We each have a calling. It might be revealed through the intense focus of a Formula One racing driver like 24-year-old champion Sebastian Vettel, whose mechanical intuition helped him nurse a car hobbled by gearbox problems to a second place finish in the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix. Or the intuitive directing of Clint Eastwood. Or the eye for consumer product design of the late Steve Jobs.
We romanticize the accomplishments of talented individuals, but companies often have their own version of a calling. At a very basic level, these strengths may be revealed as the product of a company’s strategic choices. It is more than 30 years since Michael Porter gave us his now classic cost leadership, product differentiation or nothing perspective on corporate strategy, for example. His conclusion was that there were, broadly speaking, two paths to a strong market position—and a performance abyss for those who did not follow one of those paths.
All well and good. But, given that change over time is a reality, how can a business on either path sustain superior performance as it evolves? In “To Thine Own Self Be True,” the authors examine sustained, superior performance and consider the types of behavioral changes companies take in pursuit of it. An analysis of 45 years of data suggests that companies adjust their core positioning—their chosen path of cost leadership or product differentiation—at their peril. Yet other avenues of strategic change, pursued with a healthy respect for a company’s positioning, are systematically associated with longer-term success. By their nature these decisions are not easy, and nothing we write here can make them so. But, the authors argue, they needn’t be a stab in the dark.
Strengths can inform more specific decisions as well. One of the changes we have seen over the past several years has been the emergence of social media as a significant factor in commerce. In “Making the Most of Your Marketing DNA,” the authors describe a set of marketing archetypes—strengths a company may possess that can guide investments in, among other things, social media. A closer examination of what a company excels at—customer experience, say, or product innovation—can serve as a starting point to implement these emerging technologies most advantageously. Effective marketing organizations, they observe, view investments through the lens of their natural strengths.
The notion of using our own strengths as a guide to personal betterment is widely embraced. In many respects, “know thyself” turns out to be useful advice at a corporate level as well.