Executives desperate to find some new inspirational juice as they slog through The Great Recession need look no further than this weekend's sports pages.
Whether or not Lance Armstrong reclaims the eight seconds standing between him and his eighth Tour de France win, he's a high-RPM commercial metaphor for a rusty-wheel era, and not for the reasons you think.
His inspiration for the C-suite goes beyond triumph and tragedy, firmly into strategy.
Four words: Win on the hill.
Armstrong has always believed that the most brutal parts of the course were his best opportunity to create competitive separation. Today, leaders of growth-minded businesses are peddling a parallel dash into The New:
• Google lobs out an operating system for cloud computing.
• Microsoft jumps into search.
• P&G launches the biggest capital expansion in company history.
Have these guys noticed the economic crisis? Absolutely.
Is it easier to be brave when you're flush with cash? Maybe.
Big or small, every organization faces the same choice: Move the market; or let merciless market forces move you to the back of the pack.
Winning on the hill is the right strategy for any high-performing business that wants to stay that way.
But the moves you make now to win on the hill need a sharper edge than what worked in the coasting days behind us.
A few principles to grease the gears:
1. The value proposition has always mattered. Now it matters more.
Through the largely uninterrupted growth of the past two decades, consumers have acquired a taste for creature comforts, products, design and experiences that transcend mere function.
Innovators have grown obsessed with bells, whistles and nuance.
What lies ahead is not the undoing of this escalated sophistication, but a renewed focus on the very foundations of value: Innovation that makes life better.
The next-gen phone that just looks cooler will have a tough climb.
2. Assume your customer is as cash poor as you are. Frame the incremental dollar as an economic offset.
Justify the extra dollar you want consumers to throw your way via the dollar they don't have to give somebody else.
Samsung is making hay in the trade show and retail markets with a LCD-panel product called I.D. - Interlocking Displays - which click together to form their own wall, eliminating the cost of carpentry, painting and wiring up a wall to mount them.
Samsung I.D. warrants a premium price because customers save a fortune elsewhere. Perfect offset.
3. Halve your risk by sharing it.
Many innovation projects are dying in triage as the credit crunch and risk-aversion take hold inside companies.
Surviving this gauntlet requires improving your risk/reward curve, and partnering is risk management's new best friend.
Whether you partner across business units or with outside players, partnering puts more talent on task at a lower cost by borrowing it rather than owning it. It spreads risk across multiple balance sheets, drives up the odds of initiatives panning out and drives down the cost of ones that don't.
For those not adept at it, partnering will be a valuable new skill set, both for today's steep climb, and for thriving in the collaborative economy ahead of us.
4. Obsess over unlocking new value from hidden assets.
Bain & Company found that a staggering 9 out of every 10 companies that successfully renewed themselves found the solution in mining hidden assets.
Be it a strong distribution system, a new or under-commercialized technology, a neglected brand, or unexplored manufacturing capability, you have more growth drivers than you may realize.
Seeing those Rembrandts in your attic is the real challenge. But now is the moment to get great at spotting hidden value and innovating to monetize it.
Fresh eyes can help.
5. Make acquisitions fundamental to your innovation, and innovation fundamental to your acquisitions.
Three converging truths behind this:
• Many high-potential businesses can now be had on the cheap.
• Skeptical stakeholders have an easier time seeing the potential of something if it's already trading in market.
• Acquisitions and innovation really should have been joined at the hip all along.
Scour the market for buyable ways to accelerate a strategic vision, assess
potential acquisitions as innovation platforms and quantify the upside ahead of a deal.
It's a double-win.
You shave time and cost off your innovation cycle, and you're buying something bigger than what the guy across the table is selling.
Now as you make your own moves to win on the hill, take a moment this weekend to cheer Lance onward, and to think about bringing his strategy to the office come Monday.