How Nothing New Can Be the Right Strategy

Apple CoreStrategy sounds like a complex subject.  It isn’t.  It boils down to one word – no.

Strategy is about saying “no” to things that will distract you from reaching your destination.  Too often we become enamored with the latest cool new idea when it would actually be best to say no to pursuing it.  Why?  Resources (including focus and energy) are limited.  If you go chasing every new initiative you can think of, the core of your work is likely to suffer unless you’re adding resources to continue running that piece of your business well.

You can avoid the distraction trap though.  It’s merely a question of focus and will power.  Allow me to illustrate.

I have a lot of wonderful contacts in my contact list.  I try to be pretty rigorous about staying in touch with them on a regular basis.  Sometimes I’m not always successful and the interval between conversations is longer than I would like it to be.

Recently I arranged a bunch of calls with people I hadn’t spoken with in a while (many of them clients or prospects).  During the opening introductions on every call, there are the compulsories: “How are you?  What’s new?  What have you been working on?”  After I listened to all the new events in their lives since we last spoke, I found myself saying something oddly similar to everyone:

“I’m just working on the same things as I was when we last spoke.”

After about the fifth call where I said this, I noticed the pattern and questioned it.  Was I not cool?  Was my strategy stale?  Was I not innovating?  Why was I still doing the same things (teaching classes, promoting my book, growing the blog) as I was when I spoke to someone a year earlier?  I pondered this question for a while and could only come up with one good answer: strategy.  We’re simply very focused on the core right now.

Given the state my business is at, focus and consistency is the right answer for us right now.  We have a core set of course offerings that are well proven.  We have a solid client base (but that’s where all the growth potential for us resides).  We have a deep instructor pool.  We have some successful books.  Given the focus for us is growing the business (as it is for everyone), I’ve been making a deliberate choice to focus on one aspect of our business (adding new clients/expanding relationships with existing ones).  That’s where the most consistent, predictable growth comes from.

To do so, it’s not about launching cool new courses, translating our courses into wickedawesome new online tools and formats, digitizing and productizing our stuff, or offering new services like consulting services.  No.  We have a proven formula – outstanding training courses delivered onsite by experienced instructors.  It works.  We nail it.  Every time.  If I begin investing effort and money into all these newfangled ideas or services, invariably those efforts will detract from the successful core business.  Those distractions could lead to weaker performance, loss of clients, or simply missed opportunities.

This is a case where saying “no” makes absolute sense.  Our strategy for growing our business is working.  The best decision I can make at present is to not change anything.  Anyone remember what happened when Coke launched New Coke?  Um, yeah.  That.

There’s nothing at all wrong with focus.  Sometimes there’s everything right with it.  What you have to ensure is you’re making a deliberate decision to focus on your core business versus succumbing to organizational inertia, the fear of change, a lack of innovation capabilities, or flat out fear of doing something new.  If you are comfortable with your choice to stay the course on your current strategy and you’re positive it’s not an excuse to get away with some of those aforementioned dysfunctional behaviors, then stay the course and execute like mad.

Too often we become seduced by the notion that the new product or innovative idea is the one that will transform our business to an overnight success.  Yes, sometimes that does happen.  And sometimes people win the progressive jackpot in Vegas…

More often than not, the successful organizations are the ones who clearly define their strategy (vision, mission, goals, guiding principles, and strategic filters for evaluating new opportunities) then execute near-flawlessly against that chosen path.  Organizations that pursue a flavor of the week strategy tend to make little progress on many fronts.  Strategically successful organizations, on the other hand, make a great deal of progress on a very small number of fronts.  That’s why they win – because they’re better than everyone else in their chosen field of endeavor.

How focused is your strategy?  Are you proud of telling someone you’re doing the same old thing and it’s working out smashingly or do you instead find yourself talking about a ton of cool new innovations that all lack substantive progress?

Don’t write off the strategy of “doing more of the same” if “the same” happens to be something that’s highly successful…

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

– If you want to do a better job of leading the thinking and setting a vision for your organization, grab a copy of my book One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership and focus on the Leading the Thinking section.

Photo: red apple core by Roger Karlsson

13 Responses to “How Nothing New Can Be the Right Strategy”

  1. Duane Penzien says:

    Great Reminder! I find that in my career, there are ALWAYS things trying to distract your focus from goals you have, and seldom are they important enough to justify an change. I needed this reminder today, as a matter of fact – thanks!

  2. The business world is scattered with the debris of organisations who lost focus on their core businesses and tried to be more; bigger; better and different.

    There’s nothing wrong with ensuring that strategic reviews look inwardly asking ‘What can we do even better’, within the areas we are good at.

    I’m thinking egos have to carry much of the blame here…



  3. It is not uncommon for those who trust you to ask for help with other initiatives. Rather than say no, cultivate solid strategic alliances with companies that focus on providing those additional services. This strategy provides new marketing channels for your business, strengthens client relationships and provides clients with the reliable, vetted vendors they need.

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Hi Merri. I think you raise a fair point here. The only caveat I would put out there is even alliances and partnership initiatives take focus, time, and energy. Ensuring you’re not managing too many of them is key. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Al Watts says:

    Well-written, Mike, and I basically agree. As with most things, however, balance is needed here – The business world is also scattered with the debris of companies who were so focused doing what worked for years, they neglected to notice game-changing market signals (Detroit auto makers in the 80’s, Sony’s Walkman before Apple’s iPod, traditional publishers uprooted by e-publishing and Amazon, etc. . .)

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      I completely agree Al. Focusing on *relevant* work that the market demands is the key, right? Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great post, Mike! My suggestion is to change your update message. Most people probably won’t recall “the same things” you shared on your last chat. Pick one of your core set of offerings and share it with energy and enthusiasm like it’s the “latest and greatest” offering. Many times we are our own worst enemy by perceiving that nothing new is “stale” and communicating in a casual manner. A commitment to focus is also a commitment to staying fresh in our attitudes about our core offerings over a longer time horizon.

  6. Brian Lard says:

    I think the point is well made! Chasing the shiny new toy is often a significant distraction for many companies.

    At the same time, how do you recognize when your strategy is leading you the way of the buggy whip? I don’t think it’s either or…I think focus on the core strategy and executing it flawlessy is a great approach. But is there a concern that focusing on core strengths can unintentionally delay course corrections that were, in fact, necessary because the market changed around you?

    How does a company find the balance?

  7. andy_mcf says:

    Good reminder to us all that de-prioritizing is as important as prioritizing.

    True in our relationships w/ customers also. Whether for a type of service, a new product, or a product modification, rejecting customers’ requests (with tact) is an acceptable alternative. Rejection hurts, but so does being strung along. More here…

  8. Good piece and an important reminder. It always amazes me the lengths that some executives will go to avoiding confronting someone and just say no to the newest shiny new idea to chase around.

    Here are my top three:

    1. We’ll form a committee to investigate (nothing like a nice slow death)
    2. Let’s ask the Board for input (and after we bring them up to speed, we will all have forgotten what we were discussing)
    3. Meet amongst yourselves and once you reach consensus, I’ll weigh in on the new idea (dodging the bullet like Neo on the rooftop vs. the agents)

    No is fine. It’s pure and there honesty in it. And there’s a reason it’s the same word in many different languages.

    “No” works. I agree.

  9. Gayle Lantz says:

    Good points. Strategy should be a deliberate choice. Ultimately leaders should understand why they are following a specific strategy and revisit it frequently to make adjustments, if needed. Saying “no” now doesn’t mean you can’t say “yes” later. It’s necessary to sharpen your focus so you can achieve better business results.

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