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John Bell


In Praise of Fast Companies

Their leaders are nimble and quick with keen wits

Published: Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - 16:35

Should every company be striving for the type of strategic advantage that has become the hallmark of Amazon, Google, and Facebook? For sure, in the tech world, it’s hard to imagine success without quick and continuous technology improvement. What about your world?

Whether you sell information or cremation, the common thread for success is sustaining an advantage. The means to this aren’t limited to technology breakthroughs. There are all sorts of strategies and cultures that can bolster and sustain a company’s supremacy.

Intense competition remains a fact of life

Make no mistake; intense competitive rivalries remain a fact of life in most industries. How leaders create opportunities to address this challenge can be as different as night and day. For example, a great poker player doesn’t play the game the same way as would an astute chess player. Business leaders of the poker ilk value quick, prudent, and confident decision making. They understand the risk of each play, and unlike chessmen, they sacrifice strategic contemplation and negotiation to establish themselves as nimble paragons of tireless execution. They put the pedal to the metal to get the job done, and they expect that modus operandi from their teams. The most successful leaders take cues from fast company cultures to achieve competitive advantage.

Fast companies get results

Fast companies deliver superior results to thousands of customers, retailers, restaurants, and service organizations. The California-based In-N-Out Burger chain epitomizes this quick and nimble culture. Unlike competitive fast food restaurants, they deliver the “fast” in the category’s nomenclature. In-N-Out Burger keeps it simple to deliver a great product, quickly. Its menu is limited to three beef burger offerings, fries, shakes, and soft drinks. If you want chicken, salad, pizza, or wraps, get out of the order line and go elsewhere.

Equally nimble are some of the world’s most successful private-label brand manufacturers. Store brands, particularly in the United States are doing better than ever. In 2014, private labels generated $115 billion in sales, an increase of 2.5 percent over the year prior—more than twice the gain of national brands. In-N-Out Burger thrives on doing less; private-label manufacturers prosper by doing more. They have to do more (and do it better) because the secret to success in this business is a wide array of products and packages in countless shapes, sizes, and flavors at costs substantially below branded competitors. This is just an entry chit into the private-label industry. It doesn’t leave much room or time for these players to pioneer new technologies or develop their own brands.

Pedal-to-the-metal mentality

Companies who thrive on fast culture are obsessed with reducing costs and improving operations. They don’t use their precious time to strategically hypothesize or intellectualize. They map a course of action and hit the accelerator. From top to bottom, everyone knows what is expected.

These companies are known for their ardent attention to the details of day-to-day activity, but don’t for a minute think they lack far-sightedness. Visions need not be so narrow that they are repressive. On the contrary, they are broad enough that employees who thrive on perpetual motion have the breadth to pursue and create wonderful new opportunities.

For more on strategy and culture, get a free introductory chapter of my book, Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

First published March 21, 2016, on the CEO Afterlife website.


About The Author

John Bell’s picture

John Bell

John R. Bell is a retired CEO of a consumer packaged goods company, and a former global strategy consultant. Bell is the author of the book, Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), and the novel, The Circumstantial Enemy (independently published, 2017), a historical thriller based on true World War II events. A prolific blogger, Bell’s musings on strategy, leadership, and branding appear in several online journals including Fortune and Forbes.