6 of the most common strategy traps

strategy trapsStrategy without change is pointless, and doing what everyone else is doing is not a strategy; it’s a key principle most business people don’t get.

Take the most common advice you hear out there: don’t limit yourself to niche market; you won’t make any money.

First of all, it’s all about context. And, you come in with a different angle if you are aiming transform the category/industry/market. So that common advice is worthless without proper context and perspective; which many lack because they are doing what everyone else is doing.

It’s an all too common strategy trap; and a reason why true strategy is so hard. Business leaders would be more effective is they knew when they are following convention and heading into a trap…

From Roger Martin and A G Lafley’s Playing to Win:

There is no perfect strategy—no algorithm that can guarantee sustainable competitive advantage in a given industry or business. But there are signals that a company has a particularly worrisome strategy.

Here are six of the most common strategy traps:

  • The do-it-all strategy: failing to make choices, and making everything a priority. Remember, strategy is choice.
  • The Don Quixote strategy: attacking competitive “walled cities” or taking on the strongest competitor first, head-to-head. Remember, where to play is your choice. Pick somewhere you can have a chance to win.
  • The Waterloo strategy: starting wars on multiple fronts with multiple competitors at the same time. No company can do everything well. If you try to do so, you will do everything weakly.
  • The something-for-everyone strategy: attempting to capture all consumer or channel or geographic or category segments at once. Remember, to create real value, you have to choose to serve some constituents really well and not worry about the others.
  • The dreams-that-never-come-true strategy: developing high-level aspirations and mission statements that never get translated into concrete where-to-play and how-to-win choices, core capabilities, and management systems. Remember that aspirations are not strategy. Strategy is the answer to all five questions in the choice cascade.
  • The program-of-the-month strategy: settling for generic industry strategies, in which all competitors are chasing the same customers, geographies, and segments in the same way. The choice cascade and activity system that supports these choices should be distinctive. The more your choices look like those of your competitors, the less likely you will ever win.

These are strategic traps to be aware of as you craft a strategy.

True strategy requires making trade offs; it’s the backbone of every well crafted strategy. It requires asking yourself some tough questions, such as: have most of my competitors made the same choice as me?

If the answer is “yes,” you have more work to do to have a smart strategy rather than just a non-stupid one.

Bottom line: A true strategist understands that to avoid the common strategy traps, that it’s not so much what you do but rather what you don’t do that matters.