Posts Tagged hbr

Strategy on One Page

Strategy on One Page

It comes down to asking the “Why, what, who, and how” of your business, arraying it across one page in a way that makes it extremely useful as an alignment tool amongst management or board members. This is hardly a novel concept, but it falls into that category of common sense that is not so commonly done.

Tjan goes on to outline 4 questions he thinks helps frame up the gestalt of a company.  Those questions include:

  1. What’s the big idea?  Why do you exist?
  2. What is your value proposition?
  3. Who are you trying to serve?
  4. How do you know you are winning?

Not sure I agree on the order of the questions, but the intent, I think, is sound: if you can’t clearly and succinctly describe your company to yourself, how will you ever be able to describe it to anyone else.

Put it another way: if you’re asked what you do at a family get-together, how are you going to explain yourself?

One potential pitfall of the above questions is the temptation to answer them too broadly.  Often I have heard people say “Well, my product is really a global product, and my positioning is really global positioning, so I’m really serving everyone everywhere.”

It seems that the most successful companies are those that are able to answer the above questions as narrowly as possible.  Take 37signals for example: they have a very narrowly defined user base that in turn informs a very narrowly defined product.  If a customer asks for a product modification, more often than not their answer is “No, we’re not going to do that. We’d hate to lose you as a customer, but we understand if your needs have outgrown our product.”

Compare that to Microsoft and their almost pathological need to have “Windows Everywhere for Everyone.”

The most important of the four questions above, I think, is #4 … how do you know you are winning?  It’s easy to focus on doing things, but as my friend John likes to say “Activity does not equal accomplishment” (not sure from where he borrowed that).  You need to know what success looks like, you need to know what and how to change mid-stream, and you need to have enough data to make an informed decision.

How do you think through a business strategy?


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Can introverts succeed in business?

A few years I had a performance review in which I got heavily criticized for “not appearing engaged enough” in meetings and other social situations.  As an extreme introvert (by Meyers-Briggs standards), I often find it difficult to relate to a large room filled with very exuberant and outgoing people.  And while it’s far from being debilitating, my penchant for listening rather than talking has at times, as in the case of my former manager, earned me a reputation as aloof and unengaged, when in reality I’m simply listening rather than talking.

I spent a long time trying to change, until a subsequent manager helped me remember that each person is different and that the better  manager tries to mold themselves to their people, not the other way around.  This is not to say that I didn’t make my fair share of mistakes in that previous role – I did, many times over – but I came to realize that my former manager also missed a few opportunities to relate to me more successfully.

That story came back to me yesterday when I stumbled across a post by Carl King on the 10 Most Common Myths About Introverts.  As a strong introvert, I definitely related to all ten of his points, none more than the last one:

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts … A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.)

It got me to thinking about the difference between introverts and extroverts in the enterprise setting.  I don’t know whether it’s that we expect our leaders to be outgoing and charismatic or whether the outgoing and charismatic are the best at positioning themselves for advancement.  Regardless, it seems that too often the strong introverts are, for whatever reason, overlooked.  A recent study published in Harvard Business Press points to the necessary balance between introverts and extroverts on teams.

A new study finds that extraverted leaders actually can be a liability for a company’s performance, especially if the followers are extraverts, too. In short, new ideas can’t blossom into profitable projects if everyone in the room is contributing ideas, and the leader is too busy being outgoing to listen to or act upon them.

An introverted leader, on the other hand, is more likely to listen to and process the ideas of an eager team. But if an introverted leader is managing a bunch of passive followers, then a staff meeting may start to resemble a Quaker meeting: lots of contemplation, but hardly any talk. To that end, a team of passive followers benefits from an extraverted leader.

So it seems that the best teams benefit from the mix between introverts and extroverts.  The problem, of course, comes when it’s only the introverts that recognize and promote the introverts, leading to silos of introverts and different silos of extroverts.  Put another way, you get one group that only wants to think and plan and another group that is all to eager to execute, regardless of the level of planning involved.  Each type brings a much needed skill – and check and balance – the other other.

Once I found my place in a team that recognized – and even encouraged – my personal style, I can say that I found a place where I could chase my successes.

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Disruptive thinking

Great article at Harvard Business Review’s HBR Blog about the difference between Big 1 and Small Companies’ approaches to changing tides in their industry.

A big problem is that these [big] companies tend to treat nascent opportunities the same way that they approach established businesses. They want data, even though data on non-existent markets is inherently fictional. So they focus on the market as it is today, where data are more easily obtained, and they employ the most conservative estimates about new sources of growth. They may also concentrate exclusively on what their customers want, which biases them toward incremental improvements of current solutions. As Henry Ford reputedly said of his industry, “If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

When they do go after an idea, big companies can pursue it so cautiously that opportunity slips through their fingers.

Entrepreneurs follow a different path for a simple reason: they have to.

A great analysis, which in turn generated a couple of other questions I’d love to see addressed in a follow-up, including:

  • What happens when the Big Company buys the Small Company to “Level Up” in product innovation?
  • Should the Big Company even try to pursue product innovation in the same manner that the Small Company can?  Can the Big Company innovate in the way the Small Company can?
  • Is the role of the Big Company to be the ones to buy the small company when the technology gets to the right place?
  • Is it better to approach Small Company as a  Strategic Partner or to buy them outright?  What happens when the Strategic Partner Small Company turns into a Direct Competitor Small Company?
  • This type of behavior is well established in Big Pharma … the Small Company does most of the preliminary development and shoulders nearly all of the risk.  When the product/medicine progresses far enough, the Big Company buys the Small Company, essentially trading their in-house R&D for M&A.  What can the broader business community learn from this?  When is this not the right model?

  1. Full disclosure: I work for one of those Big Companies. That said, any opinions expressed or inferred from this post are solely mine.

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