I learned about strategy while working with a very successful, 100-year-old business in Chicago. This $600 Million company was very entrenched in their historical business and had in the previous five years become a major player in two new industries. This was an exciting time, as I learned lessons about strategy with this company few will ever experience. Let me tell you more. It’s a story of when strategy will trump the business plan of even successful and profitable divisions.
In one of the industries, the retail computer software/hardware industry, we were the 5th largest national distributor with approximately $60 Million in annual revenue. It was pretty healthy by most standard metrics…revenue, profit, EBITDA, ROI, you name it. We were kicking it. BUT! We were only in 5th place and a very long way from being number one. And this conflicted with the corporate strategy which was, “We must be number one in whatever industry we are in.” The catch phrase we were using at the time was, “If we can’t be the big dog on the street, we choose to get off the street and focus our efforts on other things.” The result? We closed the division and put our efforts on another division. Note – we didn’t sell it, which we could have but that would have required us to continue to operate it until we found a qualified buyer and then go through the extended time of negotiation of the sell. This would have continued the distraction from the larger corporate goal and strategy. So – we closed it. But to this 100-year-old company, the larger strategy – the one reflecting the Infinite Game attitude, it was a pretty straight forward decision.
I’m telling you this to challenge you to take a look at your company from a strategic view. Now admittedly, not many of us are in a situation where we can or would simply close a $60 Million profitable division because it doesn’t meet the objectives of our strategy. But we can lift our heads from the day to day grind and take a much longer term and a much higher view of our business. By doing so, we may find new and creative ways to address and profit from our market. It’s almost impossible to do this if you’re caught up in the focus of one-year plans and next year budgeting. You must shift your paradigm. Get a “new paradigm”! Hence the name of our company.
If you’re playing the game of business like you’ve always played it, you might be happy and profitable; but; you are most likely never going to be the “big dog”. Even if you don’t ever care to be the “big dog”, you need a good strategy to at least become a bigger dog. You might need to be playing by Different Rules.
When you’re ready to take a look at your strategy – to change your paradigm, we’re here for you. In the meantime, here is some help on strategic thinking. Let me know what you think about these.
Oh and by the way, that company in Chicago through strategic growth, mergers and acquisition is now over 130-years-old and is the”big dog” in all the industries they play in.
How can you tell if you are a strategic thinker? The following comparisons of attitudes and scenarios can help you determine your thinking style and identify areas you can improve upon.
- Look towards and embrace the future, whatever it may hold.
- Are willing to work hard today to reap the benefits tomorrow.
- Don’t limit themselves to the ‘tried and true’ or ‘best practice’.
- Assign greater importance to ideas with the greatest impact and return.
- Change their approach to a problem or situation according to circumstances.
- Are lifelong learners who actively seek knowledge and share it with others.
- Are best described as ‘creative’ individuals who think outside the box.
- Tend to be reactive: they wait for guidance and rarely present new ideas.
- Are introspective and rarely take an interest in anything beyond their immediate responsibilities.
- Prefer the status quo and don’t always take the time to think about long-term goals.
- Usually approach all tasks the same way, without being affected by urgency or impact.
- Are hesitant about changing their strategy even when doing so could yield better results.
- Remain content with their current capabilities and are not motivated to learn more.
- Are predictable individuals who prefer to follow a set path.
For personal reflection:
- Which of the attributes of “Strategic Thinkers” above strikes you the most? Why?
- Which of the attributes of “Non-strategic Thinkers” above strikes you the most? Why?
- Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game, (New York, Portfolio/Penguin, 2019), 241.
- Andy Andrews, Bottom of The Pool, (Nashville, W Publishing Group, 2019), 176.