Search engine optimization (SEO) is the go-to business strategy for companies to attract people using sites like Google. Ranking number one on search engines is a competitive advantage, but can it happen without twisting both words and marketing strategy?


“I don’t read the script. The script reads me.”

(a movie character played by Robert Downey, Jr.)

The first person to read this essay will be a machine. The machine will impudently, implacably, and insistently insert itself between you, human reader, and me, human writer.

Human writers who want to reach human readers need a strategy. That strategy must use a special language to pander to the machine. It is called SEO: search engine optimization. It is a dreadful language. It relies on keywords, i.e., words for which humans might search the Internet. It requires that I make heavy use of key phrases — I repeat, heavy use of key phrases — so that my essay appears particularly relevant, in the machine’s icy judgment, to those who are searching for those key phrases.

The more I please the machine with my heavy use of key phrases, the better my odds of reaching humans like you who want to know about heavy use of key phrases. On the other hand, the process of pleasing the machine with heavy use of key phrases makes my essay less attractive to you, due to its heavy use of key phrases. In other words, the way I help you find me might make you unhappy that you did.

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How do you create competitive advantage? Elon Musk found the way, and the competitive advantage he enjoys makes his companies the best companies to work for today. Tomorrow may be a different issue.


Today we will look at three best companies, which together I will dub Elon Musk Enterprises. The reason these are the best companies to work for is that they are wonderfully independent of the uncertainties and vagaries of the free market.

Developing strategy is hard. Developing strategy that makes business news is even harder. One way to do it is Willi Robertson’s: work hard, look weird, and promote your brand relentlessly under god. Another is to possess the strategic thinking of Elon Musk.

Launching a new strategy is fraught with unexpected problems since consumer demand is always somewhat unpredictable. Oprah Winfrey can attest to that with her W network. Implementing a strategic plan, however, should be easier if the strategy actually has a coherent, consistent set of activities behind it. It helps further when the set of activities behind a strategy is simple and elegant.

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Don’t think you have to choose between left- or right-brain thinking when it comes to decision making. In fact, creatives and quants complement each other and can boost strategic thinking within groups. Effective decision making combines the best ideas from humans and machines. Machines are people too.

Odds are I made up that statistic in the title. Does that make me a quant or a creative? Meanwhile, though, there are critical business decisions to be made. It seems there always are. Making critical business decisions proves we’re very important businesspeople.

We must decide whether to make those decisions with the quants and their shiny petabyte teraflop machines or the creatives and their glorious, soaring humanoid imaginations.

Or not. I vote not.

A recent Op-Ed by Timothy Egan in The New York Times, “Creativity vs. Quants,” eloquently and intelligently brought into the digital age the ancient debate between tastes-great and less-filling. Mr. Egan wisely did not take sides even as he noted victories and defeats for both clans. And yet there is still an either-or undercurrent, perhaps not from Mr. Egan but certainly in the general culture. As for me, I vote not to make quants and creatives an either-or dichotomy.

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Competitive intelligence, trade secrets, and Oreos: Learn how a Chinese company tried to gain a competitive advantage from an American competitor using a twisted market strategy that led all parties to fail at competing. Clearly, taking risks does not guarantee a competitive advantage. 


A short news item in USA Today on March 6, 2014, reported that a San Francisco jury found two men guilty of stealing trade secrets from DuPont. Stealing trade secrets intrigues me since I am in competitive intelligence (CI), and CI has fought for decades against the idea that we’re corporate James Bonds spying on competitors.

We won the battle. The only people now who consider CI to be as exciting as industrial espionage are those who haven’t left their caves since Y2K. Today’s misconceptions are too sad even for Austin Powers. CI today is misconstrued as fishing online for competitor data, mischaracterized as trolling social media for customers’ view of competitors, or misunderstood as sniffing financial reports. But this is another subject. At least it is no longer espionage. At last the world realized we are boring.

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