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Forces versus Sources
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Porter calls his worst offenders portfolio managers rather than strategists because they treat companies like simple investments that are to be added or dropped rather than made productive. Here he refers to a strategy model by the Boston Consulting Group that tells you to add and drop companies according to how much cash they yield and how mature their market is.8 In contrast, Porter gives two cases of successful diversification that show a very different path to success. Porter s first case is Hanson Trust of Great Britain. As a conglomerate with units in many industries, you might think that it s a classic portfolio manager of the type that Porter disdains. But like one or two other conglomerates, Hanson has a real strategy. It buys up a mature company with low growth, a market leader that has bad management but is rich in assets. Hanson pays a low price, fixes up the company, and sells it. Then it buys another. Each unit is approached with a modus operandi that has been perfected through repetition. Hanson has become one of the best restructurers. We don t know how Hanson first hit on its winning formula, but it uses that formula again and again. It is an artist of what works. So even though Hanson adds and drops businesses, its results are very good. Porter s second case is Marriott. He picks up the story with Marriott s jump into airline catering. That led to food-service management for institutions, hotels with restaurants, and airport merchandise shops. Porter highlights Marriott s 6,000 standardized recipe cards and standard hotel procedures that help keep everything on track. He then notes a few ventures in which Marriott failed: gourmet restaurants, where standard menus don t work, and cruise ships and theme parks, where entertainment counts more than efficiency. From Built to Last, we already know about Mr. Marriott s coup d oeil that kicked off the company s first diversification. From there, it continued to build on success. When it tried something that was too far afield, it failed. Even in Porter s telling, it comes through that Marriott management remained an artist of what works. Again, these two cases Hanson and Marriott show Porter s great insight into what makes for business success. But we find
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138 T H E A D V A N T A G E O F E X P E R T I N T U I T I O N
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nothing about the five forces or the three generic strategies. So what does competitive strategy offer, beyond Porter s own insights caseby-case
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Competitive Intuition
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From Porter s 1987 article, we see that competitive strategy and the art of what works are quite compatible if we skip the five forces and three generic strategies. Thus, we can return to Competitive Strategy for its examples rather than for its theory. For instance, we learn that fragmented industries deprive centralized production or marketing of its usual economies of scale. We even find cases of diseconomies, where centralization weakens rather than strengthens the firm. Examples include solar heating, garbage collection, and liquor stores. Yet technology can consolidate an industry; for example, feedlots allow a few big beef growers to gain ground at the expense of small ranchers. Yet despite all this industry analysis, we still don t have a strategy. Let s take a closer look at what Porter says about fragmented industries. To formulate strategy, you follow these steps. First, you identify the structure of the industry and the positions of competitors. Then you determine why the industry is fragmented. You ask whether the fragmentation can be overcome, and if so, how. You calculate whether overcoming fragmentation will be profitable, and where to position the firm in order to do so. And if fragmentation is inevitable, you find the best alternative for coping with it. These are fine steps. They ask good strategic questions, but they don t give you answers. We can analyze the industry forever, but the analysis still doesn t tell us what to do. Porter comes closest to giving answers when he says that fragmentation might be overcome through innovation or strategic change. That s true. But competitive analysis cannot yield those things. Schumpeter would call that a creative response. It comes from coup d oeil, not economics. As Schumpeter noted, economic analysis can always explain a creative response after the fact. You can never use it to explain a
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