Mar 262005

Playing To Win

Playing To Win

This weekend’s reading included Hardball, by George Stalk and Rob Lachenauer, which started as an article in Harvard Business Review sometime last year.  The book is a fleshed out version of the article, so don’t expect meaningful new revelations if you’ve already read it, but it is an incredibly valuable read, with lots more and more detailed case studies.

As with most business books, it’s not really geared towards small, entrepreneurial companies, but that doesn’t matter.  Most of the principles of competition — and how to win — are timeless.  The basic principles, each of which gets a chapter, are on Unleashing Massive Force, Exploiting Anomalies (perfect for the data junkie within), Threatening the Competition’s Profit Zones, Plagiarizing with Pride, Breaking Compromises, and M&A.

Breaking Compromises is my favorite, because it deals with a facet of human nature that I think can be devastating to business: the “that’s the way it’s always worked” conundrum, otherwise known as “baggage.”  Why does XYZ happen in our business, illogical as it may seem?  Because that’s how we’ve always done it!

We have a (new) mechanism for dealing with the problem of baggage at Return Path, which is meant to be disarming, a bit funny, but dead serious at the same time.  Any time anyone spots someone answering a question or a challenge with the “that’s the way it works” response, they’re strongly encouraged to pull themselves out of the situation and respond with a catchphrase like “baggage alert,” or “boy, that duffle bag must be heavy,” or “hey, nice napsack – is that new or have you had it for a while?”  While it may be a little embarrassing to the recipient, it’s meant to challenge norms and bring about creative thought at all levels of the business.

Breaking Compromises has led to Southwest and Jet Blue, to Saturn (the car, not the planet), and to automobile leasing.  Just think about what it — and the other tactics espoused in Hardball — can do for your company or industry.