Strategic Thinking As The Apotheosis of Selfishness
Could we look at it from the opposite side?
Ryan Bingham had a firm strategy. A frequent flyer, he had a long-term goal – to earn ten million frequent flyer miles with American Airlines. Ryan's concept aligned with his life philosophy, which he poetically called "What's in Your Backpack?"
He even conducted seminars with the same title, where he taught people to live a life free of burdensome relationships and material possessions. Always alone and free, with a small faithful backpack on your shoulders.
Those of you who watched this movie, Up In The Air, know the end of the story. George Clooney's character got what he wanted, but it didn't make him happy.
The movie industry likes to make such films once in a while – in contrast to a landslide of movies about success. Bingham was too self-centered and was punished by fate.
It may sound strange, but similar things happen in the business world.
Strategy is about success. Is it?
Most strategic notions, terms, and metrics are egoistic by nature. For instance:
Vision – what would we like to become in 5 (10, 20) years?
Goals – what would we like to achieve in 5 years?
Competitors – people or organizations who prevent us from being successful
Customers – people or organizations whom we must persuade (or even better, make) to buy our products
Me, we, us…
If you read any book on marketing competition by old-school authors such as Michael Porter or Philip Kotler, you will form a clear picture in your mind. A business leader is a harsh, lonely warrior who bravely leads his army to the battlefield. His goal is to defeat his enemies (i.e., market competitors) and to enslave the population – customers.
In case of victory, our hero will adorn his chest with orders and medals (i.e., bonuses, promotions, etc.).
So, business strategy is a tool that aims to make our business prosperous. But this avenue may greatly distort our cognitive optics.
Those who pay the piper call the tune
Porter's heyday was in the 1980s – a time very different from today. When people wanted to buy a thing 40 years ago, they had much less choice than they have today. If a company managed to dominate a market or industry, it was relatively easy to keep its position.
Now almost any market can be disrupted by young and daring startups. Moreover, customers can learn much more about products before buying them. They can compare goods and read references before they make up their minds.
John Wanamaker was an American businessman who died in 1922. He was credited for his famous phrase: "When a customer enters my store, forget me. He is king." But Wanamaker didn't even have a clue of how much of a king a customer would become a hundred years after his death.
Any business earns profits by making customers happy. And business success is the consequence.
So, strategic thinking also should start with customers.
Product is a way to satisfy customer needs and create value for them.
The net profit is a symbolic "bonus" from customers for a job well done in meeting their needs.
A market is a set of customers with comparable needs.
And we can similarly re-examine strategic notions and terms:
Vision – how will we meet customers' requirements, and who will be our customers five years later? For whom will we create value?
Goals – how much value will we create for them?
Competitors – people or organizations who can create more value for our customers than we do
Customers – people or organizations who pay us money to make them happy
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Thanks for this article. Very good message.