Last weekend I read an article in Business Week about Samsung Electronics. Early in my career, I used to read about successful companies, and then try to implement exactly what they did in our company. Over the years I’ve learned to be more cautious. As it turns out, not every successful business strategy from another industry works equally well in our hardwood lumber business.
The article about Samsung reminded me of this lesson. I was fascinated that Samsung has taken a completely different approach to the smart phone market than Apple. And yet both companies are wildly successful. Quoting from the article, “Apple’s approach is fewer models, each of them exquisitely designed. Samsung’s is try everything, and fast.” Later in the article, one analyst comments “Samsung has taken differentiation to a new art. If I want something in between an iPad and an iPad Mini, I can’t get that from Apple.” Samsung, on the other hand, is quick to create multiple variations on the products they offer.
The lesson here? One formula doesn’t work for all businesses, all organizations, or even all people. One could look at Apple, see their success and assume that emulating them is the best path. Who wouldn’t want to be like them? However, their biggest competitor, who appears to be gaining ground on them, is taking exactly the opposite approach.
So how do I apply this to our hardwood lumber business? We’re essentially in a commodity business. For us, trying many different things, being willing to fail, and not being afraid to end up with a variety of products tailored to different customers, seems like the better strategy. This entails being able to create products quickly, and letting them die if they don’t work. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting better. Reading about Samsung inspired me.
So, the ultimate take away for me is that the best leaders are not those who go out and try to copy other successful companies. Rather, success more often comes from searching for organizations that best fit your marketplace and way of doing business, and then tailoring and tweaking their approach to fit your culture and situation. You may be doing something exactly the opposite of some of the most successful companies in the world, but that’s OK. I hate to vote against Apple, but for us the Samsung approach seems better. For someone else, the opposite may be true.