What is Strategy? by Michael Porter – A Visual Summary

“Strategy” is one of those buzzwords that we all use but maybe don’t understand as well as we should.

That’s why I was so keen to read and sketch out the article What is Strategy? by Michael Porter, published in the Harvard Business Review back in 1996 (shoutout to Barrett Brooks for bringing it to my attention).

The article focuses on strategy in the context of building and running a successful business, but many of the ideas (especially the second two shared below) are relevant to any project that you might take on in your personal or professional life.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Strategy rests on unique activities. It’s about what you do that’s different from what other companies do.
  • A sustainable strategic position requires trade-offs. It’s just as much about what you don’t do as it is about what you do.
  • Fit drives both competitive advantage and sustainability. How well-aligned are the elements of your strategy – from simple consistency, to reinforcing, to the optimization of energy?

IKEA is a great example of a unique and successful strategy because of these four pillars: limited customer service, self-selection by customer, modular furniture design, and low manufacturing costs. They’ve become the go-to option for folks who want to furnish a home on a budget with nice-enough style and don’t mind doing a bit of work to put the pieces together.

Which is perhaps an apt analogy for the role that sketching can play in the process of clarifying and communicating your own strategy. What are the pieces of your strategy, and how well do they fit together?

Try sketching them out to see.



P.S. At the end of the video I alluded to two new elements of my strategy as a visual thinking educator: hosting workshops for organizations and speaking at events. If you think my perspective on visual thinking would be a good addition to your organization or event, let’s chat: doug@verbaltovisual.com.