Schwerpunkt: The Killer Strategic Concept You’ve Never Heard Of (But Really Need To Know!)
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, his first mission was not to create but destroy. He axed a number of failing products and initiatives, such as the ill-fated Newton personal digital assistant and the Macintosh clones. Under Jobs, Apple would no longer try to be all things to all people.
What came after was not a flurry of activity, but a limited number of highly targeted moves. First came the candy-colored iMac. It was a modest success. Then came the iPod, iPhone and iPad, breakout hits which propelled Apple from a failing company to the most valuable company on earth. Each move shifted the firm’s center of gravity to a decisive point and broke through.
That, in essence, is the principle of Schwerpunkt, a German military term that roughly translates to “focal point.” Jobs understood that he didn’t have to win everywhere, just where it mattered and focused Apple’s resources on just a few meaningful products. The truth is that good strategy relies less on charts and analysis than on finding your Schwerpunkt.
Putting Relative Strength Against Relative Weakness
The iPod, Apple’s first major hit after Jobs’ return, didn’t do anything to undermine the dominance of Microsoft and the PC, but rather focused Apple’s energy on a nascent, but fragmented industry that made products that, as Jobs put it, “sucked.” At this early stage, Apple probably couldn’t have taken on the computer giants, but it mopped up these guys.
Yet the move into music players wasn’t just about picking on scrawny weaklings, it leveraged some of Apple’s unique strengths, especially its ability to design simple, easy-to-use interfaces. Jobs’ own charisma and stature, not to mention the understanding of intellectual property rights he gained from his Pixar business, made him almost uniquely placed to navigate the challenges of setting up iTunes store, which at the time was a quagmire.
In Good Strategy | Bad Strategy management scholar Richard Rumelt makes the point that good strategy puts relative strength to bear against relative weakness and that is a key part of Schwerpunkt. In order to find your focal point, you need to get a sense of where…