Lead, follow, or fizzle out
D. S. Cheema

Breakout Strategy
by Sydney Finkelstein, Charles Harvey and Thomas Lawton. Tata McGraw-Hill.
Pages 346. Rs 450.

There are very few companies, big or small, which keep winning year after year. Why is it so, and what maintains their momentum? On the other hand, many companies start with a lot of promise but fizzle out in due course of time. Why and how do some companies taste long-term success and why some others experience persistent failure? Such questions have been tickling and testing the creativity of research scholars and management thinkers, especially since 1980s, when Peter Waterman Jr set the trend of analysing American industry success stories with his remarkable book In Search of Excellence. Breakout Strategy belongs to the same category, its analysis of business problems is innovative and the principles and practices recommended in the book can help any company become a market leader through strategic excellence.

The first chapter rightly provides the concept of breakout strategy and puts the theme in the correct perspective. The authors make it very clear that successful companies believe in effective strategy making and in developing collaborative processes to implement the same-it is not the sophisticated strategies that make the difference, it is the brilliance with which simple strategies are executed. Breakout strategies have been categorised as four typesóTaking by Storm, Laggards to Leaders, Expanding Horizon and Shifting Shape.

Some companies which are the first or near first in the market/service follow the Taking by Storm strategy and may be termed as True Originals, Revolutionaries, Wave-riders or Big Improvers, depending upon how they get on the fast track. Authors give different ways how established companies can breakout to stay ahead of the competition. The Expanding Horizon strategy is related with transformational change, through which the companies experience a spiral of growth.

The second and third chapters, Getting on the Fast Track and Staying out in Front, essentially examine how different companies adopt different strategies for getting on the fast track and how they stay as leaders through a clear vision. Examples of Microsoft, Google, IKEA and Apollo Group illustrate how they got on the fast track. Successful and unsuccessful companies have been compared to discern the pattern for double-digit growth.

The book discusses in detail the four breakout strategies from the chapters five to eight. The fifth chapter, Putting Vision to Work, focuses on formation, content and application of the organisational vision. Harley-Davidson's revived vision and its implementation is a classic case in point.

The next chapter, Being a Magnet Company, makes compelling and consistent offering to customers. The point is driven home through the six pillars value proposition model based on price, features, quality, support, availability and reputation. The seventh chapter provides a business model that analyses the need of the organisation for delivering the promise of value proposition they make to the customers. Value proposition elements are related to the business model elements of cost, innovation, reliability, relationship, channels and brand, respectively.

The implementation of breakout strategy is discussed in the eighth chapter. The essential requirement of this strategy is that an organisation must be adoptable, nimble and balanced in its approach. The last chapter deals with the needs of good leadership to implement any type of breakout strategy. The authors provide a list of five strategic leadership skills: A positive skill or capability is required for positive projection of the vision and for instilling confidence, belief and commitment. Negative capability is needed by the leader for not taking anything without waiting, thinking and testing, not diluting the focus. Conceptual skill is essential for analysing, apprising, researching, while creative capability is needed for imagining, questioning, etc. Relational skill is used for developing rapport through empathising, communicating, reaching out to others, etc.

This research-based work has immense practical utility as guide to the practices for double-digit growth. It can have far-reaching impact on how different types of entities will conduct their business in future.