On Strategy: An Interview With Michael Raynor

Guy Kawasaki plays “Ten Questions” with Michael Raynor, author of The Strategy Paradox: Why Committing to Success Leads to Failure (and What to Do About It). Actually, the numbering of the questions at “10” is somewhat suspect, but the article is an excellent read.

The Strategy Paradox: Why Committing to Success Leads to Failure (and What to Do About It) The conversation covers Mac vs. PC, Beta vs. VHS, and what Toyota is doing right. Raynor then responds to the fourth question:

This is what I call the strategy paradox. That is, the same strategies that have the highest probability of extreme success also have the highest probability of extreme failure. In other words, everything we know about the linkage between strategy and success is true, but dangerously incomplete. Vision, commitment, focus…these are all in fact the defining elements of successful strategies, but they are also systematically connected with some of the greatest strategic disasters.

For example, Apple’s strategy sometimes works great, and sometimes fails miserably. It’s not that Apple sometimes “forgets” what makes for greatness. It’s that what makes for greatness also exposes you to catastrophe. The same goes for Sony.

To produce success, vision, commitment, and focus must be linked to an accurate view of what lies ahead, and nobody can adequately predict the future. If you can guess right on a regular basis, my hat’s off to you…and can I buy your stock? But no one—no one—has any legitimate claim to an ability to make predictions relevant to true strategic planning.

From there it moves from the theoretical toward the practical, and lands with a discussion of strategy for startups. Based on the interview, I’ve added the book to my to-read list. Not only is Raynor a Canadian, he seems to “get it” quite well. There’s a bit of a theme that emerges, that strategy has a lot to do with spotting and managing risk. This is somewhat refreshing, as most places where business strategy is talked about, it sounds like a synonym for marketing or branding, which is but a single facet of what business strategy is all about. Some good thoughts buried in there about flexible vs. single-minded (or highly focused) strategies.