Bechtel Consulting Group

Vol. 8, Issue 5
                                                                                                                                    Aug, 2018 

The Competitive Edge

Strategies for Success in Today's Markets 


I'm pleased to bring you the August, 2018 issue of "The Competitive Edge," 
a monthly newsletter geared to helping you boost your strategic, organizational and marketing performance. 

My aim is to stimulate your own thinking, perhaps causing you to see things in a different light. If you do find the content helpful, please feel free to  you think will also benefit. 

I always welcome a two-way dialog because I stand to learn as much as I share. So please feel free to share your reactions, ideas or suggestions. You can email me at or call 206-351-8604.
Getting There First 
The Art of Strategic Thinking
       One of the best business books I've ever read is "Competing For The Future" by Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad. The book offers a blueprint for what a company needs to be doing today if it wants to occupy the competitive high ground of tomorrow.
     In too many companies, say the authors, "there is a grand, overly vague long-term goal on the one hand, and detailed short-term budgets and annual plans on the other hand," with no real correspondence between them. I've seen this for myself many times over. They contend that as a result, business thinking tends to be dominated by three realities:  
The urgent drives out the important 
The future goes largely unexplored. 
The capacity to act, rather than to think, becomes the sole measure of leadership. 
     No doubt these afflictions are prevalent in your own organization. But, Hamel and Prahalad caution, "The long term doesn't start at year five of the current strategic plan. It starts right now!"
     Escaping these afflictions, they say, requires something of a paradigm shift - what the authors refer to as a "strategic architecture" that identifies what you must be doing at any given moment (e.g. "right now") to intercept the future. This is the essential link between the short term and the long term, and at its core is the discipline of strategic thinking. Not strategic planning, strategic thinking. As business guru Bill Birnbaum puts it, "The most successful business managers place their foremost emphasis on creating a climate of ongoing strategic thought."
So, what is strategic thinking, and how do you get there?
     Strategic thinking is, in essence, a homeostatic function aimed at keeping your organization attuned to its ever-changing surroundings. It encompasses the ability to embed the here-and-now in the broader context. We've all heard the phrase, "Think globally, act locally." Same premise here, except it relates to time, rather than geography. 
     Sounds reasonable, but it's easier said than done. Most of the time, in our reactive mode, we lose sight of the bigger picture. Getting leaders to step away from the daily grind to reflect on where the business is - and is headed - has become more and more challenging, even for purposes of updating the strategic plan, let alone on an ongoing basis. I've come to believe that the accelerated pace of the working environment has virtually retuned our metabolism to where it actually rebels against any effort to slow down or pause.
     Strategic thinking may actually offer a way forward because, with practice, it can integrate more seamlessly into the daily routine than does the strategic planning process, by itself. I've come to regard it as encompassing five ingredients:
To your external environment, your internal environ-ment, the psychological predispositions of your competitors and the changing habits and preferences of your customers, among other things. To eclipse your competitors, you must be able to recognize the future before they do. I call it having your radar antennas up. Some companies (Haliburton, for one) have formalized this into what they call "sense-and-respond" teams. 
Agility  Agility is all about plotting a successful course to a desired outcome in an uncertain landscape. It's an ongoing response to alertness, and requires the ability to organize quickly and adjust on the fly - often to circumstances that are anticipated but yet to unfold. It's all about sidestepping or neutralizing threats and seizing opportunities. 
Though strategic thinking requires agile thought and adaptiveness, it also depends on process, particularly to the degree that it is being practiced at a team level. Process is the means by which to incorporate agility into a structured environment.  
Conceptualization  A bit more abstract, this is the ability to see the entire big picture at once and connect the dots, often in an intuitive manner. It requires sacrificing most of the detail and paring things down to their essence. It's a common practice in formal strategic planning in order to arrive at the critical issues to be addressed. Here, we're talking about turning it into an ongoing thought process - a new way of visualizing the environment around you. 
This may seem unrelated, but it is key to escaping the reactive mode and retaining focus and rationality in the face of turbulence. It's the ability to think you way through a situation and not lose sight of the "end game," rather than reacting first and thinking later.  
Tangible steps you can take
     There are no magic bullets. Strategic thinking is a shift in your fundamental mindset, which leads to a change in your daily habits and practices. Here are some things you can do to develop the right discipline: 
Keep long-term goals in front of you Strategic thinking involves aligning current activities with the big picture. Therefore, you can't hope to achieve it if you don't maintain a top-of-mind awareness of that big picture. Sounds trivial, but jot down your long-term goals and keep them in a place where you can conveniently - and regularly - refer to them.  
Regularly re-evaluate short-term strategies Of each strategy, ask, "does this (and how does this) serve one or more of our long-term goals?" "Does it move us in the direction we want to go, or are we seizing an opportunity for short-term gain, only?" 
Develop the right metrics Whatever your long-term goals are, they should lend themselves to metrics that will gauge your progress in meeting them. Such metrics are the best way to determine what strategies to push forward and which ones to jettison.  
Stay informed .  Whether you formalize it or not, have a regular means of taking the external temperature. You can't make adjustments to conditions you're not aware of. Monitor buying habits, trends in your marketplace, and moves your competitors are making, and then adjust your strategies accordingly. One good way is to employ passive, or secondary, research techniques. Another is to tap into your team's natural external networks within the industry.
Connect the dots Information is only valuable if you act on it. Connecting the dots means paring the information down and looking for patterns - ideas, themes or threads that connect things together to give you insights. Sometimes your conclusions need to be tested or verified, but this is the starting point.
Don't become paralyzed Finally, be careful not to become entrenched in your current dogma, strategies, campaigns or programs. Being nimble - agile - requires that you maintain a certain detachment that enables you to be willing to change or abandon a program that isn't working or suddenly becomes off-course due to some external change. 
     This last point applies equally to your long-term goals, by the way. A strategic plan is meant to be a lens through which you observe your ever-changing environment. It is meant to be adapted as circumstances warrant. It is not meant to sit on a shelf and gather dust. 
     Some of the suggestions above may overlap, and you may not find them all appropriate in your circumstances. The main thing is, however you go about it, to develop a heightened consciousness regarding your company's big picture - its long-term mission, vision and goals, along with the environment to which you must remain attuned. That is the best way to optimize your application of resources and assure that you remain on the right course. 
Five Questions that Make  
Strategy Real 
      Here is former GE CEO Jack Welch's list of key questions that can guide your strategic thinking and, as he puts it, lead you to that "big Ah-Ha" for your business - "a smart, realistic, relatively fast way to gain sustainable competitive advantage." I suspect that Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad (Competing for the Future) would argue that a sustainable competitive advantage is one that keeps you ahead of the competition - e.g. gets you to the future faster.
     Here are Welch's Five Questions:
What does the playing field look like now Who are your competitors? What are their strengths & weaknesses? Who has what market share? Where do we fit in? Who are our main customers, and how do they buy?
What has the competition been up to What has each competitor done in the last year to change the playing field? Has anyone introduced game-changing new products, technologies, distribution channels or other strategies? Are there any recent or potential new entrants?  
What have YOU been up to What have you done to change the playing field? Have you introduced a new product, bought a company, grabbed a competitor's key salesperson, licensed a new technology? Etc.  
What's around the corner What scares you most in the year ahead? What thing or two could a competitor do to nail you? What's happening with customer preferences and habits? Are your markets shifting in any way? Is the regulatory climate changing? What opportunities may be presenting themselves?  
What's your winning move What can YOU do to change the playing field - an acquisition, a new product, better talent, other? How can you make customers stick to you more than ever before, and more than anyone else? How can you strengthen touchpoints along the customer journey?  
      It strikes me that Welch's Five Questions, if practiced on an ongoing basis, constitute one good approach to elevating your organization's strategic thinking - to achieving the kind of "strategic architecture" to which Hamel and Prahalad allude in "Competing for the Future."

The Competitive Edge is a monthly newsletter published by the Bechtel Consulting Group for the interest and enlightenment of our clients, colleagues and friends.  You can reach us at 6505 NE 182nd St, Suite 101, Kenmore, WA 98028; by calling (206) 351-8604, or by emailing  For more information about the Bechtel Consulting Group, visit our website,


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In This Issue
Here are some tips to help you build strategic thinking into your normal routine.   

Plus, with his "Five Questions that Make Strategy Real," former GE CEO Jack Welch offers an excellent guideline to do just that. 



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Did You Know....
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Bechtel Consulting Group

6505 NE 182nd St

Suite 101

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Phone:(206) 351-8604


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