Steven's Blog

Strategy on Your Own Terms

The best military strategists always choose the terrain on which they will do battle, rather than allowing the enemy to choose for them. So, in business, why would you possibly allow others to define the topography of your business environment instead of choosing the topography yourself?

Yet, that is often precisely what business people do.

Strategy is a framework for making decisions about where to take the business. You develop strategy by deciding what you want the future of your business to look like, and then working backwards.

That vision of the business should not be influenced or informed by current capabilities or lack thereof, threats, and opportunities in the environment. Opportunism is no strategy. Responding to threats is reactive. Analysis of current capabilities is an activity reserved for planning. Planning is the antithesis of strategy, because in planning you start with the current state of affairs and work forward. So-called “strategic planning” is an oxymoron.

The most successful business leaders I know make their own future without a regard to anything in the present. Such leaders are at times described as “stupid” like Rakuten founder and CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, “crazy” like Fast Retailing founder and CEO, Tadashi Yanai, and “unrealistic” like Seven-Eleven Japan’s first CEO, Toshifumi Suzuki. The rational “strategists” had all predicted their demise. Yet, these business leaders succeeded nonetheless.

If Steve Jobs had been a rational strategist, he would have worked on an Apple IV, not the Mac. If Toshifumi Suzuki had been a rational strategist, he would have had what was then Ito-Yokado open better grocery stores, not redefine Japanese retail with Seven-Eleven to become 7&i Holdings. If Tadashi Yanai had been a rational strategist, he would have built a better clothing wholesale business, not turn the clothing industry on its head in Japan with Uniqlo, and go on to become a global phenomenon. If Masayoshi Son had been a rational strategist, he would have become NTT’s foremost mobile phone distributor, not ultimately build the mobile powerhouse that Softbank is today.

Business strategy is not about divining your business’s optimal future based on the realities of today using slick frameworks. Business strategy at its core is making the business future you want despite the realities of today. Frameworks be damned.

So, do you want a bold strategy for your business? Stop analyzing the competitive environment. Forget about your current strengths and weaknesses. Stop fretting over every possible threat in the environment. And, by all means, abandon trite frameworks like SWOT analysis and its myriad variants.

Don’t enable competitors by allowing them to force you into the market topography of their choosing, or submit to the environment to shape the nature of your business. No one and nothing should dictate to you where you want to take your business.

Only you decide what you want your business to be. Make no apology. Cite no caveat. Be completely unreasonable. Click To Tweet

Then, work backwards from there.

You, too, can be the general who chooses your own terrain of battle.

Others have done so with success.


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