Michael Porter: Why America Needs an Economic Strategy

“The stark truth is that the U.S. has no long-term economic strategy—no coherent set of policies to ensure competitiveness over the long haul. Strategy embodies clear priorities, based on understanding the strengths we need to preserve and the weaknesses that threaten our prosperity the most. Strategy addresses what to do, but also what not to do. In dealing with a crisis, experience teaches us that steps to address the immediate problem must support a long-term strategy. Yet it is far from clear that we are taking the steps most important to America’s long-term economic prosperity.”
That’s the Portermeister in BusinessWeek.
What he’s saying is Vote Obama 🙂

Recession as Opportunity

The nerds at Bain give us a few reminders from history:
Southwest Airlines surged ahead during the 2001 recession
Intel pulled away from AMD (also in 2001)
Johnson & Johnson, GE and IBM shifted focus on economically healthier regions in Q2/2008
Bank of America gobbled up Merrill Lynch (the opportunity of a lifetime) – just a few days ago
So, where are your opportunities?

Shaping Strategy in a World of Constant Disruption: How to Manage Your Business Ecosystem

In this month’s Harvard Business Review, authors John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison provide a road map for the daunting task of shaping strategy as technology-driven infrastructures constantly change.
The article is called: “Shaping Strategy in a World of Constant Disruption” and you can download it here (thanks Deloitte Consulting!) >>
In my view this is a very timely piece of thinking from my heroes JH3 and JSB (and Lang Davison). I’ll dig into it later this month on ecosystemwatch.com
Wait, there’s more. Check out the podcast >>

Online Selling: Procter & Gamble Goes Direct to Fight Private Labels?

Don’t look now, but P&G is trying some direct selling online.
From the Financial Times:

Procter & Gamble is testing its ability to use the internet to sell its toothpaste, household cleaners and nappies directly to US households, in a potential long-term strategic challenge to its retail partners.
…The move brings P&G into direct brand competition with its retailers, underlining the extent to which e-commerce is contributing to changes in the way the two sides have traditionally worked with each other.

OK. The site is called theEssentials.com, but so far it looks like they have very little traffic.
Is this how they intend to fight the private label war? I’ll talk about them later this month on ecosystemwatch.com

SNL Disaster: Sarah Palin Mocks Herself

This is truly amazing. The folks at SNL get VP candidate Sarah Palin to applaud a song which rips her to shreds… What was the McCain campaign thinking? Total and utter lack of judgment on their part.
Watch as SNL schools the McCain campaign:

Brilliant work by SNL. They get the ratings and trash the Republicans.

What Would Peter Drucker Do?

Looks like Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ is thinking along the same lines we are (for a few seconds at least).
They’ve gone an dug up an old article Peter Drucker wrote for them: Planning for Uncertainty.
Here are some of the key questions:
– …traditional planning asks, “What is most likely to happen?” Planning for uncertainty asks, instead, “What has already happened that will create the future?”
– “What do these accomplished facts mean for our business? What opportunities do they create? What threats? What changes do they demand — in the way the business is organized and run, in our goals, in our products, in our services, in our policies? And what changes do they make possible and likely to be advantageous?”
– “What changes in industry and market structure, in basic values (e.g., the emphasis on the environment), and in science and technology have already occurred but have yet to have full impact?”
– “What are the trends in economic and societal structure? And how do they affect our business?”
– “What is this company good at? What does it do well? What strengths, in other words, give it a competitive edge? Applied to what?”
He ends with a serious warning for the bean-counters:
There is, however, one condition: that the business create the resources of knowledge and of people to respond when opportunity knocks. This means developing a separate futures budget.
The 10% or 12% of annual expenditures needed to create and maintain the resources for the future — in research and technology, in market standing and service, in people and their development — must be put into a constant budget maintained in good years and bad. These are investments, even though accountants and tax collectors consider them operating expenses. They enable a business to make its future — and that, in the last analysis, is what planning for uncertainty means.

And don’t forget his advice for retail strategy >>

Warren Buffett: “Buy American. I am”

A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation’s many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.
Read all about it >>

5 Questions about Strategy and Business Design

Now is a good time to ask yourself these five business design questions (ht to Oliver Wyman):
1. Who is the customer and what do we offer? Which customer segments should we serve, and what is our value proposition for each segment?
2. What is our profit model for each of our offerings?
3. What do we perform in-house and what do we outsource?
4. How do we build in strategic control? Is there a way to create sustainable differentiation?
5. How should we organize ourselves to make it happen? What is the right organizational architecture to execute the business for each segment?
You can download the business blueprint (registration required): level-one flowcharts of how to run a profitable, sustainable, online business.
1) Offer development process
2) Offer creation process
3) Sales process
4) Marketing process
5) Order fulfillment & support process
6) Financial process
7) Licensee certification process
8) Licensee business development process
9) Events process
10) Archival process

David Letterman: The Comedian who Became an Anchor

As I mentioned earlier, it does seem like the comedians do a better job on serious issues.
In this case, David Letterman stands head and shoulders above our so-called news people like George Stephanopoulos, Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, and Brian Williams.
Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Note: Letterman’s interview also turns out to be the first mainstream media mention of the Liddy-McCain connection. So who’s the real terrorist?

Retail Strategy in a Downturn: Pay Your Vendors Fast (like T.J. Maxx)

In BusinessWeek:
Industry observers say that while those retailers can take 60 to 90 days or more to settle up, TJX typically pays within 30. These days, that’s a critical selling point both to vendors, who are more concerned about finding funds to buy raw materials and pay expenses, and to the financers who act as middlemen in many of the deals. It could give TJX—which also owns discounters Marshalls and HomeGoods—an added advantage in getting a wider selection of items.
Makes sense. Can’t sell something that’s not on the shelf, Drucker used to say…
Read the article here>>
There’s another very good reason to pay quickly: goodwill.
Your suppliers will take an extra step or two for you if they know they can count on you. This “trust” makes a giant difference in execution.
There’s a software company I know which used to delay its vendor payments as much as possible as part of its strategy. While it may have gained a few bucks in capital, it lost in terms of responsiveness. Big time. Vendors would move extremely slowly to deliver value. It was frustrating on both sides. And all because a few “brilliant” bean-counters thought they had found a way to squeeze a few more pennies into the corporate treasury.

God is in the Process: The Legacy of Michael Hammer

I have to say I was shocked when I saw the news about Michael Hammer. He was just sixty. Goes to show you how precious every second is. It may be that they need to do some process re-engineering up in heaven. Maybe make it more customer friendly or something…

Down here on Earth, process re-engineering isn’t as fashionable as it used to be. And I wonder how many people got laid off because of Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution (Collins Business Essentials).

But Hammer was misunderstood. His ideas were abused by company executives and the management consulting industry. Today his ideas live on in the heads of IT nerds and companies like Zara.

Where do you (and your company) stand? Check out the maturity models he created:
1) for process maturity, and 2) for enterprise maturity.

Too bad we didn’t see the one on leadership maturity.

Here are some fun links:
Put Processes First: Make High Performance Possible Michael Hammer
Michael Hammer: A Tribute to the Guru of Operations Anand Raman
Remembering Michael Hammer Tom Davenport

In the end, process matters. Even our buddy Drucker acknowledged that.
BTW, the other process guru who is still (very) alive and kicking isTom Davenport.

Retail Strategy: Tips from Peter Drucker

One of the great things about the late Peter Drucker is that he can be summoned to solve just about any problem.
One of my clients is a web retailer. They’re having serious issues with “customer hesitancy.”
And of course the headlines are now full of bad news in retail.
So we had a long chat about customer hesitancy. What makes the customer hesitant? Is it really the news on TV? Is it the fact that they might be out of a job?
My first piece of advice to them was straight out of Drucker: Stop selling and start buying for the customer.
Are you buying for the customer? Really?
That line of reasoning led to these predictable questions: so exactly who is your customer? Are there segments you aren’t serving that you should? Are there segments you should stop wasting your time with?
We were able to go and look at their historic web-sales data (for the past two years down to the last two weeks) to find out who their customers really were. And surprise, there was no customer hesitancy there!
All they needed was to focus on the right segment. We changed the website to do just that.
Listen to good old (in this case a younger, “1.0 version”) Drucker:

What Went Wrong

I’m still trying to understand what this economic meltdown is all about.
Here are a few good links:
When fortune frowned The Economist
Yes, It’s A Wreck, But We Can Fix It Newsweek
Financial crisis: World round-up BBC
Good Financial Information Matters More Than Ever Robert Schiller

Financial Leadership, the Missing Ingredient
Rick Wartzman
Our Choice Nouriel Roubini
We Have the Tools to Manage the Crisis Paul Volcker
Good Policies Can Save the Economy Lee Ohanian
Fundamentalists versus Realists Paul Romer
The Stunning Collapse of Iceland Business Week
and here’s a “fun” look at another issue:
This stock collapse is petty when compared to the nature crunch Guardian Unlimited
Finally, here’s some humor: 5 financial crisis jokes from Marketplace >>
* 5. I went to buy a toaster, and it came with a bank.
* 4. Money talks. Trouble is, mine only knows one word: Goodbye.
* 3. How do you define optimism? A banker who irons five shirts on Sunday.
* 2. What’s the capital of Iceland? Answer: $3.50.
And the No. 1 financial crisis joke of the week is …
Q: What is the one thing Wall Street and the Olympics have in common?
A: Synchronized diving!

Download the Blueprint: 10 Processes to Run Your Business

Level-one flowcharts of how to run a profitable, sustainable, online business. Covers the following work processes:
1) Offer development process
2) Offer creation process
3) Sales process
4) Marketing process
5) Order fulfillment & support process
6) Financial process
7) Licensee certification process
8) Licensee business development process
9) Events process
10) Archival process
You’ll have to register for this one >>

What Works in a Downturn: Purpose-Branding or Cause-Marketing

Despite the downturn, there is evidence that consumers are interested in “purpose branding.”
That’s the spin from Procter & Gamble’s Jim Stengel who (surprise, surprise) is leaving P&G at the end of the month to join a “purpose branding” consultancy.
Back-up data: In a study released this month, 26% of consumers expect companies to give more support to causes and nonprofits in an economic downturn, while 52% expect companies to maintain existing programs. Another 79% of consumers said if price and quality were similar, they would switch to a brand associated with a good cause.
OK, I’ll buy it.
And if your company is looking to do some cause-related branding, here’s a cool green company you should team up with: The Solar Electric Light Fund >>

Hope vs. Hate = Peace vs. War = Obama vs. McCain?

Growing up in India, we’d occasionally see signs of “communal violence” in the streets. Sometimes, school would be canceled, and we’d stay at home playing cricket or soccer.
Curiously, these acts of violence between Muslims and Hindus, or Hindus and Sikhs, or Hindus and Christians, or Hindus and Dalits, would appear precisely at the same time as the elections.
Politicians have a simple formula. Divide people and win. This worked for the British, and unfortunately, it’s still being tried in India today.
Another shameful political tactic to join a long list of tactics used to gain or maintain power. And the voice of sanity is, as usual, drowned out.
Now we have John McCain doing his best to raise fear and divide us here in the US. The sad truth is that we’re not as civilized as we think, and the Republican party continues to exploit these poor racists – taking them for a ride – like their parents before them.
What’s it going to be, America? Hope or Hate?

Downturn 2008: Harvard Business Review’s Survival Guide

And now, a survival guide from HBR.
My favorite entries:
Why Entrepreneurs Love a Downturn
How to Market in a Recession
Staying Green in a Tough Economic Climate
Three Steps to Innovating in Struggling Industries
America’s Addiction and the New Economics of Strategy
Beyond the Banking Crisis: A Strategy Crisis
Hard Times Demand Teamwork — Not an MVP
Non sequitur: What is the difference between Palin and a Muslim fundamentalist? Lipstick.