More than one strategy is actually… no strategy at all.

Creating a strategy

My friend Carey’s business had stalled. Since I’m one of those people who loves to offer unasked-for advice (knowing the recipient will be eternally grateful), I offered some. “You need an overarching strategy,” I intoned, sagely. The unfathomable response, “Thanks, but no thanks. I already have lots of strategies.”

Lots of strategies? Hmm. You can’t have multiple overarching strategies at once. But Carey wouldn’t know that, because we’re never taught what a strategy is, or how to make sure you have a good one.

Do you have a strategy? For business? For life? Do you even need one? What is one?

Strategies Aren’t Tactics

People use “strategy” to mean a to-do item, but that’s not a strategy. That’s a tactic. Carey has 16 different products under development at once. Those aren’t 16 strategies; they’re 16 tactics.

A strategy is a directed plan you use to commit your time and action in a single direction. By aligning how you spend your time, your money, your resources, and your communication, you greatly increase your chances for success.

If Carey’s projects include designing a high-fashion clothing line for the Milan runway and opening a Veterinary Pet Grooming franchise, those will compete for time, attention, and dollars. When the clothing line needs another 5-gallon tub of sequins (I never said Carey had taste), that’s money that could have been spent on tick sponge-on. Neither business gets the full resources needed to insure success.

Set a Vision that Drives Your Work

Before you can create your strategy, you need to know where you want to end up. What’s the result the strategy is designed to produce? That’s the vision that drives your work.

Start your strategy by setting a compelling, substantive vision. A vision needs to be specific enough to use to make decisions. It needs to be general enough to allow flexibility in what you choose to do.

My friend Rowan’s vision is “to build a business.” That’s so vague that it could cover everything from fashion design to tick removal… and so it does.

But make it more specific, and it becomes a powerful guide. In an alternate universe where Rowan is capable of focus, the vision could become:

A business that helps pet owners keep their pets healthy 365 days a year[1].

This vision can be used to decide which product lines to enter, and to allow a range of options: tick treatment and nutritional consultation both fit. It can also be used to decide which product lines notto enter: high fashion that features too many sequins[2]. It’s just specific enough to guide a good strategy.

Create a Strategy Linking Your Goal to Your Reality

Now you have a vision. But while visions are great, they’re still too abstract for action. If a new Puppies R Us (We Sell ‘Em, You Care For ‘Em™) opened down the street from Rowan’s storefront, concentrating the business on dog care could be Rowan’s ticket to mansions and private planes. But if the new store is Spiders Galore: Unusual Pets for Unusual People, concentrating on the care and grooming of Brachypelma emilia might make the most sense.

Begin crafting your strategy by linking the vision to your current reality. Assess your resources — what you have a lot of, and what you’re short on. Assess your situation — outside forces that might help or hinder different courses of action. Create a high-level plan that uses your resources to move towards some way to realize your vision, given your current environment.

Rowan can take the pet health business vision, and link it to the things in real life that will make it happen.

Point tactics towards a vision to get the job done right. Then link it to reality.

If Rowan has home office space, an email list of pet owners, and a vast network of veterinarians, Rowan’s strategy could be to form an online pet care referral network. There could be an app, and a website, and a huge campaign to sign up hundreds of veterinarians from around the world.

If Rowan has a retail storefront near Puppies R Us, but no mailing list, the strategy could be to create in-person care for dogs and dog-related issues. Rowan could even propose a collaboration with Puppies R Us where Puppies promotes Rowan’s business and gets a referral fee.

These are two different strategies. Both lead towards the vision of “a business that helps pet owners keep their pets healthy year-round.”

Being in possession of the retail storefront, Rowan chooses the strategy of providing in-person dog-related care.

Keep Your Strategy Clear

Lastly, keep your chosen strategy clear and singular. You might have many tactics that comprise the strategy. Rowan can get the word out in many different ways: online banner ads, leaflets in the local community, and a Puppies R Us partnership. These are pretty different activities, but make no mistake: these aren’t strategies, they’re separate tactics supporting a single strategy.

By having only this one strategy, Rowan can now concentrate all resources on the storefront. If the opportunity comes up to run a nationwide banner ad, the explicit strategy tells Rowan what to do: say “no” to the ad; advertising a Springfield puppy health service in Skokie makes no sense.

Think Strategically Throughout Your Life

A strategy helps you make decisions about where to put your time, money, and attention. We’ve been exploring strategy in business, but you can apply strategic thinking to other areas of your life.

What is your vision for your life? For your family? Your Career? Spend some time forming your vision. Then look at today’s reality, and choose a strategy that will realize that vision as possible in your life today. You’ll get a lot more of what you want in life, and a lot less of whatever random the world throws at you. Then you can put your efforts into tactics that support your strategy.

A scattershot approach to success is a recipe for staying stuck. Avoid this by organizing your tactics and resources using a well-chosen strategy. Align it all in pursuit of the vision that inspires and energizes you, and you’ll soon be enjoying plenty of success, while still having time to stop and pet the puppies.

  1. Closed on February 29th.  ↩
  2. Lack of fit with the vision is only one reason not to enter that particular business.  ↩

The Internet will destroy commerce

Last week I wanted to buy product X, locally. I couldn’t. Every search phrase I could come up with took me to a custom site from a big company. “Widget, Miami, FL” didn’t go me Miami Florida local businesses, it gave me specially crafted, search engine optimized pages from, saying “Miami Widgets” on a domain that redirected to

I rarely issue proclamations about the future, because I’ve noticed that my ability to predict trends is reasonable, but my ability to pick the timing of those trends sucks eggs. But let’s give it a shot:

Advertising-Supported Business Models Will Decline

The more that media companies and software companies and game companies rely on advertising as their primary revenue base, the more the supply of advertising spots will increase. Eventually, the supply will exceed the demand and, except for a few extremely high-traffic sites, ad prices will be driven down … because ads will become much less effective unless the advertiser has the time, money, and skill to do the detailed analytics needed to find the few venues where they get a positive ROI on their money.

This will drive a lot of the ad-supported businesses out of business, because they just don’t have the reach to be able to be one of the high-value ad space suppliers.

As Will All Businesses That Rely on Ads or Search for Customers

This will drive a lot of smaller businesses out of business, because those smaller businesses don’t have the resources to spend on marketing analytics, which will become necessary for finding the few advertising outlets that actually work for those small businesses. The marketing analytics will become a cost of being in the game.

In other words, the internet will drive us toward a more anemic economy where there are a few big-company winners, and those without the resources will lose.

(Essentially, the internet raises the playing field for everyone to the point where only big companies can survive.)

There will always be exceptions for specialty niches, but not for general commerce.

I hope I’m wrong, but I from what I see on the ground, it looks like a plausible scenario.

JetBlue speeds towards brand destruction

The essence of a strong brand is differentiation in a way that makes customers want to use your product or Service. JetBlue has announced a decrease in legroom and increase in baggage fees in an attempt to boost lagging profits. All I can say is, “idiots.” The entire key to branding is to have strong differentiation from your competitors. In Airlines, the only differentiators are where you fly, your prices, and your service experience.

For JetBlue, service experience has long been a serious differentiator. I would go far out of my way to fly JetBlue instead of other airlines, and I’d pay more, because the experience was just so nice. The fact that the fares were competitive was nice, but I would have paid a premium for the level of service I got.

So now that profitability is lagging, how does JetBlue choose to respond? By attempting to maintain low price position and moving towards a low service position too. Heck, what are commodities for, if not as a dying place for once-strong brands who bow to the short-sighted idiocy that has become the financial markets.

The current JetBlue executives should have their salaries and bonuses clawed back in five years if this does, indeed, herald the beginning of the end of a once-strong brand.

What’s your industry? The answer may surprise you.

The way people define industries is really quite interesting. I’ve once again been asked to be a judge for the Harvard Business School New Venture Competition. They asked what industries I’m comfortable commenting on. It’s a surprisingly hard question to answer, because it’s quite unclear what an “industry” is. Here are a sample of a few things that people call industries:

  • B2C internet
  • B2B internet
  • Health Care
  • Medical Devices
  • Energy
  • Financial Services

What makes these an industry? Is it that all members of the same industry share the same markets? Is it that all members of the same industry share the same employee skill sets? Is it that all members of the same industry produce the same kind of products?

Every definition I’ve tried has glaring exceptions, which makes me wonder whether thinking in terms of “industries” really makes as much sense as I’ve always assumed.

Perhaps it makes more sense to think in terms of:

  • companies/products who serve a given market
  • companies/products that require certain kinds of distribution
  • companies/products that require certain specialized knowledge on the part of employees

What do you think?

Please work for free. Not.

I’m sure you have never asked someone to work for free. But just in case you know someone who has—or if you’ve ever been asked—here’s the kind of thing you really should say.

Today I received this letter:

Hello Mr. Stever,


I am writing to you on behalf of XYZ, a non-profit, CSR project of ABC (a $4 billion conglomerate operating in 16 countries). … We bring together advisors and speakers from some of the top business schools in the world… we are committed to building local intellectual capital and leveraging a business model that ensures sustainability and relevant development opportunities to our present and future business leaders.


To begin a relationship, we would be interested in having you as one of the subject experts for our Webinars to conduct a live complimentary webinar on a topic of your choice, and also offer you to write exclusively on our blog<.

My response:

I find your request confusing. I am a professional, who has spent several hundred thousand dollars and several decades developing my expertise.


While I believe I might have valuable content to offer, the key word is “valuable.” You say that you are a project of a $4 billion conglomerate, yet your business procedure seems to be asking people such as myself to work for free. That doesn’t sound like partnership; that sounds like crass exploitation. You have the money to pay your vendors, you would just rather have them work for free.


That is not the kind of business practice I stand for or am interested in. If you are training entrepreneurs, it is a business practice you should object to as well—any entrepreneur who does not make sure they are well-paid for their product will quickly go out of business. I strongly suspect that neither you nor the CEO of your organization work for free. I can only follow your lead and decline your offer, in favor of clients and partners who believe in paying for the value I provide.

Targeted Ads are the Worst of all Possible Worlds

The justification used for the incredible invasions of privacy on the part of the internet marketers of the world is that they want to serve us “targeted” ads. Targeted ads are ads that relate to what we’re doing at the moment. Theoretically, if I’m having a discussion about how my child is dying from kidney failure, that’s exactly the moment when I’ll feet eternally grateful to be shown an ad for how to overcome that embarrassing middle aged male incontinence issue.

All joking aside, targeted ads seem worse to me than random ads, even aside from the privacy violations. I am online to get things done (sometimes work things, sometimes social). I am rarely online to buy things, and when I am, I know it.

A “targeted” ad has a much higher probability of successfully distracting me into a purchase experience and completely derailing what I’m trying to do. An untargeted ad, though distracting, is much easier to ignore and far less of a drain on my productivity.

Perhaps if I intrinsically valued purchasing things, I’d welcome targeted ads. But I don’t intrinsically value buying things.

So on the very rare occasions I’m in buying mode, targeted ads are a good thing. But in the rest of my life, which is 99% of the time, targeted ads are downright destructive.