“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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When it comes to competing, marketers are missing the mark. A recent study reveals that most marketing professionals focus on customers over their competitors. 
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I have never thought of myself as a Luddite. I own a smartphone and a scanner, and I use them as needed (i.e., less often than every waking minute). Progress, science, and rigorous analysis are my guiding lights.

I wouldn’t bother you with such personal reflections if I hadn’t stumbled on an article in a prestigious academic marketing journal. The article made me feel, for the first time, a total Luddite, unable to understand progress and the contribution of science to humanity.

The article, “From academic research to marketing practice: Exploring the marketing science value chain” by John H. Roberts, Ujwal Kayande, and Stefan Stremersch, was published in the June 2014 issue of the International Journal of Research in Marketing. It is one of the most sophisticated, elaborate, careful studies I’ve seen in years. Its admirable objective was to test this question empirically: Does marketing-science research affect marketing practice?

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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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This is a sad piece. I typically try to keep emotions out of strategy but I feel bad for this company. It arranged a marriage between a new business and an old one, and it ran against what I’d call irreconcilable differences.

Companies in declining industries can get desperate, especially when they’re accustomed to market-leader status. They get beaten down by Wall Street, shareholders, and columnists. Sometimes they bolt way out of their comfort zone instead of trying to tune up the old business, scale down expectations, and ride peacefully into the horizon, making a lot of money in the process for shareholders.

In itself, venturing boldly into a new area when the old one is in decline is entrepreneurial vision at its best. Unless, of course, the new business is so far from the old business’ comfort zone — i.e., expertise, technology, infrastructure, etc. — that it’s like trying to cross a chasm in two steps. This is the case of Barnes & Noble. As USA Today reports, Barnes and Noble’s CEO, William Lynch, the one who led B&N into the e-commerce age with Nook, resigned on July 8, 2013. The reason is that the e-reader market is highly competitive (red, bloody ocean for sure) and Nook has been losing its shirt.

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