What strategies don’t work? I had been trying to organize bad strategies into a mental map when I came across an article in The Economist that did the heavy lifting for me. In its own pithy way, The Economist names and shames six strategies that just don’t work. To that, I’ll add a seventh.
Here are The Economist’s six along with my own pithy observations.
The Do-It-All strategy — don’t make the hard product choices. When you find market opportunities, pursue all of them. If you build enough products, something is bound to sell. This is sometimes known as the Food-Fight strategy — throw a bunch of food at the wall and see what sticks.
The Don Quixote strategy — launch a frontal attack on your strongest competitor. Take the fight right to them. It sounds bold — and everybody wants to be bold these days — but it’s well nigh suicidal. Its main advantage compared with the Do-It-All strategy: it’s over quickly. As Sergeant York taught us, don’t fire at the lead goose in the flying wedge. Fire at the last one and work your way forward.
The Waterloo strategy — fight on too many fronts at once. Rather than carving up the battlefield to your advantage, attack multiple enemies at once. That’ll teach ’em. Just like at Waterloo.
The Something-for-Everyone strategy — what’s our target market? Anyone who has money. This is often found in combination with the Do-It-All strategy. We’ve got lots of products, so let’s find lots of customers. One of the strengths of Lawson Software’s strategy is that we were very clear about who we served and who we didn’t. We turned down prospective customers who didn’t fit our profile. We couldn’t serve them successfully without distracting attention from our priority customers.
The Programme-of-the-Month strategy — first it was Pursuit of Excellence, then it was Built to Last, then it was … well, whatever the latest hot business book is. We’re dedicated to pursuing the fashionable strategy of the moment. Better to pick a simple strategy and stick with it.
The Dreams-That-Never-Come-True strategy — ambitious mission statements are never translated into clear choices. At some point, you have to come down out of the clouds and pursue this market (as opposed to that one) with this plan (as opposed to that one). It’s about making choices.
To The Economist Six, I’ll add a seventh:
The Military/Territorial strategy — the market is like a piece of territory that multiple armies are fighting over. There’s only so much territory; it can’t be expanded. If a competing army wins more of it, we will win less of it. It’s a zero sum. We have to stay focused on the competition and counter every maneuver. It’s a popular analogy but a bad one. War is about defeating the enemy. Business is about winning the customer. Focusing on the competition won’t get you there.
As I’ve written before, strategy is about what you don’t do. It’s about making hard choices that allow you to focus on markets or products or customers where you have the greatest chance of success. Forget everything else.