Monday, October 25, 2010

Is Strategy the Salt of the Business?

With our “so that” strategy - called purpose innovation- receiving some positive reviews in the last few days, one of our fellow bloggers came up with a yet another “so what” question – i.e. “What if, our competitors also come up with a similar “so that” strategy? We agree that it is valid question - as most corporations these days invariably try to emulate the successful strategies of competitors, with a hope to reap the benefits of the second mover advantage. The question however, is how do we devise a holistic, yet well guarded strategy framework - that makes it difficult, or at a minimum prevents them from encroaching in to our first mover advantage. While no one can guarantee a 100% bullet proof strategy framework- ours, perhaps comes close to it, given the fact, it is being derived, not only from our unique purpose driven strengths/core competencies, but also, from our weaknesses - that are then balanced using nature’s principle of “balancing opposites”.

As it turns out – our strategy framework is built using our earlier “so that” strategy (i.e. purpose innovation) as the cornerstone – that is further augmented by three of its sister strategies - knitted together by PURPOSE in the middle balancing them using the “forces of attraction” -as outlined in the picture on the top of the page. Sounds too abstract, isn’t’ it? Well… as usual, we searched scriptures and few other sites for an appropriate metaphor to explain it – and the SALT metaphor fitted the bill this time, and so, salt is the emcee today for our additional inspiration.

Rightfully so, James Beard proclaimed - Where would we be without salt? - And, I couldn’t agree more. Without salt, our taste buds indeed will become senseless – and equally so, the seasoning of the food, as such, will also become meaningless! With that said, it is also fair to ask ourselves - while we all enjoy the seasoning flavor of salt in our foods- not sure, how many of us have paid a closer attention to some of its other remarkable usages!

With “Saltiness” as its core feature, salt exhibits itself in four different usage dimensions depending upon the way it is being used. First and foremost - salt is the primary ingredient of food seasoning as echoed by James Beard. In addition, as a preservative, salt prevents the decay & degradation of food –and as a disinfectant, it prevents the body parts from becoming septic (and even heals some ailments)-and, finally, it also acts as a thawing agent melting the ice on the roads, thus helping us in our busy morning commutes. I am sure- if we inventory some more, there will be few more ancillary usages as well.

Interestingly enough - our 10-box strategy model (
aligns perfectly with this salt metaphor - and rightfully so, our strategy framework is a logical extension of the 10 box strategy model – that is further enhanced by “PURPOSE” in the middle balancing the four profit strategy dimensions – using nature’s “forces of attraction” principle -as listed below (and on the picture on the top of the page).

  • Differentiation strategies (e.g. our “so that” strategy called purpose innovation) to help us to stand apart in the market place leveraging our strengths and core competencies - equivalent to the seasoning dimension of salt (Offensive growth strategy).

  • Prevention strategies to overcome/hide weaknesses with one’s strengths (and thereby preventing the onslaught from competitors) – which is equivalent to disinfectant dimension of salt (Defensive strategy).

  • Exploitation strategies to exploit competitor’s weaknesses – equivalent to the “Thawing Agent” dimension of salt (Offensive growth strategy).

  • Mitigation strategies (i.e. risk mitigation strategies) to reduce one’s vulnerability our weaknesses – equivalent to the preservative dimension of salt (Defensive strategy).

This all-inclusive, well guarded strategy framework - not only helps us to go on the offensive, but also helps us to defend ourselves from the offensive onslaught of the competitors. Yet another insightful part of this framework is the way, PURPOSE manifests itself in four profit strategy dimensions within the context of its seasons - very similar to- how salt, with its core feature of SALTINESS (symbolizing purpose) manifests itself in four different usage dimensions within the context of its seasons. As it turns out, salt with its core feature of saltiness - manifests in four usage dimensions simultaneously, within the context of its seasons-symbolizing the need for us also to “execute both” offensive (differentiation and exploitation) and defensive (prevention and mitigation) strategies simultaneously, as advised by Inder Sidhu and Roger Martin.

At the same time, it is equally important to highlight couple of seasonality insights we had covered in one of our earlier posts – a) balancing opposites does not necessarily mean assigning equal weight and b) seasonality also has other dimensions(place, money, markets etc.),apart from the primary dimension of time ( With that said, it is important to highlight yet another important seasonality insight – that, even a simple misstep of executing a wrong strategy within a wrong season at times could also cost us fortunes – given the fact profits do not flow equally to all players in all seasons. This is one of the reasons, that we might be better of assigning more weight factor for defensive strategies (than offensive strategies) especially in those markets where our competitors are very strong (which perhaps is their forte). In other words, choosing the right strategy mix (with the right weight factor for the four strategy buckets within the context of its seasons) is both an art and science, as there is no silver bullet for thriving in this highly competitive, yet ever changing business environment of 21st century.

As we further observe the characteristics of our strategy framework within the context of this salt metaphor – salt with its saltiness, not only, just seasons the food, but also, serves other needs( disinfectant, preservative and a thawing agent) by renewing/maintaining (i.e. “not losing” to be precise) its SALTINESS. Speaking of salt "not losing" its saltiness – let us not forget the fact that – if salt loses its saltiness, it cannot be made salty again. In other words, saltiness is what makes salt to perform all of its usage functions, and so, if it loses its saltiness- it is worth nothing. Similarly, if our strategy, for some reason loses its purpose, it is very difficult to regain the confidence in the minds of our stakeholders , and so, it is important, that corporations pay a closer attention to the process of continuously renewing (or maintaining) our purpose – to keep the four dimensional holistic profit strategy cycle moving – very much like how saltiness is constantly renewed (maintained) to continue its four dimensional salt usage cycle moving- as summarized in the poem below.

Oh, Salt of the EarthAren’t you the Strategy of the business also? With your,
Seasoning strength, you source the sustaining secret -for differentiation,
Thawing tactics, you tweet the tooling technique -for exploitation,
Disinfecting defense, you draft the deviation detour- for
power, you plant the precautionary prescription -for mitigation, yet, by
Renewing your “saltiness (purpose)”, you improvise our innovative iteration,
Oh, Salt of the business…Without you where will we be?


  1. Hello Charles, what a great metaphor you have. Depending on the internal environment (what you cook) with the external environment (adaptation of salt usage) a business may shape out its strategy. Amazingly, I have thrown recently a comment that has an embedded question upon Gerald Nanninga and it was:
    I have a crazy idea to the extent I plan to make a presentation on the idea. The wisdom says to build on ones’ strength, but I want to reverse this wisdom into build on ones’ weaknesses. I have seen companies tumble because of their weaknesses more than ignoring their strengths. There are many companies who built strategies on their strength to be foiled by their growing weaknesses. I know this is a crazy idea, but I feel I have few supportive arguments. I wonder what you think, Gerald?!!!

    I am writing a presentation to answer this "crazy question". Surely, this post illuminates the road to finding an answer.

    Charles, believe me words fail to express my appreciation of this post. In fact, it must be turned into a slide presentation.

    Great reading

  2. Hello Ali,
    Sure, I understand your point of building on weaknesses – provided we do it within the context of our balancing opposite’s principle- which is exactly my point of building a preventive/overcoming strategy on top of one’s weaknesses. After all, what is a weakness? It is a skill or competency gap – and the real problem with these types of weaknesses is not just having them- but rather being blindsided about them or not knowing/acknowledging the fact that we have a weakness in that area. Here is where self awareness or situation awareness comes in to play –as long as we recognize that we have the weakness in that area, we can build the right type of preventive/overcoming strategy – which I think is exactly your point as well.

    Also, as I had alluded, in some cases we might be better of playing a defense than an offense - especially in markets where our competitors are very strong. Again, it is a balancing act – and so, in some situations we might be better of building on top of weaknesses than on just on our strengths. This does not mean choosing one vs. the other, but “doing both” is the answer.

    Yet another point is that a competitor can take advantage of our weaknesses only if we let him to do so. What if we take the proactive step of, augmenting one’s weaknesses with a partnership strategy (or guerilla type strategy) – which is nothing but equivalent to your point of building on top of one’s weaknesses. Again, strategy is both an art and science and so one size does not fit all - when it comes to arriving at the right answer.

    Speaking of you crazy idea – please remember that history is filled with examples of most success stories coming out the so called once crazy ideas. At this context, I am reminded of Ray Kroc - the founder McDonalds. Apparently while regurgitating his memories during one of his addresses to B’ school students – someone asked – were you called crazy when you made a huge amount of money to buy the brand rights from McDonald’s brothers. Ray- smilingly said – well, they had called me with that name long ago – what else they have got now?

    The point is that these labels do not mean anything - and I am looking forward to your presentation!

    Great point!


  3. Hello Charles,

    Your sound salt metaphor invites for more questions
    Salt raises blood pressure- a balanced amount of salt is needed. We need balanced strategies. We need to balance opposites as salt and pepper do
    Salt is representative of Ghandi's struggle against occupation in a peaceful manner- we need emotional and understanding approaches to conflicts to resolve them
    Salt is used as an ice additive to lower the freezing point of ice. We nned "freezing" approaches to cope with the environmentand meet its challenges

    Truly, salt is an inspirer for building healthy strategies.
    Indeed, you propose a great metaphor.

  4. Hello Ali, You are correct that the list goes on … as salt is such a widely used necessity of life (like Air and Water) -and no wonder James Beard proclaimed – Without salt, where will we be?

    Rightfully so, as you have alluded - Gandhi took the salt as the vehicle for his peaceful struggle - given its mass appeal to the masses. Although, his near term goal was to protest against the salt tax- if you think about it – his larger goal was to make the non violence concept (or strategy in our context) to be practiced by the masses. It just so happened, that the salt (or the salt tax issue) happen to be the prevailing pressing issue of his time – and to his credit, he effectively piggy backed on the salt media/issue to promote his non violence strategy.

    As it turned out – in the final analysis, it was the non violence strategy (and not the salt protest) helped him to get the independence. And not only that - the impact of Gandhi’s strategy (or legacy) still continues - and played a critical role, later in the civil rights movement within US as well.

    Sure enough- I see yet another strategy execution insight evolving– “for a strategy to be impactful and relevant, it needs to be communicated (&practiced) through a mass appeal media (or a prevailing pressing issue) that the stakeholders (& customers alike) can empathize before adopting it” – very similar to what Gandhi did. A great strategy lesson to learn from Gandhi and Salt indeed!