The article is found on a blog entitled Random Rantings by Freek Vermeulen, an Associate Professor of Strategic and International Management at the London School of Business. (The link is freekvermeulen.blogspot.com/2008_09_01_archive.html.)
The basic truth of driving in the fog is that you can't see that far ahead. That is quite true with managing a business - especially with the twists and turns that the recent economic challenges have brought! While you might know the general direction in which you want to go, there are twists and turns that you haven't anticipated - and that is emphasized by the fog.
On the road with us - also challenged by the heavy fog - is our competition.
Adding to the excitment (and the anxiety) is that there is a bit of "racing" element to the whole process. It is best to get to the prize first! You get the best payoff when you win. Depending on the race, there may not even be a prize for second place. Hence, you can't afford to slow down. How fast dare you go under the circumstances?
What ends up happening far too often is that we end up tailgating the "car" in front of us. It is a whole lot easier than doing a lot of research as to the best route to take. (Who has time to read all that data - never mind to look it all up?) We stay right on the tail of the one in front of us and stay alert for the first chance that we get to pass them.
If you think about it, we are reacting to the competition at this point, as much if not more so than we are to the market. (What can you see easier, the tail lights of the car in front of you or those strips on the pavement?)
A few obvious problems exist with this strategy:
- what if they are going the wrong way? Just because they are in front of you doesn't mean that they are currently heading the right direction. If they missed the exit or the chance to take a different route, are you now more like to do the same thing?
- what if they are going to a different place than where you should be? To continue the automotive illustration: What if they are heading through the fog to the beach - and you are equipped for snow skiing - or vice versa? Your business model and theirs may be totally different - to blindly follow them may lead you to where you do not have the equipment to compete.
- what if they drive into a ditch or a tree? If you are following very closely, you won't have time to react. If they are on the wrong strategic path, you will be on the verge of being a part of the same wreck that they are. We saw how many stores react to the changes that Wal-Mart brought to their markets by trying to beat Wal-Mart at the low price game. We saw how many of them crash and burn as a result of it? In the natural marketplace, we see people making sudden, erratic moves when a Whole Foods comes to their town. I understand their concern - and even their panic! - but making drastic moves in a heavy fog can lead to disaster more often than to success. (I had this conversation with a retailer just last week!)
Should we seek out information about what other retailers are doing in the market? Absolutely! We have some great topics and outstanding moderators lined up for the Retailer Idea Exchange at Expo East in Boston in a couple of weeks - and plans already in the works for Expo West in Anaheim in March. However - take the information that you gain from these sessions home to give consideration to - how is your circumstances, your strengths, your weakness, your competition, your market, etc. the same? How are they different? How can you take their success and make it work in your world? Hopefully, you can, but maybe, it just won't fit. If not, was your time hearing about it a waste? Not at all; it was time well-invested to ensure your success by knowing which roads won't work for your vehicle!