How Being Really Bad Is Really Great For Business
The Often Missed Secret Of The Best Brands
Harvard Business School Professor Frances X. Frei has something to say about being bad at what you do.
She thinks it is a good thing.
In fact, she believes that if you want to be a successful business, you must strive to be really, really bad in ways that may surprise you.
Her argument is both simple and profound and goes like this: Companies that make the mistake of trying to be good at too much end up being mediocre across the board. And in today’s environment, there is no way to succeed if you are a five on a scale of 10 overall.
If you excel at one distinct and meaningful thing, you may have actually earned the right to be truly lousy at everything else.
Business guru Michael Porter supported this notion when he said, “Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.”
Implicitly, or explicitly, you have decided to make sure your company is different. But are you making the necessary trade-offs to become great?
Some of the most successful companies are. You don’t have to look too far to see this philosophy at work. Brands you’ll recognize make this decision every day in the way they do business.
- McDonald’s will sacrifice menu variety for speed of service
- Uber will sacrifice low price for instant gratification
- YouTube will sacrifice production quality for ubiquity
- Southwest will sacrifice serving good meals to ensure quicker turn times
- Wal-Mart will sacrifice great customer service to keep its prices lower
- Target will sacrifice lower prices for better design
- Starbucks will sacrifice speed of service for a bistro experience
Just think of any leading brand and you’ll quickly identify what they are really, really bad at doing. Why? Because it is usually the exact opposite of their biggest strength.
What does your company intentionally sacrifice?
Fleshing Out The Argument
Back to Michael Porter. He also said, “The company without a strategy is willing to try anything.”
This begs the question: Do the people around you have explicit permission to be bad—really, really bad—at anything?
We’ve all heard the axiom: “speed, price, quality; pick two.” So, which one—and preferably two—have you instructed your team not to pick.
According to Professor Frei, the most critical moment for your company is when a customer calls or emails to complain about something that is off your strategy. For example, someone criticizes the price of your service or product when you have carefully decided to be a premium offering.
The moment you raise the issue with your team to see if you can do something about lowering your prices, you run the risk of unraveling your strategy.
And you’ve just let mediocrity in the back door.
The lesson is simple: Strategy is the art of sacrifice.
Article originally published May 6, 2014, on Forbes.com