A Strategic Framework – Easy as PIE

Categories Leadership & Management, StrategiesPosted on

Take a moment to reflect on your grand strategy for your team or organization.

Seriously, take just a moment to sit back and focus on what you plan to accomplish.

Arguably, that exercise has likely revealed that you are in one of three groups:

Group #1: You found this to be a fairly simple exercise as you have invested significant resources to create your plan. You have paid the price in time, energy, and intellectual bandwidth to create the plan. Congratulations. This is good news, but is likely destined for disappointment as you don’t have a process in place to execute the strategy.

Group #2: You’re thinking I have no idea what my grand strategy is, I’m just hoping to make it through the week. Unlike the first group, you too are destined for disappointment, but at least you may not understand what could have been accomplished. Thus, your disappoint will be muted compared to Group #1.

Group #3: You have invested to create a plan AND have a process in place to make it happen. You and your organization are the rarest of breeds.

A Framework to Get You Started

If you are looking for an approach to strategy and execution, consider this high-level framework. I created it and have used it with many clients to help them, Plan, Implement and Evaluate organizational strategy.

The approach, called the PIE Chart, is simple, but not simplistic. Watch this five minute video to get you started.


Are You Pursuing Strategy or Shoveling Cow Crap Quicker?

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The word strategy is bantered about in meetings, classrooms, cocktail parties, and everywhere else.

Perhaps you’ve heard people saying things like:

  • “I’m a strategic thinker.”
  • “We are shifting strategies right now.”
  • “Our strategy this year (or month) is…”

patrick leddinIn many instances, the individual, team or organization isn’t truly pursuing a strategy or thinking strategically, they are exhibiting more of a herd mentality.

Please hear me on this. Sometimes the herd mentality is effective and appropriate. Many organizations (dare I say most organizations) follow this mindset to varying degrees of success.

But, strategy is different. Done well, strategy is bold, arguably brazen. It’s bucking convention or reshaping how we collectively see things. It is about doing something sizably different, making tradeoffs, or charting a new course. These behaviors are the essence of strategy.

Invest Two Minutes

I invite you to invest two minutes to watch this video. In it, I discuss the difference between true strategic thinking and merely operating with a herd mentality.


As you watch the video, challenge yourself to answer these three questions:

1.    How comfortable are you at explaining what strategy is and isn’t?

2.    Are you working to execute a strategy or focusing solely on operational excellence?  What would you show me to prove your answer?

3.    What should you and your organization do today to avoid being overcome by the herd?

Now what?

Consider your answers.

If you are content with the direction things are going. Excellent. Keep moving forward.

If a discussion or change in direction is needed, share the video with your team and use it as a starting point.

What David Bowie’s Career Teaches Us About Strategy

Categories Strategies, Your CareerPosted on

Some 18 months ago, David Bowie succumbed to a battle with cancer. After his passing, I invested time studying his career. In short order, it became clear that the career choices Bowie made align with what the best thinkers say about strategy

Perhaps it was intuition, studied decisions, or advice from others that informed his career. Whatever the source, Bowie’s career moves were smart moves.

You may think that trying to connect my world of teaching and consulting to David Bowie’s career is too big a leap. Stick with me for a moment.

I invite you to consider three observations of Bowie’s work and how they relate to organizational strategy. To support the connection, quotes are included Harvard Business School’s professor of strategy, Michael Porter.

As you read each observation, take a moment to reflect on the questions I pose to see if there is room for strategic improvement in your organization.

1. Choose to Be Different

“Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” – Michael Porter

Strategy is not about following everyone else; it’s about making choices and charting your own course.

David Bowie wasn’t a reincarnation of other musicians.

He was different.

He dressed different.

He acted different.

He experimented with different genres.

He went against convention.

He even declined the honor of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000 and a knighthood in 2003.

What about you and your organization?

  • Are you following everyone else’s path or charting your own course?
  • What is the last BIG strategic move you said ‘yes’ to? Which one did you say ‘no’ to?
  • What choice are you facing today? What is the long-term payoff if you make that choice?


2. Embrace and Create Change

 “Change brings opportunities. On the other hand, change can be confusing.”           – Michael Porter

Bowie was more than a musician; he was theater. He was constantly changing. At times, his changes confused people. Many didn’t understand his clothing, make-up, or on-stage (and off-stage) antics.

He emerged in the late 1960s and within a few years, found fame (ChangesLife on Mars, Space Oddity (Major Tom)). He invented the persona Ziggy Stardust (Starman) and became a pioneer of glam rock. After two years as Ziggy, Bowie abruptly announced the character’s retirement.

He then embraced soul and funk and appeared as the Thin White Duke (Rebel Rebel and All the Young Dudes). He later changed direction to the Berlin era (Wild is the Wind and Sound & Vision), followed by the pop era (Let’s Dance and China Girl), and then an electronic period (I’m Afraid of Americans).

He added acting, directing, painting, and fashion to his artistic endeavors. Like all of us, Bowie had his ups and downs, but he was always changing and moving forward. In fact, his last album was released on his 69th birthday – just two days before he died.

What about you and your organization?

  • Do you seek out change? Or, have things become too comfortable?
  • When was the last time you reinvented yourself? Your organization?
  • What is the next step in your and your organization’s evolution? When will you take that step?


3. Collaborate Well

“I’m really puzzled by why people in societies find it difficult to work collaboratively together with other people in societies.”                                – Michael Porter

In speaking of Bowie’s career, Jeremy Allen of NME explained that “like all the great performers whose longevity has been built on reinvention, Bowie has a canny knack of knowing who best to work with at the right time.”

Bowie didn’t just collaborate with other performers, he excelled at it. Here are a few examples:

What about your and your organization?

  • Who are you currently collaborating with?
  • Who should you be collaborating with? Who should you move away from?
  • Do you collaborate with those who are different from you? Or, are you consumed by the mediocrity of sameness?

Amazon Buying Whole Foods: An Amazon Strategy Lesson 21 Years in the Making

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In recent days, cable news business shows, print newspapers, and social media outlets have been packed with extensive commentary about Amazon strategy to pay $13+ billion to acquire Whole Foods. Speculation runs the gambit about the short- and long-term impact of Amazon’s latest move.

Today’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ) says it well:

“The impact of the e-commerce giant’s Whole Foods deal on online grocery services is still unclear, but one thing is certain: Competition is heating up” – WSJ

The article goes on to explain that Amazon’s entrance in the space is adding to the frenzy among grocery stores for a growing share of home delivery service market.

 Strategy Lesson 21 Years in the Making

Two seemingly unrelated events happened in 1996. I invite you to join me as I draw from both events, take the liberty to make a few connections, and challenge your approach to strategy development.

Event #1: July 5, 1996 – The Dolly the Sheep Strategy

Dolly the Sheep was born at the Roslin Institute, part of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She was the first-ever cloned mammal – the product of a cytoplasmic donor, a nuclear donor, and a surrogate ewe.

At the time of her birth, the story dominated the media. It was called everything from an amazing scientific feat to a moral issue that would unwind the fabric of humanity. Dolly’s saga led to much public debate and many laws to curtail human cloning.

Dolly lived only 6 years. That’s considerably less than the typical 10-12 year lifespan, but her impact was significant. Today, she is on display at the National Museums Scotland.

As interesting as the story of Dolly the Sheep is, this article is not about cloning mammals.

However, it is about cloning.

This leads us to the second event…

Event #2: November-December 1996 – Enter the Amazon Strategy

The November-December 1996 Harvard Business Review contains Michael Porter’s seminal piece What is Strategy? Among other things, Porter, who is a faculty member at the Harvard Business School and prolific writer, explains that many leaders confuse strategic positioning with operational effectiveness.

What’s the difference?

In short, operational effectiveness focuses on performing the same activities as your competitors; strategic positioning means that you are making trade-offs, choosing not to do some things, and taking on different activities.

Combining these two 1996 events…

If you will allow me a few liberties, I’d like to provide an example to illustrate the connection. (Is it perfect? No, but it will suffice for our purposes.)

In the not so distant past, there were many more brick and mortar bookstores. It is likely that many bookstore chain leaders focused on reducing costs, growing market share, acquiring better locations, increasing year-over-year revenue, or a myriad of other goals.

True, these goals were good. The more successful chains raced to the top of the heap. However, over time, the efficiencies achieved by one company were likely replicated by its competitors.

The reality is that they weren’t thinking strategically. They were merely improving on the practices of others in the industry.

They were employing a Dolly the Sheep Strategy.

No, they weren’t trying to clone one another. Nonetheless, as time passed, the differences among them became less and less. One company would improve a process and eventually the rest of the pack would catch-up. In many ways, they were clones of one another.

As a result, the race to the top turned into a sprint to the bottom. This required organizations to compete on price, which is not an easily sustained, long-term plan for most organizations.

Then, along came Amazon and the Amazon Strategy.

Amazon was competing in the same industry, but doing very different activities. Jeff Bezos was thinking strategically. The Amazon Strategy was to be a wolf, and many companies paid the price for their Dolly the Sheep Strategy.

What about you and your organization?

Here are a few questions for you to consider about your strategy:

  • Are you employing a Dolly the Sheep Strategy or an Amazon Strategy? Or are you behaving like a wolf?
  • Is your current strategic direction mostly focused on operational effectiveness?
  • If so, how sustainable is that approach? How long will it be before your operational improvements become the industry’s status quo?
  • What might you do today to begin thinking more strategically?
  • What new activities might your organization take on if you were to employee an Amazon strategy?
  • What trade-offs are you willing to make?

WSJ Reports YOU Will Be Less Successful, Here’s 4 Entrepreneurial Lessons to Prove Them Wrong

Categories Inspiration, Strategies, Your CareerPosted on

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) proclaimed that Barely Half of 30-Year-Olds Earn More Than Their Parents. The piece, written by Senior Editor Bob Davis, explains that middle class wage stagnation makes it near impossible to reverse this trend. Perhaps these four entrepreneurial lessons will prove them wrong.

Barely half of 30-year-olds earn more than their parents did at a similar age, a research team found, an enormous decline from the early 1970s when the incomes of nearly all offspring outpaced their parents. Even rapid economic growth won’t do much to reverse the trend. – WSJ

There is little doubt that many will read the WSJ article and leave feeling depressed, anxious, or fearful. My hope is that this post will encourage you to think otherwise.

Wages may have stagnated, but this doesn’t mean that opportunities aren’t all around us.

I teach Corporate Strategy and Marketing classes at Vanderbilt University. Every semester, I invite entrepreneurs into the classroom to share their stories with my students, partner with student teams to address business challenges, and receive recommendations about how to improve their businesses, drive growth, and better position themselves in the marketplace.

Using these experiences as a backdrop, coupled with my own business endeavors, I offer 4 entrepreneurial lessons to encourage you to start a business tonight.


1: You know of a problem that should be solved

Last spring, Dr. Christian Hahn served as my students’ client. Dr. Hahn is a highly successful and sought after cosmetic dentist. His professional pedigree is phenomenal and his practice (Ideal Dentistry in Louisville, KY) is a tremendous success.

Despite his career path and his growing practice, Dr. Hahn’s desire to work with Vandy students had nothing to do with dentistry. It had everything to do with a problem that needed to be solved.

An avid inventor and father of three, Dr. Hahn noticed that his children, as well as nearly every child he met, had difficulty putting on swimming goggles. Inevitably, hair would get stuck, water would leak into eyes, and parents and children would become frustrated.

Most parents had simply resigned themselves to the fact that the goggle problem was part of the swimming experience. Not Dr. Hahn – he designed a new pair of goggles that children could easily put on themselves. He named his product Frogglez and offered it to the world.

Questions for you to consider:

  • What problems do you see that need to be solved?
  • What do you hear people complaining about or compensating for with temporary fixes?
  • Is there something that annoys you about how things currently function (or fail to function)?


2: You are uniquely positioned to solve the problem

Over the last several months, my students have been working with Jen Auerbach and Adriel Danae. These ladies (pictured above and below) are the founders of the Clary Collection.

As two new mothers, Clary Collection’s co-founders were struggling to find the best way to care for their children and themselves.

Here’s how they explain the challenge and their willingness to close the gap, “Our transition into motherhood sparked many changes in us, one of which was a tuning in to our bodies as they started to function as givers of life and home to our children. This brought new awareness to our need for clean food, products and environments…Recognizing that the skin is the body’s largest organ and that it absorbs a great deal of environmental toxins, we sought out truly clean moisturizers and balms, as they were the most essential items in our skincare routines. However, we continually came up short….With curiosity and determination, we began to seek alternatives that brought us back to a time when our ancestors carried practical knowledge and crafted useful connections between what they cultivated and gathered from the earth and how they healed. We read books and began to ask questions and share ideas with friends, neighbors, midwives, grandmothers and teachers. And we started experimenting.”

Their efforts led to the creation of the Clary Collection. Recently featured in Vogue, the collection offers a balm, bath-and-body oil, nipple balm, and a stretch-mark oil. These items, made for moms – by moms, are beautiful packaged in 1930s style containers.

Clary’s founders were uniquely positioned to solve the ailments of new mothers, because they were dealing with the challenges themselves and were passionate about making a difference.

Questions for you to consider:

  • What problems are you uniquely positioned to solve?
  • What are you willing to devote yourself to? What are you passionate about?
  • If you could spend the next 10 years fixing an issue, what would it be?
  • What is your conscious telling you?


3: People will pay for the solution you provide

In 2001, my wife and I started a consulting company. Some 12 years later, we sold it. The business exceeded our expectations. Our revenue experienced double-digit growth every year, fostered an amazing culture filled with talented and passionate employees, established offices in five states, and served a wonderful portfolio of clients.

That experience taught me that people will pay for the solutions you provide as long as you solve a problem that needs to be solved.

I recently set out to prove this to my son. A first-year college student, he loves to travel, is an avid photographer, and enjoys the outdoors.

This past March, I took him and seven of his friends on a 10-day Appalachian Trail hike. It was a great experience – a true adventure. (“What I Learned When 7 Millenials Told Me to Take a Hike“)

When we returned, my son and I made signs for each boy. Using a piece of basswood (which is known for retaining its bark after the tree is cut down), we applied a trail marker just like the one we saw throughout our hike, created a process to seal the bark, and applied a hook on back to hang the object. The boys loved them.

A couple of weeks ago, my son and I launched a small Etsy shop (YearnMore) to offer these signs to others. Our thoughts, We enjoy the memories that these markers conjure up in our minds, perhaps others would like to remember past journeys too. Our products are designed to encourage others to Yearn More for Adventure.

We were right. Within a couple of days, our first order arrived, followed by another, and another. My son is now working to expand his offerings and will be adding photos he has taken on trips from Iceland to Singapore.

Questions for you to consider:

  • Do you believe that people will pay for a product or service you have to offer?
  • What is stopping you from finding out?
  • Why don’t you invest a weekend to answering these questions?


4: The internet provides the ability to bring #2 and #3 together

We live in a truly amazing time. Unlike any generation before us, we have the ability to source products from halfway around the world, advertise them on every continent, and ship them anywhere – all without leaving our home.

Companies like Shopify, Amazon, Google, Etsy, Ebay, and a wide-range of others are working together to help you bring what you have to offer to the world. Don’t let their efforts go underused.

  • What do you know about eCommerce and how you can bring your products or services to the world?
  • Are you willing to invest two hours this evening or over the next weekend to learn about one or two of the existing platforms?

Final thought…

If you have a desire to beat the WSJ’s odds or perhaps you simply want to own something that you create yourself, I encourage you to identify a problem and work to solve it. You may be surprised at the lessons you learn along the way!