Sunday, December 25, 2011

Understanding Michael Porter: Notes to Self

Many concepts become victims to being 'buzz-word-ized'. What this essentially means is that the core idea behind the concept is lost some where along the line and the word or words alone remain, as an empty container. Or the concept takes an entirely different meaning. More successful the concept is, higher the probability of it becoming buzz-word-ized.  

I came across an introduction to a book called 'Understanding Michael Porter', in hbr blog. The premise of the book is quite interesting. Being as successful as Michael Porter's concepts are, these too have fallen into the 'buzz-word-ization' trap. Competitive advantage has come to mean 'anything people are good at'. Any plan or program is called a strategy. Managers confuse 'differentiation' with being different. The author of the book  tries to set the misunderstandings right, as the book provides Porter's ideas in a concise accessible summary.

Given below are a list of insights that the author maintained, as he worked on the book.
  • Competitive advantage is not about beating rivals; it's about creating unique value for customers. If you have a competitive advantage, it will show up on your P&L.
  • No strategy is meaningful unless it makes clear what the organization will not do. Making trade-offs is the linchpin that makes competitive advantage possible and sustainable.
  • There is no honor in size or growth if those are profit-less. Competition is about profits, not market share.
  • Don't overestimate or underestimate the importance of good execution. It's unlikely to be a source of a sustainable advantage, but without it even the most brilliant strategy will fail to produce superior performance.
  • Good strategies depend on many choices, not one, and on the connections among them. A core competence alone will rarely produce a sustainable competitive advantage.
  • Flexibility in the face of uncertainty may sound like a good idea, but it means that your organization will never stand for anything or become good at anything. Too much change can be just as disastrous for strategy as too little.
  • Committing to a strategy does not require heroic predictions about the future. Making that commitment actually improves your ability to innovate and to adapt to turbulence.
  • Vying to be the best is an intuitive but self-destructive approach to competition.
  • A distinctive value proposition is essential for strategy. But strategy is more than marketing. If your value proposition doesn't require a specifically tailored value chain to deliver it, it will have no strategic relevance.
  • Don't feel you have to "delight" every possible customer out there. The sign of a good strategy is that it deliberately makes some customers unhappy.
The list of insights are quite interesting and throw so much light on what is wrong with the way managers use Porter's concepts. I hope to get hold of the book some time in the future, but for now, i believe if a manager gets to remember the insights given above, that itself will do him/her lot of good.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lessons Learned

Lesson: When you have to choose between two projects that weigh same on the PPM parameters, the project that contributes to the company's expense reduction gets priority over the project that adds to the company's top line.

There is an exception to this, but that is easily understood, once the lesson is properly imbibed. For more clarity, refer to this gantthead link.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Following Fish - A Review

People, their Culture, and food, come together to make a complex mosaic and weave an intricate tapestry. It is this combination that gives a place it's unique identity. If you like to explore a place, you can start with any one, but will invariably end up touching upon others as  these  are closely knit. I personally believe it is all that more interesting to know a place through it's food, being a food lover.  

Food is a nice idea because how it is sourced, cooked and served can be a treasure mine of information. In a country as ancient and as diverse as india, the food served in a place invariably has a story to tell. It is with this thought process that i chose to read a book called ' Following Fish - Travels around the Indian Coast ' by Samanth Subramanian. 

The author says that the book is a record of his journeys, experiences, observations, conversations with people he met and other interesting aspects of the travel. Simply put, it is a travelogue and not a how-to book.

The book is divided into nine chapters,  with each chapter talking about his experience in  a state from west bengal to gujarat.  It all starts with the author exploring the famous hilsa fish of west bengal and his search for remarkable shorshe ilish;  then the wandering takes him to hyderabad and its famed fish treatment for asthmatics. He then explores the catholic fishing community of tamil nadu and its food. Visit to Kerala is about the quest for toddy  and fiery fish curry. Mangalore sojourn is about the search for the best  mangalore fish curry. The journey then moves into the ocean with the hunt for the fastest fish in the ocean, the sail fish.  the book then talks about Goa, an idyllic place and what tourism has done to the state and its fishermen. the chapter on mumbai with the author's quest to eat fish the way the city once ate, is interesting and the journey culminates with the boat builders of gujarat.

All through this chapters the author notes the multicultural and diverse influences absorbed by the fishermen over many centuries,  the change in fishing from the traditional way to the mechanized/modernized way, the traditional fishermen moving onto other professions, the impact of motorized fishing on fishermen and sea; the environmental degradation that happened and is happening in many places due to tourism or over fishing. This has indeed been a fascinating journey and at its end makes you want more.  The author has a wry sense of humor and a style of writing that is not too taxing on the reader.

I would categorize it as breezy reading, but don't let that put you off as some of the issues that the author brings out are very relevant and what you learn in the process makes it worth it. You also learn a recipe or two, if you are ok with recipes in grandma style, i.e. as in 'a pinch of this and a dash of that'. I am  contemplating asking my bengali friend to make shorshe ilish for me, of course without the fish . you see i don't eat fish. but reading this book made me think  so :-)

Recommended reading for the foodie and travel lover.