Breaking Down Template Thinking – Differentiation

What started as high concept MBA territory and led to today’s templates and $200 boilerplate, strategic business plans have been adopted throughout organizations of all sizes. Unfortunately this infiltration often becomes filler for three ring binders (or misplaced PDF files) and a neglected memory until the next cycle – instead of the dynamic driver it can be.

Template thinking is often the cause for this mismatch. Choose any of the hundreds of outlines available and you create the need to fill in every bullet point with a jargon filled sentence about how your company is going to be so much better than the competition.

  • Of course we’re going to outflank competition through the leveraging of of superior human intellectual capital and technological innovativeness.
  • Of course we’re going to increase market share without price discounting by increasing emotional value and value-added strategic alliance formation.
  • Of course we’re going to meet customer needs and improve relationships through advanced communication, use of the web, and the empowerment of line employees.
  • Of course we’re going to win by simply being better than everyone else.
  • Of course, Of course, Of course.

The result can be a document that is unimplementable (We’re going to run in every direction at once!), laughable (If you think you can beat your competitors in every way imaginable this year, why didn’t you last year?), or simply a restatement of business basics dressed up to look like strategic advantage. If your strategic business plan lays out the principles of running a good business and reads as if the title could be ‘Your Name Here,’ it will not have meaningful impact on your business. (Ok, I’m assuming that that principles of running a good business are not earth shattering news at your company.)

Strategic Business Plans are where you have to differentiate yourself. This helps focus resources and decision making. Items where you are going to be just as good as the competition are still important but put them somewhere else. The high concept strategy for each level/division/product category needs to be simple enough that everyone in your organization understands its direction but deep enough that tactics are difficult to reproduce by outsiders and/or secret.

So, to improve usefulness, blow-up the template. Make each section and sentence earn its place. Take the ‘of course’ fundamentals and stick them in an ‘of course’ appendix so that they are out of the way (but not forgotten). Choose which competitive baselines you are going to shift to provide the bulk of your wins and focus your efforts on them.

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