One of the most frustrating statements I come across is that “we had a good strategy, but just couldn’t execute it.” That’s nonsense. Obviously, if you couldn’t execute, there were some important factors that you didn’t take into account. You miscalculated in some significant way. So how was that a good strategy?
This raises an important question: What makes a strategy good? The concept of strategy gets thrown around so much and so incompetently, few stop to define the term. Strategy often becomes self-referential, a consensus-driven story that no one dares to question, but everyone is duty bound to carry out, for better or worse.
One helpful concept is the German military principle of Schwerpunkt, which roughly translates to “focal point.” You need to pick the battles that will prove decisive, the ones that matter and which you can win. Or, as Richard Rumelt has put it, good strategy puts relative strength against relative weakness. Figuring that out is what makes the difference.
Choosing The Right Battles, Fighting With The Right Weapons
Che Guevara was, in many ways, the prototypical revolutionary. Charismatic and brilliant, he was a master at guerilla warfare, launching revolutions against authoritarian regimes across Africa and South America. Yet although he may have won some battles, he lost the wars and, in the end, was executed for his actions.
That’s not unusual. Violent uprisings almost always fail and studies have shown that nonviolent revolutions do much, much better. In the early 1960s a political scientist named Gene Sharp began to figure out why. Governments have significant advantages in the use of violence. Successful revolutionaires, he found, use alternate weapons rooted in psychology, sociology and economics, where they can build strength and regimes are vulnerable.
In much the same way, innovative firms are often poorly served by trying to identify the largest addressable market for a new product or service. Those are the customers incumbents have been serving for years, where they have vastly superior knowledge, experience and relationships. Competing for that business will inevitably be an uphill battle.