If you wish to exhaust competitors… keep them reactive!

by Didier Marlier on Friday June 17th, 2016

Our friends of Oliver Wyman will correct me if I am wrong: It is one of their partners, Adrian Slywotzky, who wrote “Value Migration: How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition”, in which his strong argument is that, keeping competitors reactive is the best way to exhaust them.

And he is probably right. I remember the outburst of laughter when I asked managers in a mobile phone company, if they did not fear the future competition of Apple and their iPhone. I was kindly reminded that my area was leadership development and should leave mobile phones with those serious people who knew about it… Two years later, each move of the Cupertino giant was dissected with anxiety and nobody was laughing any longer. But, I would argue that, more than Apple, it is probably its competitors from the time who killed themselves by entering into a reactive followership mode. There would seem to be no more own strategies but one obsession: predict and pre-empt Steve Jobs next idea. Is there someone who seriously believes that, a few years ago, a drunken Apple engineer “forgot” his ultra-secret bright new iPhone prototype in a bar of California? Or was it just another lure of Apple, inviting competition to chase them into territories they never had the intention to explore?

One is not necessarily obliged to resort to such tactics however. Several studies (amongst which the one that gave birth to the book “Built to last”) point out in the direction that Purpose led “Visionary Companies” force their opponents to stay on the defence who then become exhausted through reactivity.

This short reflection came to my mind when talking to several friends in Brazil over the week (following my last post): Their country is an amazing reservoir of raw material and pure talents for the world. People there are very creative, good willing, extremely hard working and do not suffer the cynicism that we encounter in so many European economies for example. Their leaders are trained in the best schools of the world, including Brazilian business schools. But an extreme reactivity is plaguing the country: Whereas in a country like Switzerland, the social pressure makes it that lying people off should be the last option resort, in Brazil the slightest hick-up in the economy sees unemployed people.

The other reflection came, thinking of the intended impact of the recent terror attacks in France and Belgium. Putting us in a reactive state, driven by fear, rejecting each other are part of the plan, most certainly.

Like many in France, I have been profoundly impressed by the purposeful (and not reactive) stand taken by a victim of the Paris November 2015 attack: Antoine Leiris is a journalist in Paris. His wife, Hélène and him had just had a son, Melvil. It would be Hélène’ first night out with friends and Antoine was going to take care of their son. Hélène headed for a heavy metal rock concert at the Bataclan and… never came back. Antoine’s reply to those who killed his son’s mother is an example of a man remaining purposeful, refusing to fall into the trap of reaction and coming out of this with a renewed energy.

It is my belief that, as responsible business leaders, acting purposefully in times of economic crisis, remaining behind our Essential Strategy will help us navigate safer through the storm.

Paris, Barcelona (for the graduation of my son), Paris again and a moment with the remarkable team at the Hôtel de Ville de Crissier, the World’s leading Restaurant who, remained purposeful after the terrible loss of their leader, Benoît Violier in January.

Enjoy your week.

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