There are a lot of metaphors used in connection with strategy, such as the Battlefield or the Chessboard. None are as powerful as Formula One and the requirements of accelerating .
One of the most popular metaphors for strategy is the ‘Way of the Warrior’ by a Chinese military strategist called Sun Tzu. There is only one problem – he has been dead for almost 2500 years!
So we started looking for a new metaphor – a way to make strategy a little bit more interesting and relevant for the typical leader:
With the focus on acceleration, the Formula 1 race car was an obvious choice! But, what makes Formula 1 a great analogy for strategy? Well, here is a list of 7 things that strategy and the racetrack have in common. For each there is a question for you to consider in respect of your organizations’s performance:
As the pace of marketplace changes accelerate, companies that are slow to respond will get left behind. strategy is about urgency and speed. Most important of all strategy is about accelerating growth.
Business gurus today write about the importance of a sense of urgency, but it is not that companies don’t know what to do (or cannot find out what to do), they struggle to break through the inertia and complacency that prevents them from making it happen. Leaders create a sense of urgency -an impetus for change – among their team.
Speed isn’t the only factor, that is unless you are going in a straight line and direction does not matter.
Strategy asks the question ‘Are you heading in the right direction?’, or more fundamentally ‘Are you on the right road?’ In the context of and marketing that means are you selling the right products, or solutions into the right markets, or segments? Of course it also entails the issue of the right channels, or routes to market.
So what is meant by the ‘right’ products, or markets? Well, in the strategy context it means the markets best able to deliver sustainable and profitable growth. That is those markets and customers that are not just most attractive but also most amenable. This is often called your ‘sweet spot’ and usually coincides with having a unique competitive advantage.
strategy is about balancing speed with control, although given that most strategy guidelines are written with big corporations in mind the admonition is that ‘if you feel in control then you are not going fast enough.’ In the racing car sense it is about pushing the car to the limit, that is the maximum speed that will still maintain traction with the road.
In a fast growth environment, systems and controls become particularly important. Just like their racing counterparts managers need to work with an eye on the dashboard and work the controls.
Strategy is also about being in the right race, given the competitor lineup, the track conditions and so on – something that again has a parallel for managers who must also chose where they will compete.
Strategy is about winning. It is about competing and out-manoeuvring the competition. The racing driver is concerned about getting across the line, while the manager has a similar focus – the top line and the bottom line targets.
Some thought leaders talk about strategic ambition, or strategic intent, but we prefer to talk about strategic imperative instead. That is because success is not a nice to have, but a must have. There is no re-run of the last quarter, it is a must win race.
Talk of strategy all too often results in a yawn. But that is the old fashioned notion of strategy painfully devised on the sideline with little bearing on reality, or prospect of being implemented.
To employ the racing analogy the real focus of strategy is on this lap and the next, on out-manoeuvring the competition, seeing an opening, getting into pole position, and so on. What can be more exciting than increasing your chances of winning?
Any strategy is only as good as those who are going to implement it. Any race strategy depends on the skill and execution of the driver – not only to implement what has been set out, but to adapt it as required to the conditions of the race. As one manager put it – ‘a strategy won’t close the deal, it requires a person to do that’.
Successful race car drivers possess a certain quotient of natural skill, but they also train assiduously. They are athletes of stamina and discipline.
It is a team sport, everybody contributes to winning both on and off the track. The same applies in respect of the complex sale, with everybody from finance to customer service playing an important role in underpinning success.