In business, as a leader, you must be able to decide when to ask your business to step forward, to withdraw or not enter, or to rest. These are strategic decisions but what is more important is the thinking that leads you to decide when it is time to make these moves – to fight or not.
Active Knowledge Question:
Do you have a way of thinking, a framework, about when and how to, or not, enter new markets, which is shared by your leadership team?
This article is one which asks you to reflect upon the approach you adopt in making strategic decisions – deciding whether you can gain and sustain the strategic advantage required to win.
Strategic thinking is applied philosophy, it is learnt experiences, but ones that can be and should be shared – knowledge should always be evolving. It is also a mindset which allows you to step away, consider and reflect upon the actions you may be about to take, or how to respond to the challenges confronting you. It allows you to develop a framework which you can apply to assist in forming your options, tracking progress and projecting positions.
This is the space that strategists work in and one in which every business leader must be able to step into. Western business strategic thinking is limited in its capacity to craft a robust framework as much of its development is tied to command and control and analysis at a point of time arising from a two-world theory – creator and created. It tends to be two-dimensional in its complexity at best and static.
Classical Eastern strategic thinking has evolved out of a very different worldview, one which may be described as a ‘this world view’, where there is a continuous evolving movement of forces all of which influence the other. It is real-time four-dimensional thinking where you are seeking positions of strength and influence. It is this latter form of strategic thinking that provides the richness required to build great businesses.
Developing a reasoning behind your decisions requires a coherence in the pattern of things and functions occurring in the space you are competing in. It is seeking a comprehensiveness in understanding – all conditions interrelate and collaborate in a greater or lesser degree to constitute a particular outcome. This is a context in which ‘knowing’ requires being able to trace out and manipulate those conditions far and near that will come to affect the shifting configuration of one’s own place – basically being able to ‘undo’ how events will unfold so as to be able to see how to change their course.
A good analogy is the Eastern strategy game of Go, where the playing surface (gaming board) is alive, and even though the goal is gaining territory, it is, in fact, exerting influence over territory to ultimately control it. This is determined through emerging patterns of presence, form, strength, adaptability and positioning relevant to the entire playing field. As you lean into one area of the board, all other areas are alive, and will, as the game progresses, influence your ultimate control of the space you are presently focused on.
Step One is to develop a robust strategic thinking framework (approach) to support your decisions.
What Are You Fighting For?
Strategy does require a clear objective, a succinct outcome that is being sought, but in business, a clear objective does not always exist rather more of a vague context of profit.
Increased profit set as a business goal and being achieved through increased market share, new products or services, research and commercialisation, brand equity, cost reductions etc. is not uncommon. Profit, of course, is an outcome, and the actions listed above can result in this outcome, but they themselves are not the catalyst of achieving the outcome.
Profit as a motive also tends to weaken the competitive strength of a business. It seeds politics, self-interest and short-termism. It draws focus to the immediate gain and ‘what’s in it for me’ thinking.
Strategically a leader should always be striving to make their businesses more competitively fit. That is, to strengthen the catalysts that allow the business to do all the things it needs to be able to do to out-compete others.
Step Two is to be clear on what you are fighting for – your end goal and that is unlikely to be a destination.
Do You Have The Advantage?
How do you decide that it is the right time? The options are to advance, hold, withdrawal and rest, but how do you decide which option is correct for your business at a particular time. The answer lies in discerning which response will deliver to you the strategic advantage required to move towards achieving your outcome.
Strategic advantage is found in a level of discourse through which you actively determine and cultivate the leverage and influence of your business’s particular place to be able to achieve the outcome sought – what I usually refer to as competitive posture and positioning.
The concept of positioning is complex and has many aspects, including:
- Aspect, situation, circumstances, conditions;
- Disposition, configuration, outward shape;
- Force, influence, momentum, authority.
Competing in your chosen markets is not some independent, isolated event but emerges, unfolds within a broad field of unique natural, social, political, economic conditions and connections which are ever-changing. But although always unique they do conform and proceed according to a general pattern, which can not only be anticipated but influenced to one’s advantage.
And even though conditions and connections are ever changing – shifting dispositions – a connected tension does exist between all things. They are separate but connected – any change, any movement is mutual and pervasive – as you move all others are moved, and as they move so are you moved.
The rhythm of change is never resisted, but rather the strategist seeks to find its pulse, to translate defining conditions into correlative terms so to exert influence, anticipating competitors’ movements and making your victory inevitable.
The goal is to always achieve positions which bring your strengths, but your competitors’ weaknesses, to the forefront. Weaknesses can always be discerned by knowing someone’s strengths – right behind someone’s strength is their weakness, behind their surplus is their deficiency, and so it goes.
Step Three is to possess a mental model that allows you to comprehend movement and connection.
What motive underpins your business, and which will strengthen and create resolve in your team? The language of righteousness is not common these days, and especially not in business, but only a righteous motive will bring the true competitive strength of your business to the forefront.
And that competitive strength lies in the combined talent and effort of everyone who works within and with your business. Profit as a motive neutralises and disperses competitive strength, and therefore you must anchor your business is a righteous motive – what you are fighting for. Such motives are found in purpose, a purpose that is usually expressed in meeting a need, the need of your customers for which your business exists.
Step Four is to identify a purpose, a motive, that will magnify and compound the competitive strength of your business.
There is an expression that goes something like ‘defeat is in my hands.’ In other words, it is only your failings that can allow a competitor to defeat you.
The first order of strategy is to strengthen the competitive engine that exists within your business. This engine consists of those agents that in unison set the floor and ceiling to the competitiveness of your business.
A strong resilient engine creates a business that is competitively fit and tactically alive. A business that can move, adapt, shift, outpace and outperform its competitors. Your markets and your customers may change, but the competitive engine will ensure your business predicts, adapts and continues to grow – strategic advantage being continuously attained.
Step Five is to always place the health, harmony and strength of your competitive engine first.
When do I choose not to fight? When I cannot discern or comprehend how I may achieve the requisite strategic advantage, or when it is to my advantage not to fight.
Strategic thinking requires an immersion in the market in which you compete so that you look from the inside-out and the outside-in and comprehend the forces at work, their interplay and dynamically positioning your business to its greatest strategic advantage. But this can only occur if your business is built upon the right purpose/motive and with worthy leaders who can think and act strategically.
An entirely new level of performance.
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All the best in the success of your business,