THE JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP APPLICATIONS
Vol. 2, No. 6
© 2004 By William A. Cohen, PhD, The Institute of Leader Arts, www.stuffofheroes.com
Adapted from a forthcoming book THE ART OF THE STRATEGIST: 10 Essential Lessons for Leading Your Company to Victory ( to be published by AMACOM in 2004).
It makes little difference what field of human endeavor you consider. In order to be successful, you must concentrate or focus your resources on the task at hand.
Why this is true? First, you cannot be perceived as being everything to everybody. Coca-Cola® may be a household word for a soft drink the world over, but would Coca-Cola® soap have much impact for purchase? Probably not. That’s why despite the well known “halo effect” by which a perception of competence in one field may be extended to others, this has definite limits for extending a products brand name into other areas.
There is a very real reason behind this psychological phenomenon even though there is no practical reason why Coca-Cola® might not also develop an outstanding soap product. Only, that under normal conditions although Coca-Cola® is considered excellent in one type of consumer goods, it will not be automatically perceived as excellent in an entirely different type of good. It is for this reason that companies seeking to enter new markets with different classes of products study the situation very carefully. Overstretching brand extension may hurt both the existing products as well as failing to help the new product to increase sales.
But the real basis behind the reluctance on the part of the buying public to easily accept all types of brand extensions lies in a very real need to concentrate our resources against any given objective. This is true not only in marketing, but in all business, military, sport or life strategies. This has to do with the fact that no matter who or what you are, you do not have the resources to do everything and intuitively, the customer recognizes this.
“Resources” may be money, personnel, equipment, or even time. It is also a fact that having limited resources is true whether you are a country, a company, or an individual. Thus the old trade-off at the national level between guns and butter, at the corporate level as to what opportunities to pursue, and for the individual between say study, or a social activity, or between family or career.
This is not to say that good time management cannot enable an individual to do better say in devoting the limited time resource available (remember, every individual gets but twenty-four hours in a day) to both family and work. Thus, the perception that “you can have it all.”
Or perhaps, you are an exceptional individual like Napoleon Bonaparte, who was said to require only three hours of sleep a night. Clearly this would be a competitive advantage for increasing the limited resource of usable time for other purposes. However, this does not change the basic fact that if you compete with an individual who has the same unique quality or is just as effective a time manager as you, you must concentrate these resources against the goal you want to achieve and so be stronger than your competitor at this point in order to be successful.
The basic issue is this: if you have identical resources (time, money, expertise) available as your competition and you concentrate them against the same goal, but he dissipates them over several different goals, you are going to be stronger than he is against that goal that you have chosen. Everything else being equal, you are going to win and he is going to lose
Since the resources needed to be successful, are always limited, and are especially critical in competitive situations, it is crucial that we focus our resources against specific and important objectives. So, while we may see many opportunities for success in any competitive situation, we need to decide on those that are most critical, and to concentrate our resources at these critical points.
In military terms, we say that we must concentrate superior combat power at the decisive point of battle. Then we are stronger than our enemy at that point and we will gain victory, even if overall our enemy is stronger than we are. The power of this is not in frequently seen in warfare. The forces of the Confederate States of America won battle after battle against Union forces during the American Civil War even though the resources of the Confederacy in men, arms, and wealth were far inferior to those of those of the Union. Despite this inferiority in resources, the Confederacy held out for four years, and came within a hair of forcing the Union to give up the war and acknowledge Confederate independence. The secret was concentrating superior combat power at the decisive point. As one successful Confederate general, Nathaniel Bedford Forrest put it in colloquial and effective, if not quite perfect, English: “It’s a matter of getting there furstest with the mostest.” In ancient times, the Carthaginian general, Hannibal totally defeated and annihilated a Roman Army almost four times his size at the Battle of Cannae by sequentially concentrating his forces.
The decisive point is that point which if we succeed at that point, we will succeed overall. In more general terms for being successful in business, sports, or our personal lives, we can say that to be successful, we must concentrate superior resources at the decisive point.
Now, as already noted, because resources are always limited, we cannot concentrate or focus everywhere. In fact concentrating everywhere is an oxymoron. So we must marshal our limited resources to apply them where they count. This means that we must take resources from other areas of the competitive situation that are of less importance to put them at the decisive point. We may not be successful at these other points, but it is unimportant.
So, while we would like to be successful with a number of new products, this may not be possible. If we try to do this, various competitors may be stronger than our efforts at each of our endeavors. So, we cannot be strong everywhere.
One of my favorite stories having to do with the value of concentrating superior resources in business has to do with the early days of business computers. A little 96-man company, ICS, Inc. took on mighty IBM and won. ICS concentrated all its resources in the then tiny market for teaching computers. In that market, ICS ruled, and IBM eventually gave up and pulled out. Sure IBM could have fought it out and won if it wanted. After all, it had was thousands of times larger than little ICS. But it would have had to have diverted needed resources from other markets, and IBM had bigger fish to fry. Better to get out and let the smaller company have this little computer market niche. Today we call concentration in a small segment like this niche marketing.
By economizing where our efforts are of lesser importance, we take resources from these areas and by focusing these resources on one or a few most important points, products, or projects, or markets, we can succeed and win out against a much stronger competitor time after time.
THE LESSON: Concentrate your limited resources at the decisive point where they count and economize elsewhere. In this way you can defeat stronger competitors time after time.