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Jane Evans
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2 May 2019

I’ll have what they’re having!

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I’ll have what they’re having!

For decades, consultants from management consultancies such as McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain have analysed the biggest company successes of their day to see what insight, strategy, operating practice, or competitive advantage made them successful. They also codified their analysis to explain the success.

They use their analysis to sell their services to companies who want to emulate these successful companies, and as part of their marketing turn their analysis into big selling books so we can all learn. At least, that’s the theory. Some of the consultants have become super-star management authors, drawing huge crowds who attend their workshops to discover the secret of phenomenal performance, and get their hands on a formula that will work for them.

We all want what works
We’re all hardwired to want what seems to work. We’re also hardwired to think there is a template for success and formula for growth.

The ideas and super-hero corporate success stories promoted by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in ‘In search of Excellence’, and by Jim Collins in ‘Good to Great’ and ‘Built to Last’, for example, have become widely used by management teams worldwide to justify their business plans. 

But here’s the thing. Most of the hero companies and CEO’s that featured in everyone’s list of outstanding successes in the 1980s rarely made it on to the list in the 1990s. And the heroes of the 90s barely made it on to the lists of the Noughties, and so on. Most than that, although some have survived, like IBM and Microsoft, most have lost their super-star status. Many have been taken over, dismembered, merged, failed or disappeared. Remember Kodak, Nokia, Blackberry, Cadbury? General Electric could do no wrong. Fifteen years later it can do little right.

Three years ago, Facebook would have been on everyone’s list: today the financials are stellar, but everything else is going wrong.

The most interesting thing about these lists and their formulae for growth and success is that they aren’t formulae based on proven cause and effect, but on associated behaviours and correlations. They’re also grounded in a unique time, place and competitive landscape. Applying these formulae might benefit some, but for most they would be irrelevant or even harmful.

It’s impossible to guarantee success, but you can improve your chances by remembering four things we know are true.

1. Every business is unique, and every time it’s different. The competitive landscape is dynamic and forever changing. What worked for Company X at a place and point in time may work for you, but the chances are it won’t repeat the success you want. 

2. Performance is relative not absolute. Companies and brands compete with other companies and brands. What matters is being better than them.

3. Marketing is about solving real business problems and creating opportunities and competitive advantage for the short and long term. A short-term focus leads nowhere, and solving non-problems is a waste of time and money.

4. There are no short cuts or magic potions, no matter how much we wish for them. You can’t bottle success or rely on someone else’s recipe to help you grow.

If you’d like help establishing and implementing the marketing, strategy and business models you need to grow, call Lucia on 01453 521621 or email

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