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Zen leopards ... Featured

9:33am EDT July 22, 2002

There is a Zen saying that goes something like this: "If a white leopard repeatedly breaks into the temple during the ceremony and drinks the holy water, incorporate the white leopard into the ceremony."

Zen masters would, no doubt, make good business gurus. They teach you to incorporate, rather than fight, the inevitable, to look past the obvious and seek the subtle, to know your limitations and then exceed them. This month, we look at "incorporating your leopard" as we visit the last six of what I call my 14 grand strategies.

Expecting the leopard

In addition to the grand strategies of concentrated growth, market development, product development and innovation mentioned previously, consider:

9. Turnaround. Sometimes, we get lazy and fat. Things are going well, we add overhead, nonessential personnel. We pursue peripheral markets and related but nonessential products.

We become inefficient and lose our edge. Eventually, it's necessary to aggressively examine and repair your core business, usually with an eye on cost savings, process improvement, new technology introduction, changing vendor relationships or some combination. Better yet, incorporate this strategy into your yearly planning activities.

Leaving the leopard and the temple

These strategies are for businesses nearing the end of their life cycles:

10. Divestiture. We sometimes end up with unprofitable or undesirable product lines or business units. Either our ego got in the way of our business sense, or we acquired something inappropriate during a business relationship or acquisition. Sometimes you must cast it away, no matter how much it hurts your pride.

11. Liquidation. You may never have to go out of business, but it happens. Sometimes we look carefully at our endeavors and have to admit they are no longer the best use of our short lives. There are now better ways to spend our time.

Invite the leopard into your temple

Horizontal integration, vertical integration, concentric diversification and conglomerate diversification fit here. Others are:

12. Joint venture. Opportunities abound to work cooperatively with other firms. Enter into agreements with suppliers, customers, competitors or appropriate others to create win-win situations. If a leopard is drinking your holy water, work with it, not against it.

13. Strategic alliance. Sometimes you'll find more expedience in working with those who otherwise are your competitors to achieve mutually beneficial, clearly delineated goals. This could be to lobby, to develop a technology or just to enjoy your competitor's holy water. U.S. electronics firms did this to develop a standard for High Definition Television, effectively shutting out foreign competition.

14. Consortium. Partner with other organizations to achieve outcomes beneficial to your industry. The tobacco industry formed a quiet little consortium to negotiate with Congress, and later, the States Attorneys General, to cut a deal on litigation protection. Foreign firms form stronger consortia, called cartels, which are illegal in this country.

Now that you have learned more about ways to incorporate the leopard into your temple's ceremonies, enjoy your holy water. Lance Kurke, Ph.D., is president of Kurke & Associates, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based strategic planning and executive education firm. He is president of the CEO Club of Pittsburgh, serves on the faculty at Duquesne University, and is an adjunct at Carnegie Mellon University. He teaches strategic planning and leadership. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or at kurke@msn.com.