Business Strategy: When to Take Your Own Path

It’s early season and I’m skiing on a Tuesday, which is a luxury. Weekend traffic in Colorado ski country is soul robbing. (If you’re planning a trip, think about Utah!) We have a better-than-average snowfall, and on my first chairlift I notice that a snowboarder ducked a rope and got a great line right under the lift. I also notice fox tracks running uphill, through the snowboard track for about 50 yards and then veering sharply to the left into the woods.

The fox obviously used someone else’s “work” to make his trip easier. Why break trail when you don’t have to?! However, at some point — probably related to food — he left the trail to chart his own path.

Perhaps it was the altitude, but this made me think of the path a successful business leader might take — hopefully to business success rather than a varmint to eat! There are many practices in leading others and building a business that previous people have developed and we can replicate. Why chart a new path in those areas?

Best practices in accounting, manufacturing and management techniques deserve study and often should be followed for efficiency and efficacy. The path of least resistance and the simplest solution are often best.

However, there are times when you need to get off the trail and chart your own path. Crafting business strategy is one of those times. The essence of strategy is being different, not the same. 

There are lots of different business strategy models, but some would say you only have a few choices. For instance, in “The Discipline of Market Leaders” — if you’re going to buy one book on business strategy, this is a good choice! — authors Treacy and Wiersema say you must choose one of three methodologies: customer intimacy, product leadership or operational excellence. However, the devil is in the details, and drilling down to the critical issues that you must address to exploit that general strategy is what will make you different from the next guy.

It comes back to this question: “Why will your ideal customers buy from you versus your competitor?” If you can’t answer that, get off the trail and explore the woods!

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