This is about clarity on what you want and what you’re willing to give up to get it. You can’t win everywhere, all the time. You can’t be best in the world at everything. Recognizing that and choosing to be just good enough at some things at sometimes is an especially powerful choice because it allows you to focus on where you choose to win and how you’re going to win there.

Let’s define strategy as the creation and allocation of the right resources to the right place in the right way at the right time over time. The corollary to that is that there are wrong resources, wrong places, wrong ways and wrong times.

Let’s further classify things as:

  • Predominant/top 1%
  • Superior/top 10%
  • Strong/top 25%
  • Above average/top 50%
  • Good enough/scaled/bottom 50%
  • Outsourced or not do at all

Play to win by being predominant, superior or strong

Play not to lose by being above average or good enough

Or choose not to play

Cola Wars

Consumers in the UK buy more soft drinks in the summer than in the winter. Coca-Cola’s bottler built only enough capacity to supply the market in the winter. They then locked in all the available contract manufacturers to meet peak summer demand. This meant their profitability was optimal in the winter and only good enough in the summer because they had to pay the contract manufacturers.

Because there was no contract manufacturing capacity left in the market, Coca-Cola’s competitors had to build enough of their own capacity to meet summer demand. Their profitability was optimized in the summer. But they lost money the rest of the year.

Coca-Cola won because its profits were optimal in the winter and good enough in the summer while its competitors’ profits were optimal in the summer and negative in the winter.

HR Wars

Procter & Gamble has traditionally invested heavily in research and development. It’s research and development people choose to work on things that are either close to commercialization, 5+ years from commercialization, or 10+ years from commercialization – playing with basic molecules and things that may never see the light of day, but may be game changers.

Net, P&G chose to be predominant or superior in research and development. They chose to be strong in production and customer service. And they chose to outsource human resource administration, letting IBM manage that for them.

Air Wars

Conversely, we’ve all seen the results of Boeing’s long-term degradation of its production capability. For decades, Boeing’s jets were the epitome of high quality. The company made money by selling more and more jets at a premium price. Then they got serious about cost cutting, finding ways to shave a few pennies here and a few dollars there by asking whether the customer could really tell the difference about each little change. And, in truth, the customer couldn’t tell the difference – until Boeing’s planes started falling out of the skies and its doors started blowing off.

Good enough is not good enough when it comes to the areas in which you’re building your competitive advantage.

Implications for you

Coca-Cola chose to win in the winter and have good enough profits in the summer. Procter & Gamble chose to win on research and development and outsource human resources. Boeing won and then lost on its production quality.

In some ways, choosing where to play and how to win is the easy part. The hard part is choosing what to de-emphasize, de-prioritize and accept being good enough to free up the time, energy and resources to invest in where you choose to play and win.

Thus, there are two parts to the core focus model: where you focus and where you choose not to focus.

If your core focus is design, think hard about being just good enough at production, delivery and service. If your core focus is production, think about being just good enough at design, delivery and service, and so on for delivery and service.

The point is that good enough is good enough. Stop trying to be predominant, superior or strong in everything. You don’t have to grow every business. You don’t have to win at everything – just at what really matters.

Oh-by-the-way, this applies to your personal life as well. Figure out what really matters. Accept good enough for the rest.

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