Shakespeare had some words for it: Uneasy rests the head that wears the
crown. Meaning managers in businesses holding a dominant lead -- say a
market share double the frontrunning competitor -- have a legitimate right
to insomnia. Andy Grove's legendary paranoia is well-founded. In spite
of the fact Intel chips power 80% of the world's PCs, Andy knows
somewhere a cadre of eager beaver MBAs are burning the midnight oil figuring
out a way to chip out a few of Intel's hard-earned share points. And
when you're that big it's hard to keep all the inroads into the
But King of the Mountain is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.
For those who would be King it can just as easily provide the keys to
the castle and a detailed access map to the treasury.
The tool is designed encourage out-of-box perspectives aimed at defending
-- or exploiting -- highly focussed strategic inroads into the market
share held by a dominant leader. We count twelve potential avenues of
assult. Some are obvious invasion routes. Others more akin to the perilous
ascent up the cliffs by which Wolfe led his troops into the backdoor of
Fort Quebec to end France's dream of an empire in the New World. To
dominant leaders, the procedure can identify unrecognized points of vulnerability
and suggest ways to either lock the portals shut or take an affirmative
action necessary to pre-empt a would-be usurper from initiating the effort.
For competitors struggling to cope with a dominant market leader with
whom they lack the resources to win a nose-to-nose confrontation, the
tool discovers high-yield / low-cost opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities
perhaps a few the leader is strategically unable to defend without jeopardizing
a greater source of volume.
The process itself is deliberately uncomplicated. Participatory. Orderly.
Without losing track of pragmatic business issues it manages to be imaginitive
and engagingly reminiscent of the childhood game from which it takes its
name. It's also intellectually stimulating and more fun than golf
-- which makes it the kind of team-building exercise that lends itself
to off-campus weekend retreats.
It takes a fair amount of imagination and coordination to make things
both fun and productive. A series of internal meetings with key functional
personnel flush out suspected opportunities to protect -- or attack --
a dominant leader's market share. The input suggests the key issues,
pertinent facts, new perspectives, "for-instance" case histories
and guest speakers relevant to the defined areas into which the corporate
brainstorming will be channeled.
By the time the troops arrive, a carefully orchestrated collection of
presentations has been developed to stimulate the imaginations and background
participants with hard data and/or battle-proven strategies. Guided by
the principles of ancient Chinese Warlords and actions of contemporary
Corporate Wizards -- with an occasional nudge from process coaches --
cross-functional teams devise their own Machiavellian strategies to engage
corporate assets in newly perceived opportunities...outline battle plans
to their colleagues...and adopt the ones most likely to wreak havoc on
an unwary adversary.
Purina discovered brands targeting half the brand share objective mandated
by corporate policy for a new product could be profitable -- but only
for the category's high-volume producer. Which was, coincidentally,
Purina. They also discovered the loyalty of an all-important ally -- the
retailer -- was in jeopardy and a defection would leave them vulnerable
to attack on their price flanks. Within a year managers began preempting
competitors with a integrated assortment of premium and price brands targeting
the emotional and nutritional needs of key niches of the pet owning population.
Without the new perspectives small -- but profitable -- brands that Purina
owns today could just as easily been developed by Quaker, Grand Met or
Microsoft, Intel, ConAgra and Nike have perfected the art of building
-- then preserving -- a dominant leadership. Toyota, Wal-Mart and Southwest
Air are three examples of formerly small companies that outwitted bigger
competitors. Conversely, Epson lost a kingdom in the printer/peripherals
business. And who remembers in the deodorant soaps category, Dial once
was the king-of-the-hill and Lever was only a minor contender? The king
is dead. Long live the king.
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