Good people of the business world, take cover! No, it’s not a tsunami, or hurricane or even a tropical storm. It’s the new scapegoat: headwinds. In a Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Sprint Loses More Customers,” Sprint Nextel CFO Joseph Euteneuer said, “We faced a number of competitive headwinds that became more pronounced in the second quarter.”

Earlier in the week, Border’s began shuttering their roughly 400 remaining stores and company president Mike Edwards said, “We are saddened by this development. We were all working hard towards a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time… have brought us to where we are now.”

With all these headwinds swirling about, we should take a closer look at exactly what they are. Headwinds are defined as “winds opposed to the course of a moving object.” Unfortunately, for Borders and Sprint Nextel, their numbers show they haven’t been moving forward. So, based on their senior leaders comments, we can infer that they’ve been moving backwards because of external factors. A convenient excuse for lackluster performance, but as research by Matthew Olson showed, 70 percent of a company’s poor performance is due to decisions about strategy. In Border’s case, a lack of strategy was their internal headwind.

Credit Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse for understanding the importance of differentiation in strategy. A few years back in a USA Today article, he said, “If we can’t be different, we can’t win. What can we do to make ourselves different in the marketplace?” Unfortunately, for Sprint Nextel, they haven’t answered his question. Can you answer the differentiation question for your business? If not, no worries. Must be the headwinds.

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