Has Porter made strategy too easy?

My economics’ lecturer once told me that if I ever got the chance of a job with strategy in the title to open my arms wide and grab it. We’ve all read and agreed with Michael Porter’s assessment that there are just two generic strategies to choose in business, (a) be cheaper than your competitor, or (b) be different from them. As true as that remains, it’s obviously over-simplistic.

I recently suggested the sportsman’s strategy to someone looking to improve his online ecommerce business. I heard Egg’s founder, Mike Harris, talk about this and its obvious truth still strikes me today. You start at the end. Create your goal and work backwards from there. Sir Clive Woodward’s goal was simple: fly to the 2003 Rugby World Cup seeded #1 and take victory after 80 minutes in the final.

Let’s imagine for a minute that you’re a 100m sprinter who wants to win in the 2012 Olympics. What do you need to be doing, thinking and feeling as the gun goes off in the final? Think about that answer for a second. Now, what about 10 minutes before the start? What about a day before? A week, a month, and six months before? Now that you know that, what do you need to be doing this week, next month and in December? It’s all about gradual improvement toward a peak in performance for that final.

What’s your company’s three, five or 10 year goal and what needs to be happening in August 2011 for that to be achieved? Are you on a path of continual improvement right now?

Suddenly strategy doesn’t strike me as being so easy any longer.

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