"In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it."
Last week I quoted Michael Porter week saying, "The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do." Michelangelo said it with more flair, but the fact that a sculpture is created by what is removed and discarded is a powerful metaphor for strategy. If you've been reading this blog, you know i'm a sucker for a good metaphor and have no qualms about mixing them up.
Knowing what not to do is a fundamental function of strategy. I am personally guilty of the "jack of all trades and master of none" syndrome and have about as much focus in my life as a Swiss Army Knife. But strategic choices are not just about arbitrary focus. It is possible to link some seemingly disparate activities into a coherent strategy. Underneath it all, however, should be a unifying strategy.
I have said before that one of the chief advantages of a strategy is that it enables abbreviated decision-making. You don't have to be Cecil B. DeMille to look at your world through a view finder and decide what goes into your movie and what doesn't. But the essence of your strategy and the DNA of your organization (i.e. Competitive Advantage and Core Competencies) have to drive your choices the same way the theme and plot drives a movie or story.
I still don't understand the appeal or value proposition of Tweeter and why anyone cares about the unfiltered and unedited mundane activities of someone's daily life. I would much rather read a journal or biography that someone has labored over trying to decide what to keep in and what to leave out. A story that has a structure and a central point is a compelling read. A good strategy is no more complicated than that, but it has to be an effective and competitive strategy.
Why is this aspect of strategy important? Because when times are good and markets are growing it is easy to move into new markets or invest in additional areas of competence. When the environment becomes more competitive, those activities that do not reinforce a sustainable competitive advantage will quickly become liabilities. Acquisitions that should not have been made will prove costly to undo. Products that should not have been launched become costly to discontinue or maintain. An overall loss of focus will affect your brand positioning and ultimately be detrimental even in the areas where you had a clear competitive advantage.
Strategy is about trade offs. You need to make clear choices ESPECIALLY when multiple routes to success are availed to you. You have to first decide what business you are in and the source of your competitive advantage. Choices then need to be made with a view toward how they serve to reinforce that competitive advantage or leverage it in yet unexploited adjacent opportunities. A clear strategy is more than focus, it is the architecture of success.
Even a Renaissance man knows the power of strategic trade-offs.
Mark Towery is Managing Director of Geo Strategy Partners
Geo Strategy Partners focuses on market research and strategy for industrial and B2B markets.