When I am doing difficult mathematical problems with my son, if he does not yet know the right answer (or the method to solve the problem), generally he will give several answers in the hope that at least one of them might click. I am trying to train him up to be a good thinker, besides being a good mathematician.
So, I encourage precision and brevity. The art of hitting the nail on the head really separates the good carpenters from the bad ones, and good mathematicians, and good product designers from the not-so-great ones.
When I was reading the book “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt, I was struck with the realisation that the bad strategists do exactly that same thing. If they are not sure of which two or three (or four) things will make all the difference in a situation, in general they will recommend a number of solutions (sometimes as many as 20-30) in the hope that at least some of them might click.
That is the reason whenever I see an article with a title saying 7,8 or 9 reasons…(also called listicles) – I know it will just be a laundry list of things of marginal importance. Watch out for strategists who offer a laundry list of unrelated solutions – in most cases they have not really diagnosed the problem adequately, and try and tackle the symptoms rather than the root causes.
This is how Richard Rumelt describes the difference between good strategy and bad strategy:
“The most basic idea of strategy is the application of strength against weakness. Or, if you prefer, strength applied to the most promising opportunity. The standard modern treatment of strategy has expanded this idea into a rich discussion of potential strengths, today called “advantages.” There are advantages due to being a first mover: scale, scope, network effects, reputation, patents, brands, and hundreds more. None of these are logically wrong, and each can be important. Yet this whole midlevel framework misses two huge incredibly important sources of natural strength: Having a coherent strategy—one that coordinates policies and actions. A good strategy doesn’t just draw on existing strength; it creates strength through the coherence of its design. Most organizations of any size don’t do this. Rather, they pursue multiple objectives that are unconnected with one another or, worse, that conflict with one another. The creation of new strengths through subtle shifts in viewpoint. An insightful reframing of a competitive situation can create whole new patterns of advantage and weakness. The most powerful strategies arise from such game-changing insights.
It is a great book, and I thoroughly recommend it. In it Richard talks about his meeting with Steve Jobs and his discussion about Apple’s strategy. He was struck by how unique that strategy was especially when compared with all the other tech CEOs that Richard interviewed.
That brings up to the difficult topic of Apple Watch which was launched today.
Being a bit of tech buff I spent several hours trying to understand exactly what does the watch do and looking for those two or three essential things that would make me buy it.
Frankly, I wanted to buy it.
Yet, I could not find anything that will make me keep all my other watches away. When Apple launched printers – they were clear about two or three things these printers did which no other printer did as well. Steve Jobs explains this in one of his videos very well:
This was equally true of all other Apple products that were phenomenally successful.
Itunes allowed people to rip CDs, store music and buy single tracks better than any other product. Ipods allowed listeners the most convenient way of storing a large selection of music. Iphones allowed the best user interface among smart phones (I used to own the best smart phone before Iphone came along – and it was badddd!). So, I looked and looked, trying to find those two or three things in the Apple watch that will make all the difference. I am sorry to say that I did not yet find them. If there is something in there, they have carefully hidden it so far. I will take another look when the Apple watch comes out in the market. What does it have to do with Apple strategy overall? Well, if Apple does not ‘innovate’ another killer product like those earlier ones, very soon it will lose its shine!