Strategy has often been confused with efficiency. If your ‘strategy’ is to be ‘efficient’ you have the wrong strategy. Efficiency is today nothing more than an organisational hygiene factor; when it comes to securing a competitive advantage, efficiency is necessary but not sufficient. More is needed. Jules Goddard of London Business School suggests that strategy is, ‘the rare and precious skill of staying one step ahead of the need to be efficient’.
Strategy is about original thinking – or as American biochemist, Albert Szent-Gyorgy observed, ‘Discovery consists in seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought’. Our strategies ought to be built on such ‘discovery’. For the most part they aren’t.
Michael Porter insists that strategy is not about being better at what you do (that is efficiency) but rather, it is about setting yourself apart from the competition. I was at a retail conference once where a speaker suggested to the assembled retailers that they didn’t not need to be ‘the best’ (in their market) but rather they should strive to be, ‘the favourite’. Your strategy should be about being different at what you do and is why we need to embrace the mavericks and ensure our environments provide the air to be innovative, experimental and creative.
Again, for the most part they (our environments) aren’t. We are suffocated by industrial age wisdom and management methodologies that are failing to engage our workforce (what a terrible word…how about ‘partners’ instead?) and energise them in a way that makes us want to show up for work. Of course this is far more challenging in certain environments than others but it shouldn’t stop us from trying to attain such ideals.
There are no ‘rules’ as to how to do this and anyone who attempt suggesting that there is a theory or formula for such, is a fraud. German philosopher, Immanuel Kant suggested that one ought to, ‘dare to think for yourself’. In many instances we have stopped doing that within our businesses. Goddard believes that the concept of best practice is perhaps the single most ‘value-destructive idea to have come out of business schools and management consultancies over the past 20 years’. That is a strong statement given the enshrined status afforded the concept and practice of ‘best practice’. He is right.
Business is not about best practice, which has us only, measuring ourselves against those ‘in the race with us’. History shows that often it is the ‘late newcomer’ or disruptive force that changes the ‘rules of the game’ that ‘win’. Business is about unique practices and rather than be guarding and perpetuating the efficient ‘status quo’ good leadership seeks to disrupt the existing status quo. We need to measure success by the value added rather than merely the profit gained. A profit focus will result in us losing our way as surely as any journey in which you only ever turn left will result in going nowhere.
Leaders serious about being future-fit need to throw out the rubbish that has been on boarded in the name of strategy and that now threatens to clog our business artery with fatal results.
Leaders serious about being future-fit will need to be willing to disconnect from much of the prevailing business ‘wisdom’ and focus on value-adds rather than profit. They will need no small amount of courage to under-take such a decoupling and certainly the road towards intentional disruption, unique thinking and curiosity.
More information on our ‘Being Future-Fit‘ presentation here, or purchase our latest published book ‘Quest – Competitive Advantage and the art of Leadership for the 21st Century.‘