Outside the pack

I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Anything that is part of your strategic vision, and the directional statements that ian’t UNIQUE (vision, mission, values, objectives, strategies) is just noise; both to your employees and to your customers. Well-crafted visions always offer up clearly unique directional information about how your organization will achieve competitive advantage.

Why?

Anything that is generic will not create a competitive advantage, because it’s the same as what everyone else is doing. You need to find a unique way to create value, and predict where your capabilities match with emerging customer needs. Michael Dell didn’t change the computer industry by selling product through the business model everyone else was using. And Henry Ford didn’t set out to sell 5% more cars year over year; he set out to democratize the automobile industry.

A second reason why you need to differentiate your strategic framework is that no one pays attention to statements that could apply to one of a hundred different organizations or industries. In other words, you’re going to have a hard time inspiring your team to follow and contribute to the long-term goals. Example: “We will become the trusted first-choice for customers in whatever market we choose to serve” Yawn. What’s missing? Direction that relates to HOW you’re going to get outside the pack. Draw me a picture of what you’re going to do in a way that I can get excited about it! Tell me about your aspirations. What’s the product-market-customer mix you’re going after? Why does it matter?

Clearly positioning yourself outside the pack is often perceived as creating risk to leaders. After all, what if it fails? Maybe it’s safer to just compete on the same building blocks of advantage as everyone else: be in the ballpark for the value you provide and the price you charge. But what if you found a way to create value that made certain customers pay more attention to you? What if your employees got inspired about how your organization was going to outpace your competitors, and they started outlaying their discretionary effort more freely?

“The essence of strategy lies in creating tomorrow’s competitive advantages faster than competitors mimic the ones you possess today.” – Hamel & Prahalad

What is a strategist’s perspective?

Most of us would feel pretty comfortable describing ourselves on a resume as a strategic thinker. But have you ever thought about what a strategist’s perspective might entail? How is this unique from being someone who thinks about strategies? What distinguishes you from others in the room?

Adapting some concepts from strategy professor Terry Power at Royal Roads University, here’s one version of what a strategic perspective is and how to apply it on a continuous basis.
A strategist:

Always questions the assumptions that everyone else leaves unquestioned. If you pay attention to this in planning sessions, you’ll find a lot of decisions are made based on assumptions that have been carried for a prolonged period of time. This carries risk, because the validity of those assumptions may wane with time, and it’s possible that they weren’t absolutely accurate to begin with. An addendum to this is to avoid the tendency to give a pass to more senior leaders’ assumptions. They’re subject to the same realities as the rest of us.
Always seeks logical and fact-based information. Strategic thinking demands sound information sources.
Demonstrates an unwillingness to expend resources without questioning whether there is an alternative that is lower cost, or has no cost at all.
Looks for unpredictable approaches, rather than the expected. Strategies are only capable of creating a competitive advantage when they describe an approach that is unique from those you are competing against.