Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Finding easy competitors to take out

When mapping and determining gameplay, it's always worth having an occasional glance at your competitors - the game of strategy is an iterative one of observe, orient, decide and act. It’s really useful to know who are the easy competitors and the ones you should take out whilst avoiding the tougher spaces whilst you grow. There’s a number of signals to use which demonstrate easy targets. Most of these you can pick up from their own website, their public talks, forums etc.

Key to look for are

Duplication and bias. Without mapping or some equivalent then companies have no real mechanism of avoiding duplication and bias. They'll also be suffering with inertia. This is a goldmine as these companies will inevitably be slow and inefficient whilst being riddled with unnecessary complexity and inaction. In the worst case that I’ve found, a single company had 380 customised versions of the same ERP system. It’s often difficult to find out how bad the situation is without talking directly to ex employees etc but occasionally companies let slip by announcing future rationalisation projects. This form of competitors are great fun as they are just too slow to counter you. Think "stealing their pack lunch".

No position or movement. Without a means of visualising the environment then companies are unlikely to have much of a concept of position or movement. These companies are ripe for attack. You can pretty much guarantee they have no means of organisational learning or effective approach to anticipation, they certainly won’t understand repeatable forms of gameplay or context. Any “strategy” (I use that word loosely) is simply backward causality. You can often spot this by looking at their strategy statements (normally a long list of action items), their emphasis on story telling (no means of visualisation) and their fondness for memes. These competitors are easy to wreak havoc on as they just don’t how to react. Think "All you can eat buffet".

Single methods / dual operating system. These companies are very unlikely to even understand evolution which means they certainly can’t map and are unlikely to have developed any situational awareness. However, worse than this, they not only don’t understand the environment but they’re imposing a dogma of some type on it. You’re not going to be facing a cell based killing machine here but instead an organisation racked with difficulties, failing to manage the legacy, over-reliance on outsourcing & analysts and in a stupor to consultants.  Their own people will often be rallying against them as they boil under the tyranny of an imposed one size fits all method or create waring tribes. Morale is likely to be low and good engineers should be prime for poaching. The company might talk a good game (e.g. ecosystem, disruption, open source) but have no fear, they are really lost at sea. Send a note to the CEO with the words “boo” on it and then help yourself to their market and their good people. You can usually spot these companies a mile off because they’re announcing that they’re going “all agile” or “all digital” or "all openstack" etc. These are my favourite companies and you should treat them as an excellent recruiting ground. In this case it's less free lunch and more "Execs will come to your house and cook whatever meal you like" as these people are actively working in your favour.

There are other things you could look for but this is usually enough to spot the vast majority of easy targets.