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Ben Shenoy, Associate, Executive Change Group

6 July 2011


Fred Wiersema wrote the best-selling book, The Discipline of Market Leaders, back in 1994.  The core idea of the book was that, instead of trying to be good at everything, market leaders excel in just a single discipline that is especially valued by their target customers.  Fred argued that trying to master more than one of the three disciplines identified in his research - operational excellence, customer intimacy and product/service leadership - dilutes focus so much that the result is mere mediocrity.

It's been nearly two decades since The Discipline of Market Leaders was published, and a lot has happened since then: for example, the dot com boom, 9/11 and the credit crunch.  However, the central message of the book - that we should choose to do some things & not others, and that we can't be all things to all customers - still holds true today.  Yet, in a recent conversation, Fred revealed that the commonest problem that he encounters when advising CxOs is that they convince themselves that their businesses can serve a wide array of customers with a full portfolio of services, and they therefore fail to make strong choices.

We find ourselves in turbulent, uncertain times, which are forcing us to confront a number of tough decisions.  How do we deal with the consumerisation of IT & the proliferation of social media?  What, how and when should we move to the cloud?  How do we protect ourselves against brand-damaging security breaches?  Faced with all this noise, it's essential that we cut through the confusion by making clear strategic choices.  But this turns out to be harder than we realise - in fact, research1 has shown that a profusion of options paralyses decision makers, making them much more likely not to decide anything.  We need to be vigilant, now more than ever, that we don't fall into the trap of choosing not to choose.

So let me leave you with a couple of questions to ponder:

  1. Does your strategy make real choices about what your business is going to do, and what it's not going to do?
  2. Are those choices baked into your organisation's architecture - its processes, metrics, culture, leadership - so thoroughly that an outsider could guess your strategy?

1 For example, see Barry Schwartz's book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.

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