The Discomfort of Strategy

“If you are not genuinely pained by the risk involved in your strategic choices, it’s not much of a strategy.”

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix

Think you have a tough group of competitors to deal with? Take a look at this list and see if you’d like to trade: Walmart, Amazon, Blockbuster and Apple. Any takers? So how does one not only compete with the likes of Walmart, Amazon and Apple but actually win? By creating a strategy that is truly uncomfortable, first for yourself and inevitably for your competitors.

In 2005, a Wedbush Securities stock analyst described Netflix the company as “a worthless piece of crap,” and put a $3 price target on the stock. Today, Netflix stock is valued at nearly $200 a share and Fortune Magazine named Reed Hastings the 2010 Business Person of the Year. The stock analyst is most likely playing video games in his parent’s basement.

Netflix has continually bested its goliath competitors by forging strategies that take calculated risks, causing discomfort. Their latest risk: deciding to not move forward with a Netflix-branded digital set-top box to stream content. Instead, Hastings is choosing a different path using software that can be embedded in any device.

Now take a look at your strategies. What do you see? If you replaced your company, product or service name with that of your competitors, would the strategy statement still work? If so, there’s some work to do.

What I’ve seen in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors is a propensity to have consensus-driven, low-risk, all-inclusive strategies. In a word, they’re comfortable. Unfortunately, comfort means “to console” and console means “to lessen the grief, sorrow or disappointment” which naturally will occur when your competitors beat you with solid strategies.

Here are some Uncomfortable Questions for you and your team to work through:

  • In what ways are you deviating from the industry norm?
  • What percentage of your tactics are the same as competitors? If it’s 70 percent or greater, it’s a good indication your strategy is not as differentiating as it needs to be.
  • Which of your products or services should be eliminated in order to create greater focus?
  • What types of customers are you trading off in order to provide the most value to others?
  • Which elements of the traditional industry business model are ripe for disruption?
  • What can I do to disrupt my market in a way that adds differentiated value to customers?

Take a hard look at your strategies. How do they make you feel? Safe, inclusive and comfortable, or anxious, excited and uncomfortable? Do you like to get beat? Then do something about it.

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