There are things that work and many more that don't. Let's discuss what we've experienced . . . not our opinions . . . but actually what our days and nights as marketers, business leaders, parents, people are teaching us. Please give us a hand. Tell us about your experience with this stuff.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Success of Strategy: It Isn't What You Think

The key to success continues to be a subject of wonderment to me. I study and observe over and over again the number of times great minds move in a direction with great conviction only to discover that they got lucky. It's as if moving with conviction makes you much more likely to get lucky . . . if you are smart enough to adjust.

I always enjoy talking with successful people about how they got where they are. And the most frequent response is that 'it was an accident' or 'there really was not any overarching plan' or 'the phone rang and I picked it up'. The serendipities of success seem to be the rule, however the fact remains that these people were looking for success and determined to find it. It's just that the path moved a bit.

Two examples:

Recently reading William Manchester's The World Lit Only By Fire, Manchester discusses how the great Spanish and English explorers found a new world while attempting to find a sea route to the east. Their ambition was to replace the land-based commercial routes (which produced a dozen different hands touching, charging and moving the goods) for a sea route with lower pricing and more predictable business relationships. In the end, the big win was finding a entirely new source of business, land and wealth. Ironically the Portuguese were more successful in attaining the sea route to the east (note: in fact they discover Brazil when one of their ships gets lost in an extreme storm rounding the Cape of Good Hope; sounds a bit far fetched, but that's the story), but in the long run lost the opportunity to redefine their and our world.

The second, more recent, example involves the founders of Microsoft and its genesis. One story has it that Bill Gates et al saw their future in the developing of software for computers. Certainly this viewpoint and its wisdom is unquestionable. However the critical moment, say some business historians, came when IBM needed an operating system for their new line of computers and the Microsoft guys bought one they had used in the past. They licensed it to IBM, thereby funding Microsoft's dreams. Gates was going after one thing; it drove him to seek something else which in the end enabled him to do exactly what he wanted. But let's be clear, the Microsoft kingdom was built on the success of the licensing of an operating system, not the fun, neat software they were building. There were and have been plenty of developers of fun, neat software who never made it out of their garage. The operating system license was the key to the success.

So what's the arithmetic here? Well, it seems that moving with conviction and even daring, gives one a chance to be successful; however having the ability to adjust as opportunities evolve along the way becomes even more a predictor.

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