Steven's Blog

Strategy? Forget All You Know!

Below are seven pieces of advice I give to business leaders based on the most successful strategy practices I know. Whenever I discuss these in an open forum, there is always pushback from at least a few people, particularly in Japan. Some people are even offended! That’s OK.

If I am doing my job correctly, at least some people should be made to feel uncomfortable.

1. Before anything else, decide which profitable business to cut. 

You need to make room for growth in your business in the same way a farmer must decide which land to clear for growing a different crop. Cut business ruthlessly, even if profitable, that does not purposefully and aggressively advance you toward your vision.

2. Action first, buy-in later.

Doing things in a new way, even as an experiment, and finding out it works, is far more persuasive than any amount of slick internal communication, roadshows, off-sites, and so on. Nothing achieves buy-in like real success. The most successful leaders I know do not delay execution only to seek buy-in. Rather, they use execution to get buy-in.

3. Consensus is nice, but not required—even in Japan!

Your deputies in the organization may advise you, but in the end, you decide where the business will go, even against the advice and views of others. As the leader, you have the right to make your own mistakes. After all, you and only you, will be held to account for the decisions that you make, not your advisors.

4. Eschew harmony. It’s constructive disharmony that you need. 

Yes, even in Japan! Excessive harmony leads to submerged business problems, missed business opportunities, and needless delays in decision-making. Discussions during strategy development should at times be heated. There should be open disagreement and debate. Some people may feel their interests are being compromised. Yet it is far better to surface issues even if emotions may overflow, and come to a resolution of some type, rather than to allow issues to remain unspoken in the interest of collegiality, only to fester into crisis later on. Did I hear anyone say Toshiba, FujiFilm, Takata, Volkswagen? Anyone?

5. Fast is better than perfect.

No strategic decision-making is always perfect, no matter how much data you have. Most strategic decisions are mostly right, but may need some tweaking in execution. That’s good enough for success most of the time. However, insistence on perfection will halt progress, delay growth, and allow a window of opportunity for competitors while you are dallying. Fatal decisions in strategy are rare. No decision in strategy is always fatal.

6. Stop analyzing the competition.

Focusing on what the competition is doing in considering your own strategy tacitly enables your competitors to force you to compete on their terms. For breakthrough strategy, forget about the competition. Define the market and industry based on your strengths and compete on your own terms.

Force your competitors to constantly be analyzing you. Click To Tweet

 7. Stop trying to predict the future. Make it instead. 

Strategy is not about accurately predicting what you are confident the business can do or become based on where you are now. Strategy is about creating a vision of what you want your business to be like in the future and working backwards, even if that vision seems impossible or you are not certain how it might be achieved. If you develop a strategy that everyone thinks is achievable and knows how to make happen, your strategy is not bold enough. Strategy should push your organization to grow its capabilities, not just its business. It should change the way you and others view the world.

What successful practices do you have that raise eyebrows? Drop me a line or talk to me on Twitter.

Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun printed in their September 28th, 2019 edition a version of this article I wrote on important but counterintuitive strategy practices.

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