Friday Book Review! If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat! by Leonard Sherman

Speed Review: If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!For many businesses, writes Columbia University professor Leonard Sherman, competition is a dogfight between rival firms viciously battling each other for market share. In his evocatively titled book, If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!, Sherman argues that the most successful strategy is not to engage in the dogfight but to do something completely different — to become the metaphorical “cat” of his title.

Sherman, who has been a partner, managing partner and senior partner at blue-chip consultancies such as Booz Allen Hamilton, J.D. Power and Associates and Accenture, offers a specific prescription for becoming a cat. This prescription is based on three strategic imperatives that, he writes, drive sustained profitable growth.

The first strategic imperative is continuous innovation, which is not an imperative for its own sake but is required in order to deliver the second strategic imperative: meaningful differentiation that is recognized and valued by customers. Meaningful differentiation, in turn, is enabled by the third strategic imperative: business alignment. Business alignment, writes Sherman, is “where all corporate capabilities, resources, incentives, and business culture and processes are aligned to support a company’s strategic intent.”

The Australians Are Coming!

Welcome to the U.S. wine market in the year 2000. Not only is the market crowded, but breaking into the U.S. is even tougher because most Americans prefer beer to wine. Yet, somehow, a new wine from a small vineyard in southeastern Australia would become the top-selling imported wine in the U.S. within five years after introduction. The secret? Casella Family Brands, which made and sold the upstart wine, decided to act like a cat. (click here to continue reading)

Move Beyond the Competition

MatterCompanies and people that matter have successfully become the obvious choice in the hearts and minds of their customers, their employees and their communities. They elevate themselves by consistently finding ways to solve the most pressing needs their markets face. The result? They create more value year after year and build a sustainable, differentiated organization. In Matter, Peter Sheahan and Julie Williamson show you how to identify the place where you can create the most value — your edge of disruption — at the intersection of old and new, where your existing profits, reach and reputation enable you to create the markets of the future.

This is the place where the most important problems are solved and where the fewest people can solve them. Your edge of disruption is where your opportunity to matter is found. Matter uses extensive case studies of real companies that have successfully become the obvious choice in their markets. Through their journeys, you will find the inspiration and courage to lean in to complexity and solve the higher value problems that matter most. Don’t just read this book — use it to identify and act on opportunities to create the most value and accelerate your own journey to becoming a person and a company that matters.

 

IN THIS SUMMARY, YOU WILL LEARN:
• What it means to be a company that matters.
• The three-step process for becoming a company that matters.
• How to do the hard work of reinventing yourself, rather than working hard at what you’ve always done.
• How to make thought leadership a way of life

 

Balancing Competition and Cooperation

For some people, the key to success is competition — always looking after their self-interest and fighting to be better than others. Others believe that success comes to those who are best at cooperation — who know how to collaborate with others. Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky and Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer argue that this dichotomy is false.

In their new book, Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete and How to Succeed at Both, Galinsky and Schweitzer build on research from across the social sciences as well as advances in neuroscience to explain how the most successful people and successful relationships are those in which we find the right balance of both competition and cooperation.

We are always toggling between the two, although it is not easy. According to the authors, three fundamental forces — resources are scarce, humans are social beings and the social world is unstable and dynamic — give rise to an ongoing tension between competition and cooperation. These three fundamental forces are the underlying threads that run throughout the book.

Why We Compare Ourselves to Others

A chapter that explores the role that social comparisons play in our lives illustrates how these forces impact cooperation and competition. We are social beings, the authors write, and one way we figure our place in our dynamic world is by comparing ourselves with others. Such social comparisons can be motivating. When the Soviets became the first country to fly a man in orbit, the United States felt it must do better; the result was the successful first mission to the moon. Social comparisons, however, can also be destructive, as the attack of Olympic skater Tonya Harding on rival Nancy Kerrigan demonstrates.

Social comparisons help put our achievements in context, notably when scarce resources are involved. The authors cite one academic study that showed that people who graduate during a recession are happier with their first jobs than people who get their first jobs during an economic expansion. The reason? During an economic downturn, graduates who get a job compare themselves to most other graduates, who aren’t able to get a job at all.

The authors offer three principles that help harness the power of social comparisons and make them work for us rather than bring us down. The first is to recognize the natural order of things in which most of us instinctively believe. One example of this natural order is that older siblings should be successful first. The Williams sisters (and in another domain, John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy) worked well together, as the older sibling was the first to reach the heights of their profession. The second principle is to recognize or create new opportunities to compete. Turn disappointment into motivation to do better next time. The third principle is to allow others to have some schadenfreude — some joy in someone’s misery. After your incredible vacation to Fiji, the authors suggest, don’t forget to focus on the negatives as well (the rainy days, the lost luggage).

The core lesson of social comparisons, write the authors, is to seek favorable comparisons to make yourself happy, unfavorable comparisons to push yourself harder.

The chapter on social comparisons is the opening salvo of a fascinating exploration into how humans both collaborate and compete and how it’s possible to find that perfect balance between the two. The authors cover a surprisingly wide range of issues, such as the role of “psychological safety” (the permission to speak up), that enable hierarchies to be productive rather than destructive; how to use both competence and warmth to build trust; and how women can compete without facing the unfair gender-stereotypical backlash of being too “hard” or “tough” — to name just three examples. Filled with unforgettable stories, this is the ultimate guide for learning when to cooperate as a friend and when to compete as a foe.

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The Sky’s the Limit on Competition

The announcement today that United Airlines will merge with Continental Airlines to create the world’s largest carrier is another sign of the continued changes in the airline industry. The  airlines still have one major hoop through which to leap before this mega-airline can see its wheels leave the ground: they have to navigate the federal approval process, something that many news outlets claim will be more difficult under the Obama administration.

The state of the airline industry demonstrates that competition continues to intensify and shift. As internal and external pressures mount, companies are forced to re-evaluate existing strategies and create new methods to ensure survival in the marketplace.

These sentiments echo the thoughts of  marketing icon Jack Trout, author of the classic Positioning, as well as Repositioning, a book co-authored with Steve Rivkin and summarized by Soundview in our latest monthly edition. Trout’s book centers on conquering the 3 C’s of business: competition, crisis and change. In a recent interview with Soundview, Trout mentioned that competition is by far the most critical of the three C’s to conquer.

To show the ways in which competition will continue to increase, Trout gave this example:

“I recently returned from Beijing where they were celebrating the 30th anniversary of my book Positioning. Can you believe this? In China they’ve fallen in love with Positioning and Repositioning because they are now a country that’s learning how to market products. They already know how to make everything. Now they’ve decided that they’re going to have to build brands or buy brands on their own. That’s a scary thought! Think about it. The Chinese are getting into the marketing game. You think we’ve seen competition now? Get ready.”

To help yourself get ready, check out Soundview’s summary of Repositioning: Marketing in an Era of Competition, Change and Crisis.