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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Myth: to be number one you need to be the best. USA Today reported on a Consumer Reports survey of fast-food customers. They ranked McDonald’s last in burgers (The Habit Burger Grill, a regional chain, was first), KFC last in chicken (Chick-fil-A was first), and Taco Bell last in burritos (Chipotle was first).

It’s not that Taco Bell placed last in salads or McDonald’s had the worst egg sandwich. The chains were at the bottom with their core products.

Consumer Reports’ project editor explains the ranking as a result of Millennials caring about things other than mere value for money, such as quality and social issues. I wonder if it is because they still live with parents who pay their bills. That seems unlikely in light of analysis that shows most millennials living at home for economic reasons. Perhaps a few slackers go out to restaurants better than the bottom-feeder fast-food giants while their parents pick up their expenses, but most are probably still eating at the McDonald’s of the world while realizing it is not the best, it is the cheapest.

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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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The Super Bowl has just come and gone leaving me with fond memories of Scarlett Johansson and a new Soda Stream machine (take that, Pepsi!). The media buildup to the game with its endless hours of deep analysis inevitably applied 10³¹ (I counted) sports metaphors to business management and strategy.

What can business learn from football? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But that won’t stop people from applying sports metaphors to business.

It takes less time than an instant replay to reveal that those metaphors are mostly empty. Yes, football and business involve team play. So does kindergarten. Aside from that, football (or baseball, or synchronized swimming) has nothing to do with business. It is a limited duration contest, while business is unending. It ends in decisive victory, while it is far from clear what victory even looks like in business. It deploys physical moves that have no parallel in business. What, “go left and then run straight” is a lesson business should heed? Most importantly, football requires playing by rigidly enforced rules and regulations. There is nothing to innovate.

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An important part of the skill of competing is the art of betting on future trends before they are obvious to everyone. Every company attempts to do so. Startups in particular are all about “seeing” things around the corner, and anticipating changing preferences. I call it an art because trying to apply the principles behind exact sciences like physics to predicting social behavior and the diffusion of new trends is shamanism. I have nothing against shamans as a profession, though. Some of my best friends are shamans. Some of the brightest scientists can be shamans. A case in point is Didier Sornette, a physicist who claims to have discovered a method to predict the exact time market bubbles will pop  based on the physical principles behind a spiraling coin. Unfortunately, he failed to predict the 2008 crash. Here is my prediction: he will fail in predicting the next one as well. And I did not even have to apply any fractal or quantum or other theories.

While trends cannot be verified by science before they are obvious, for me they are felt subcutaneously, as in goose bumps when something is not right. That’s what I felt when reading about Walmart going small. Walmart?

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