Why it’s very hard to say no…yet very important


I firmly believe that strategy is about making choices. I didn’t have to read it in a book or sit down with Michael Porter to come to this conclusion. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been saying “no” to a bunch of things. I’m known to fire clients, or simply reject prospects without thinking about it. Sometimes, I don’t even take on clients because I perceive they will become a problem, and as a result it will become a pain in the butt work experience.

For me and my organization, it is very clear what types of organizations we want to work with. And, it isn’t because they can pay us more. It is because we admire, respect and feel that our values are aligned with their. It is a great filter to have. But for others who have worked  with me, it is hard to accept; because they focused on closing deals.

I didn’t draw this up in a strategic plan or just deliberately do it. It is instinctive. It is my personality to focus on what matters and eliminate that which doesn’t. And, what matters to me is completely different to what matters to you. This is what strategy is about…

Piercing through the fog and focusing on what matters to your organization. This is why it’s so important to have your own unique point of view.

Most people and organizations of any kind, of course, are not like this. They have trouble making choices. In terms of sales, to them, anybody is a client. And because they pursue everyone, it also seems to me that they have more headaches. Going after everything that moves requires a lot of energy, and expending it everywhere is a recipe for disaster. Focusing your energy on a few things that matter is more limited, but more interesting choice.

Focusing on a few things that matter at the beginning, actually makes you stronger in the long-term.

As they are for strategy, constraints are key for creativity and innovation. Do all companies make choices? Yes. At some point all face the brutal facts. I believe maverick companies make the most unconventional choices of all. The Googles, Apples, W.L. Gores, Amazons of the world. These companies may serve everyone right now, but they didn’t start out that way.

Extreme choices are where these companies live. They didn’t seek the middle ground because that meant being all things to everyone. They aspired to “be the most of something”. And when they started, they focused intensely on the few things that would help them achieve that. In short, they had a unique point of view of what they wanted to do.

The point: Strategy is about choice. It is a guide for behavior. And to be able to make these choices, you have to be clear about what really matters to you.


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