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Be As Strategic As Bill Gates in Choosing Breakthrough Projects

Dec 25, 2007
What's a leader for? Above all else, leaders help set an organization in the right pathway and direction to gain advantages versus competitors in serving customers.

Consider the significance of Bill Gates choosing to make his breakthrough in operating software for IBM personal computers. If he had worked on check balancing software instead, Microsoft might not even exist today.

Many people choose what to work on solely based on their enthusiasm for the subject. For instance, salespeople may feel more energized by redesigning the compensation system than they do by finding more leads. Why? The compensation system shift can increase their pay from the current effort.

There's no necessary connection between finding more leads and any personal benefit. But in an organization that has too few leads, finding lots of good leads could create more compensation gains than changing the compensation system.

You have to watch out for what will help you achieve the most at an individual level before picking a breakthrough focus.

The same problem applies to entire organizations. Leaders need to broadly consider potential benefits before selecting a focus as well. Let's consider an example of how the choice of creating a breakthrough solution can make a large positive or negative difference for an organization.

In earlier days at Apple Computer, the organization set its focus on having a superior operating system and user features that would make it very appealing to do advanced computing on an Apple Macintosh. For many years after the IBM PC standard was set, users consistently reported preferences for Apple's offerings.

The only aspect where the PC standard did well compared to Apple was in having more application software available for PCs.

Microsoft was a much smaller company at the same time, and also had an objective of providing a superior operating system for personal computers. Microsoft focused its attention solely on improving its software and the frequency of upgrades in creating its breakthrough solutions for its computer users.

Apple continued to work across the board on all aspects of computing that affected its hardware or software. If Apple instead had selected the Microsoft focus, Apple could have chosen to make its proprietary operating system work on the PC standard as well.

Microsoft would have continued to do well on IBM-built personal computers, but Apple could have gained leadership with most of the clone PC makers who soon dominated the market. If successful in that focus, Apple would now be the world's most valuable company and would probably have stopped providing its own computing hardware at some point along the way.

As you can see from this example, it's important for organizations to think about the benefits that current customers and stakeholders receive. But it's even more important to think about the benefits that potential stakeholders will obtain as well.

In addition, how will your change affect the competitive balance in the market place? Can you, like Apple might have, cut off a powerful future competitor by concentrating your focus where it will do you the most good?
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is coauthor of six books including The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, and The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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