Strategy – and the Sisyphean quest
The Sisyphean quest to achieve sustainable competitive advantage and to win is at the core of every business’s strategy. The quest is Sisyphean because the unceasing adaptability of competitors, the ever-changing market environment, and the constant waves of disruptive innovation always seek to return your stone to the bottom of the mountain.
That said, the task if unrelenting, is not hopeless. On the contrary, a leader’s conviction in herself and her company’s business journey, in her vision, and in her strategy to attain it, is energising, challenging, and fulfilling. As Albert Camus wrote; “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Having worked with leaders in many different industries, from digital gaming to building materials, from pure service providers to manufacturers, it has become clear to me that the approach to strategy must vary according to the particular challenges faced. The struggle becomes much more difficult if one builds one’s strategic plan on shifting sands. For example, in more traditional industries like the oil or building materials industries, classic strategic planning over longer time horizons matching the businesses’ unique capabilities to perceived / foreseeable challenges can yield excellent results. However, in more fast-paced market environments, this classic approach can lead to failure due to the rapidity of change and potential gravity of disruption. This problem is outlined in Martin Reeves’s excellent HBR article “Your strategy needs a strategy.” In my strategy interventions I have seen that it is vital for leaders to match their strategic approach (Reeves’s calls it “Strategic Style”) to their competitive environments and their business’s place along the business journey (see Value Partnership’s research on ‘Navigating your business journey’).
That said, however, I have noticed that there are a few things that are constant irrespective of the environment, or strategic approach chosen:
In my work and more broadly within Value Partnership, we have seen that strategy is the cornerstone of direction and alignment. Choosing the right strategic approach for your particular circumstance, making the tough choices having done the hard work of analysis and understanding, and leading your teams with conviction will sustain you in the tough times when external (and sadly sometimes internal) forces seek to push your stone back to the bottom of the mountain.