No one adopts a strategy expecting it to fail, yet strategies fail. That doesn’t happen on purpose but it also doesn’t happen by accident.

Christele Canard, founder of Switched On Leadership, interviewed Competing.com co-founder Mark Chussil for the cover-story subject why strategies fail. You can read and download their wide-ranging discussion here.

Christele and Mark talk about:

  • Why smart strategists believe their strategy will work and what happens when they find out in business war games that it won’t.
  • What happened when Mark built a strategy decision test technology (patent pending) and his own strategies didn’t work so well. (Hint: first, he looked for a bug in the software. There was no bug.)
  • Why people are so comfortable thinking inside the box and what it takes to get them to go outside.
  • What’s wrong with “I did this and the result was that” reasoning.
  • How people can expand their strategic thinking with a simple question.
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You might think I’m announcing that today there is strategy in the United States. Such a discovery would indeed be welcome but it’s not what I mean. I mean that you can see strategy in almost every newspaper article. All you need is to want to see it!
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In Disruptive Innovation versus Old-Fashioned Strategy I admired the smart strategy of Elio Motors in bypassing some regulatory costs. It seems that type of entrepreneurial thinking is becoming a major theme of entrepreneurial strategies.

USA Today reported on the success of Uber and Lyft, startups that use smartphone apps to connect passengers with private drivers. In just four years Uber expanded to serve 128 cities in 37 countries; Lyft serves 67 cities. The companies’ strategies depend directly on skirting government regulations: they claim not to be taxis and therefore not subject to taxi regulations.

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Every company wants to grasp the holy grail of competing: to disrupt so thoroughly you make your competition irrelevant. But a disruptive competitive strategy doesn’t last forever. There is a disruptive attitude, though, that might.

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Disruption and the blue ocean are the holy grails of competing. With them, you don’t even have to compete.

Blue ocean is pacific. It’s gentle; it doesn’t bother anyone; it’s just something wonderful and new. Disruption is the bad boy of holy grails. It sees the party going on at your house and lures everyone away to the party at its house.

Disruption is the ultimate buzzword for raising capital. Starting Walmart merely makes you rich. Starting Google makes you rich and cool.

But we are strategists and we demand more than generalities and party metaphors. Is disruption really the holy grail of competing? I’ll conclude that it is, but not of the we-don’t-even-have-to-compete variety. (I’m going to meander a bit on the way.)

In a sense, all extant companies were disruptive at least once because they lured customers to attend the party at their houses. But that’s about as useful as remarking that all extant humans breathe air. “Disruptive” must mean more than breathing. What more it means is a bit unclear.

Walmart is number one on 2014 Fortune 500 list. Its revenues top the combined budgets of California, New York, and Ohio. They top the annual budget of the Netherlands.

Is Walmart disruptive?

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A solid business strategy doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, it just has to provide value. Some companies even gained a competitive advantage from their own non-innovative business strategies.
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Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen published The Innovator’s Dilemma and laypeople and pundits fell in love. They fell in love with Prof. Christensen’s buzzword: disruptive. You, too, may cast a romantic smile toward your dictionary right about now.

Companies with modest revenues are said to be worth IPO billions due to their disruptive business models. The most-sought-after disruptions are those hailed as truly new ways of doing things. Yet the frantic race to the next disruptive technology or innovation brushes off old-fashioned business models that eschew “innovation” for the sake of innovation (see also my article The Strategic Mind At Work). Those drab old business models merely make money.

Business models, whatever the term means to you, don’t have to be about the biggest disruption or the latest technology. Old-fashioned strategy can triumph without disrupting anyone. Remember the joke about investing millions in space pens that can write without gravity, when a pencil would suffice? No joke here. Let the pseudo-savvy investor crowd rush to pour billions into the latest techno-gamble. You quietly find real value.

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