Finding the Right Strategy for Your Business

Posted by 23 September, 2008
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In the beginning of this lesson we mentioned Henry Mintzberg’s important book, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning. He reaches an interesting conclusion on page 397 of it, one we want to reproduce here in case you don’t make it to the end of his book any time soon: “Organizations differ, just as do animals; it makes no more sense to prescribe one kind of planning for all organizations than it does to describe one kind of housing for all animals.” Dozens of planning methods and approaches have flashed before your eyes as you read this lesson. And believe us, there are many, many more should you care to pursue the planning literature in greater depth! Which, if any, are appropriate to your ways of thinking and the needs of your orga­nization? Possibly, none. At most, one or two in any given situation. It is a terrible (though common) mistake to think that one can “do” planning just by force-fitting a handful of famous methodologies to one’s business. Sure, it helps to know what they are and how they work. But in the end, it is up to you and your fellow planners and marketers to sniff the wind and chose your own path. Perhaps-as is more often the case than we so-called experts like to believe-that path will be largely of your own design, not ours.
In our client work, we’ve noticed that many of the best strategies arise when people trust their instincts and create their own planning processes. Formal situation analysis and planning can provide helpful inputs to this more natural, organic ap­proach to planning-but they are not substitutes for it. Mintzberg seems to be de­scribing the same phenomenon when he writes (of the case studies conducted from McGill) that:

We found strategy making to be a complex, interactive, and evolutionary process, best descrihed as one of adaptive learning…. The process was often significantly emer­gent. . . . Indeed, strategies appeared in all kinds of strange ways in the organizations studied. Many of the most important seemed to grow up from the “grass roots” (much as weeds that might appear in a garden are later found to bear useful fruit), rather than all having to be imposed from the top down, in “hothouse” style.
Strategies as weeds. What an interesting metaphor! And how many of us, espe­cially in the context of established business organizations, are willing and able to give weeds room to grow? All too few, which is one reason why many of the best new strategies in any industry are executed by entrepreneurs, working outside the bound­aries of the established market leaders. Listen to another expert on strategy, Dineh Mohajer, founder of Hard Candy-although she might laugh at our describing her as a strategy expert. But actions speak louder than words (or laughs), and this successful executive founded a nail polish company in her teens and grew it from zero to $10 million is sales in just two years by providing new, fun colors that were not available in the product lines of the giants of her industry. Here is how she and her young part­ners develop their home-run marketing strategies:

We do whatever we like. We don’t do marketing research or anything like that. I’m not even sure what that is-that’s how much we don’t do it. We just go with our gut be­cause that’s what brought us here.
Had she taken her ideas to a market leader, they would probably have been treated like weeds. But now the market leaders are scrambling to imitate this successful strategy.
The question is, can you recognize the next big idea in your market and nurture its growth? We opened the lesson with the search for the new king of strategy and the unsettling news that no heir apparent is in sight. We close on the same thought, with the added insight that it is perhaps best this way. Rather than propose our own candidate, we urge you to find your own. If it is different from everybody else’s, so much the better. Maybe your strategy will be unique, too.
The king is dead. Thank goodness! Now maybe we can create a democratic model of strategic planning.

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