Strategy is the exercise of making decisions to drive business direction. Strategy is about choice - what you’re doing, and more importantly, what you’re not doing.
Most strategy starts with a variation of a simple question - how can we win? What can we do that will help us capture a market or increase our profits?
From that starting point - Markets are mapped, choices are enumerated, and decision making frameworks are put to work. Popular stories of strategy are about businesses taking big risks, employing some unique leverage, or hacking their way to success.
But what if we turned the process around? What if, instead of thinking forward - developing strategy to help us win - we thought backwards - and focused on strategy that just prevents us from losing.
In other words, what happens when inversion is the driving force behind strategic planning?
I think what you end up with is a land of evergreen strategy - strategy that is quite simply never wrong. The closest example to this is Amazon’s focus on low prices and vast selection. One of the most quoted Jeff Bezos
I very frequently get the question: “What’s going to change in the next 10 years?” And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: “What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?” And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two – because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection.
It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, “Jeff, I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher.” “I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.” Impossible.
And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.
In technology, we can fall victim to building new things for a changing landscape. And the allure of new drives tech journalism. This is the world of forward-looking strategy. Ofcourse, it’s not without merit - there are many examples of this success.
But the next feature fallacy is real. As product builders on the constant search for delightful and engaged users, maybe we should just stop and ask - what won’t piss our users off?
And then go build it.