Combined Arms Consulting

Strategy: An Introduction to Corporate Decision Making

Sun Tzu

Published: 07 Feb 2024

4 min read

Strategy – an introduction

Let me pose a question to you all. What business is the film industry and Kodak in? The consensus would regard these questions as self-evident, why the film industry is in the motion picture business and Kodak is in making film stock. However, on reflection is that the case, how you see answering these seemingly obvious questions will have a direct effect on core decision-making and how one defines a corporate strategy.

Allow me to elaborate.

All too often we define our corporate strategy in line with what we do, and the product range and services we offer. And in many cases our understanding of strategy and planning become intertwined and can be misconstrued as to how an organization moves forward.

Our in-depth thinking – arguably the most important attribute of any leader – can be “corrupted” by the urgency of the moment and the need to address the immediacies of the “ringing phone” rather than a deep dive into defining the purpose and overall scaffold of what the company represents.

This has been largely supported by the work of Henry Mintzberg, a Canadian management theorist who noted that leadership/management decision-making tends to be focused on putting out fires, rather than identifying where the source of the fire is.

The “urgent and important” as Steven Covey noted, tends to be at the front of the decision-making queue rather than first determining if in fact, you are in the right queue.

So how does this relate to getting the core strategy right?

Building any pathway to a falsehood will only lead you further away from where you want to get to, and the tragedy is you will not realize you are lost until it is too late.

Michael Porter acknowledged the need for strategic clarity in his research on competitive advantage. That is what are the unique and defensible attributes that your organization offers that your competition does not.

In plain English – your strategy must be consumer-centric – what will determine what you stand for and what your corporate strategy is, will largely be in the hands of your core customer base and how THEY see your product or service, not so much by what it does but what it represents to you.

The challenge for the leadership group of any company is to get out of their cerebral silos and seek to understand and embrace how people see what you do, and how it affects them, it is not the nuts and bolts that will influence the defining of your strategy but it may just be feelings and self-identify of your consumers that are the scaffolds upon which your strategy must be defined.

If these scaffolds are not considered or understood then the long-term viability of companies and industries may be compromised, and opportunities may be lost.

Now let’s return to the initial question posed in this piece and see whether this hypothesis has any merit. Again, I pose the question, what were the businesses that Kodak and the movie industries operated in?

I would argue when it comes to the motion picture industry, they were really in the transportation business. Why, people went to the movies to escape, to be transported to another happier and more exotic location even if it was for 2 hours. The film industry thrived in the great depression when other industries faltered, ask yourself why.

Focusing on film per se, and not the reason people go to the movies meant that the gaming industry opportunity, now bigger than Hollywood, was lost to that industry and now it is not uncommon for films to mimic gaming, then the other way around.

Kodak is perhaps the most unfortunate example of not having a clear and accurate definition of its corporate strategy. They saw themselves in the film stock and picture business not appreciating that people did not care about film stock or pictures they wanted memories; they were in the memory business.

The irony is that Kodak invented digital photography, but it was not “film”, so it was not a part of their corporate strategy, an amazing opportunity lost. When was the last time you went to the chemist to get a role of slides processed?

Combined Arms Consulting contends that in the world of corporate decision-making, the first decision you must make is that are you asking the right question, and do you understand what you are offering means to your client base, not just what it means to you. When you do you are creating the foundation for an effective strategic platform upon which to build your pathway forward.