In my previous post, “Competing in the Age of Bill Ackerman,” I held that many executives insulate themselves from a diversity of views. This problem doesn’t plague executives alone. Managers, unaware of the biased source of their external perspectives, seem to follow some bad habits as well.

For one, an important way managers develop external perspective is by attending conferences where they can meet people with different perspectives, and hear a variety of views, some controversial, some less.

Alas, as a recent article in USA Today claims, the conference business has gone to the dogs. Worse, dogs without perspective.

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If you were to see a newspaper headline such as “Breathing Jumps in Beijing, Even with Pollution,” you’d think it awfully odd. After all, Beijing’s population is rising, and everyone breathes as long as they can. More people, more breathing. Pollution doesn’t diminish breathing’s popularity.

You’d be right that such a headline would be odd, even if the headline appeared in one of the world’s great newspapers; say, the New York Times. Yet exactly that oddity appeared, in the Times, when 2015 was still crisp and new: “2014 Auto Sales Jump in U.S., Even With Recalls.”

Don’t worry. This essay isn’t about illogic in journalism. It’s about illogic that pollutes business, too. It’s about a dragon I thought I slew not long ago in Success Is In a Word. (Another headline: “World Doesn’t Heed Indignant Strategist.”)

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“Modular economy”? What, the economy now comes in easy-to-assemble pieces from Ikea?

Yes, except for the Ikea part. And it makes a difference in strategy for everyone from entrepreneurs to investors to competitors.

There was a time when vertical integration was in vogue. Ford, for example, could transform raw materials out of the ground into finished vehicles at its gargantuan (1½ square miles!) River Rouge Complex.1 Vertical integration is attractive because you control everything and it’s hard for competitors to duplicate. The downside is that it can be hugely expensive, difficult to modify or update, and hard to manage. Ford found it so. Other than a 3,000-place parking lot for a nearby Ford facility, the old Rouge was gone as of 2008.

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Behind every strategy there is competition for something: votes, power, profit, fame, etc.

Behind every strategy there is also a rationale, a reason why someone thinks it will work better than the alternatives.

People succeed (and fail) with wildly different strategies. But some strategies go further. They don’t make you think wow, that’s out of the box. They make you think yikes, you’re out of your mind.

Here is our end-of-year, politically incorrect review of absurd strategies. Remember: you don’t have to agree with us. We don’t even agree with each other, except maybe on a couple.

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Part One: The Attacks on Uber are Backfiring

By Ben Gilad

We are trained to think competition means offering customers better product or service than our rivals’. Based on this business-school perspective, we look for companies to use innovation, speed, service and other familiar factors to create competitive advantage.

How 2004 of us. In 2004, Elon Musk showed that using government and riding a favorite cause for the ruling party pays handsomely. (See Best Companies to Work For.) It is not that companies didn’t know that competition involves paying attention to regulators and lawmakers; it is that Elon Musk made it both an art form and a crucial element in his strategy. Without government subsidies, Tesla might have become a modern Tucker for all I know. (Never heard of a Tucker? That’s the point.)

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USA Today, MotorWeek, Cars.com, and an actual family tested and ranked family-sized, moderately priced sedans. The resulting article, originally published with the suspense-ruining headline “Winner is Hyundai Sonata Sport,” compared the Hyundai Sonata (who knew?), Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler 200, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Passat.

I rate the results merely semi-interesting. The real story, though, is not about the cars. The real story is about the manufacturers and consumers. So here is what I learned from that riveting story investigating back-seat space and “giant grilles,” among other things of cosmic significance.

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