Chapter 4: Setting the Strategy

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” 

– Michael Porter

Pull back from the keyboard. Put down that pen. Don’t write anything, please, until you’ve thought through your business’ strategy. Start your lean plan with practical strategy.

It’s harder to write about strategy than just to do it. They give out PhD degrees for strategy studies, which can be extremely elaborate. People spend entire careers studying strategy as it applies to large corporations.

Strategy is Like Sculpture

Strategy is like driving and sex — we all think we’re pretty good at it. But simplifying, doing today what will seem obvious tomorrow, is genius. I say the best strategies seem obvious as soon as you understand them. Furthermore, it seems to me that if they don’t seem obvious after the fact, they didn’t work.

I chose the Michael Porter quote above because I believe it’s a great way to see strategy in real world small business and startups. Strategy is what you’re not doing. My favorite metaphor is the sculptor with a block of marble — the art is what he chips off the block, not what he leaves in. Michelangelo started with a big chunk of marble and chipped pieces off of it until it was his David. Strategy is focus.

Strategy has to be easy to define. In this chapter I start with my own identity-market-offering (IMO) method, which is pretty simple. But I’ve also worked in depth, during my consulting years, with several competing strategy frameworks, and every one of them works well if it’s applied correctly and executed. In fact, I say you can also define strategy with a story, or a small collection of stories, which I explain in Lead with Stories.

And let’s be clear about this: Methods don’t matter. Use my IMO method, or use stories, or some other method. What matters is focus, what you do and don’t do, and whether it works.

This chapter includes the following:

I should add, however, that I have a lot more about strategy – if you like thinking about this, as I do – in the More About Strategy chapter in Section 6, additional information. That includes stories as strategy, SWOT, growth models, strategic positioning, defining strategy statements, and how to do a mission statement. I left all of that towards the back, in that additional information section, so you can read it if you want and it doesn’t slow down the step-by-step portion.

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