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Executive Insight

Planning 2015? Chose one undisputedly great strategy: be the best

As you plan your dreams and goals for the New Year, wouldn’t it be great if you could just come up with a strategy that had greater chances of delivering a tremendous year? Out of a limitless number of alternatives, there is one strategy that has undisputedly demonstrated to be successful both at personal, professional or corporate level: be the best. The great news is you don’t need to be the best at everything you do, but if you want to make a difference, you need to be the best at what really counts. Let me share with you a few examples and ideas.

During the last few days of 2014 we were amazed at some startup valuations and the tremendous wealth created for founders and early investors: Xiaomi, the low-cost Chinese cell phone manufacturer, got a record-breaking USD 46 billion of enterprise value, and Uber, the car riding company, got valued at USD 41 billion. In the process, founders turned into billionaires at a speed that had never been seen before. What do these companies and brands have in common? They are all considered the best in what they do.

Not only in business but also in professional and personal achievements lies great recognition for being the best. I remember a few years ago a conversation I had with Fernando Platas, the Mexican Olympian medalist, or another one more recently I had with Bernardinho, the famed Brazilian volleyball coach that conquered an unbelievable number of titles, and besides enjoying great recognition in their areas of expertise, I noticed a very unique aspect in all of them: they had decided to be the absolute best in what they did. None of them turned into extremely successful people by chance – they had decided to be the best.

On the contrary, how many cases do we know of gifted and talented people that failed to prosper because they are not willing to make the effort or take the risk to become part of the best?

So the first element in building an undisputedly great strategy, either in business or in life, starts with the vision of becoming the best. And this vision has two major components:

  • The decision to be the best: I remember several times in my career when together with my teams we decided to be the best in our areas of expertise, and the derived alignment, focus and inspiration turbo-propped our results to unbelievable heights – in all cases taking our numbers to record-breaking levels that delivered tremendous value for our shareholders and customers, and boosted our careers. On the contrary, several other teams with equal or higher potential simply operated their business as if it were just one more job to do – and had poor results or even struggled to stay in business. My conclusion on this topic is simple: just make the decision to be the best. As the Chinese saying states: the longest trip starts with the first step. So take the step!
  • The strategy to be the best: simply shooting for the sky will not guarantee that we can fly – the decision to be the best must be followed by a strategy that will ensure we or our businesses will be effectively the best. I remember Bernardinho developing his strategy around training more hours than any of his opponents – and even trained his team during flight stopovers while travelling internationally. Xiaomi is another great example of a winning strategy: besides learning what worked at its two largest rivals Apple and Samsung, it developed a unique value proposition. Xiaomi sells very low-cost phones by leveraging longer product life cycles (that lead to reduced manufacturing costs), by minimizing advertising through social media, and by selling mostly through the Internet (thus avoiding large inventories). The results of Xiaomi’s strategy: in just four years of existence it turned into the third largest player in the ultra-competitive cell phone business - with a valuation of USD 46 billion!

I was recently at Harvard Business School listening to Professor Franck Cespedes, and it was inspiring to see how some terrific companies create value for their customers by being the best in what they do, and have been extremely successful for long periods of time. In his diagnosis of successful businesses, Professor Cespedes focuses on how companies create a unique value proposition for their customers that cannot be easily replicated by competitors or substituted by other products.

However, in the current market where technologies are evolving and disrupting industries at a record-breaking speed, pre-existing value propositions are being killed every day. A few years ago, iTunes disrupted the distribution of music. Today, iTunes itself is being disrupted by other distribution formats through companies like Spotify or Deezer.

The higher speed of disruption means that it’s a great time to decide to be the best, and to leverage the new technologies to launch new strategies. In the past, under a slow evolving market, it was safe to be just one more player in the industry, and many companies could survive and even remain healthy for long periods of time with limited competitive advantages. Today, in more and more industries the speed of disruption gives a tremendous advantage to the best players in the field.

So besides deciding to be the best, go for a strategy that will position you or your organisation at the very top of your game. As Xiaomi and many other great new businesses are doing, go for a strategy that will not just enable you to stay in the game - go for the strategy that will transform you in one of the undisputed leaders.

In two subsequent notes we will cover two additional aspects of being the best: executing like no one else, and sustaining the superiority by surrounding yourself and working with the best people.

In the meantime, as part of the resolutions of the New Year, make the decision. Be the best. The rewards are there to take.


Diego Dzodan

Former President SAP Latin America and the Caribbean