Over the past years, I have noticed a common thread of questions people ask about successful companies and entrepreneurs. What are the three things that helped you to succeed? Is it luck or you are simply a genius? Everyone seems to be looking for inflection points, disruptive strategies, and genius moves that made them stand out and succeed in the market.
This is understandable. Our understanding of success is that it can’t happen in a regular manner. You can’t succeed doing regular things. As if success only springs from miracle moves. Hence, we spend a disproportionately high amount of time in trying to find the silver bullet. In reality, however, the silver bullet does not exist. The truth is that most success is a result of incremental progress. Doing small things with vigor and consistency for a long time without fail.
In 1986, Amar Bhide wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review titled “Hustle as Strategy”. In that, he examines why some companies do well while others in the same industry struggle. He used the financial industry as an example for his piece. According to Bhide, it is not some new strategy or disruptive ideas that a leader brings to an organization that works miracle. Rather, the most important difference between successful companies and not so successful ones lies in their ability to hustle and focus in order to achieve a goal.
“Opportunities to gain lasting advantage through blockbuster strategic moves are rare in any business. What mostly counts are vigor and nimbleness. These traits are always needed and always important, yet strategic planning theologians largely ignore them. Countless companies in all industries, young or old, mature or booming, are finally learning the limits of strategy and concentrating on tactics and execution. In a world where there are no secrets, where innovations are quickly imitated or become obsolete, the theory of competitive advantage may have had its day. Realistically, ask yourself, If all your competitors gave their strategic plans to each other, would it really make a difference?”
The limitation of strategy springs from the fact that your unique strategy seldom remains unique as soon as you roll it out in the market. You competitors will copy it. New entrants will imitate it. What remains inimitable though is the disciplined focus and ability to hustle relentlessly.
“The only way to make the vision real is through superior execution. That’s the key. It’s the resulting hustle that outlasts product cycles and wins against unremitting competition.”
This is a lesson that most startups need to internalize. Most companies sell commodities. Except for a few markets, true innovation or novel-go-to-market strategy is rare. Moreover, no innovation offers sustainable long term competitive advantage because your competitors eventually catch-up. The only competitive advantage that last is how fast you can run. But how do you ensure superior execution for a sustained period of time? Companies who do well in doing that often develop internal systems and process to facilitate it.
“One manager, responsible for a remarkable turnaround in American banking, attributes much of his success to “a very rigorous and steady management review process, which was one of the hardest things that was put in, and which was done right in the beginning. Every month we sit down with every division and review where we stand against goals”
As a leader, you have to think from a systems perspective - how can you design machines that can give you a certain output and then design it. Many companies use a process like MBO - management by objective or OKR - Objectives and Key Results to establish a system and required discipline to hustle sustainably. If you can borrow some of these systems or develop one for you and can hustle faster than everyone else, you should be okay.
Photo courtesy: Photo by Jeremy Lapak on Unsplash