Tag Archives: non market forces

Start with Geostrategy, or call it Tactics

Many business people seem to operate under the unconscious assumption that they’ll gain a competitive advantage through a careful daily reading of the business press.  They won’t.  The same goes for fund managers seeking to generate “alpha”:  the business press alone certainly won’t get you there.

They’re also unlikely to gain a decisive edge by combining the daily parade of conventional economic data with stale “strategic” frameworks like the BCG Matrix (which dates back to 1968), Porter’s Five Forces (created in 1979), or Value Chain Analysis (introduced in 1985).   Anyone who has studied business in the last 30 years – including your competition – uses these.   They also probably read the same newspapers and buy the same economic data.   In short, the old-school “Business Strategy 101” toolkit is like a white shirt in your closet:  always safe, sometimes useful, but not a decisive business edge.   Face it:  apart from their other limitations (see below), these old strategy models are fully depreciated.  How is the unconsidered imitation of commonplace ideas “strategic”?

Fully Depreciated Thinking

There is no clearer path towards creating a strategically autistic culture or organization than by mistaking the very definition of strategy.  That’s why to gain a competitive advantage in today’s world, you have to do more.  In my view, that “more” starts by gaining an understanding of what actually constitutes business strategy, i.e. understanding the deep, structural forces that bear on the long-term success of firms, and how these forces can be engaged and harnessed.  In the classes that I teach at IE, I argue that these deep forces are geopolitical.  The metaphor that I use to explain my approach is that geopolitics shapes the climate of business, whereas the daily news and conventional economics – even macroeconomics – simply address the weather of business.

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The Three Faces of Strategy

In their 2010 article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, “What Every CEO Needs to Know About Nonmarket Strategy”, David Bach and David Bruce Allen contend that sustained competitive advantage arises from engaging with “social, political and environmental issues” as part of corporate strategy.

I completely agree, but would make the case more strongly:  much of what passes for corporate “strategy” is actually tactics.  The same goes for much of the advice dispensed by illustrious “strategy” consulting firms.  “Strategy” sounds more important than “tactics,” so everybody calls whatever they’re talking about strategy, and then moves on to dispensing advice.  But what sounds like a linguistic quibble matters, because the distinction between these words bears directly on building a sustained competitive advantage in business.

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