longer so hard to imagine.
Who said there was nothing new “under” the sun?