Define Your Strategy by What You Aren’t Doing

Somewhere somebody described to me the process in which Michelangelo imagined his David from inside a flawed block of granite marble that had a crack in it. The crack became the hitch in David’s arm as he holds the sling.

I think that’s something like real business strategy. The general type of business, what other people would assume it to be, is like the uncarved block of marble. The strategy is locked inside it. And the end result is created by what you take away.

So, for example, a restaurant’s strategy is about what it doesn’t do. One of my favorite restaurants serves very healthy fast foods. That’s what it’s doing. What it isn’t doing is sit-down table service, breakfasts, cheap meals, drive-through, date dinners, and on an on.

Then there’s the attorney I’ve dealt with for years who sent me to somebody else for IP law, and to a different person for litigation, and yet another for employer law. What he does is small business law. And what he doesn’t do is much bigger.

First you define your market in general terms by describing your target market segments. Then you define it better by defining who, within that segment, isn’t your customer, and why.

First you define your general strategy by what it is that you do. Then you refine it by defining what it is, within that general description, that you don’t do.

(Photo credit: K Patel 1980/Flickr)


  • Jules says:

    I’m with Barb Gibson. I’m about to tackle my Fourth business and this time I feel ready and excited, as apposed to not ready and stressed! I can’t sleep at night, not because I don’t know, but because I do know! I do know, my gut instinct and my dream are in alignment, I do know with every cell in my body I am making the right decision, I do know if I don’t understand I am free to ask questions, I do know I am in charge of my success, I do know why I failed in the past, I do know to trust my intuition. I know I am the best. I know I am in control. I know I will come across challenge. I know I will take 2 steps back. I know I will take 3 steps forward. I know when its time to quit and when its time to fight. LOL! Now I lost my train of thought, but its all good

  • Jennie Keogh says:

    Great advice. We often forget about the simpliest of concepts. I find it is easier to define what we don’t want. I’m definately going to be using this advice in the very near future. Thanks!

  • Thom says:

    David is carved from Marble, not granite.

  • Wally Bock says:

    An excellent and too-rarely-made point, Tim. Strategy is about core choices. One of those is “What shall I do?” the other is “What business will I turn down?”

  • Barb Girson says:

    I appreciate the analogy of carving away the granite to find the art of a business. Building a business is both an art and a science. It also is about seeing with great clarity the vision of the sculpture.

    Very insightful. I will use this analogy in the entrepreneurial class that I teach.

    Thank you,
    Barb Girson

  • RickSmithAuthor says:

    When I launched my business, I had many ideas about what my company (world 50) would be. My ideas were shot down by nearly every adviser I approached. Then I started talking to customers. This “act” of actually engaging with prospects, and letting them carve the granite down into something they really wanted was ultimately what led to my great success.

    Rick Smith

  • Deb Evans says:

    One of my priorities this week is to finalize the agenda for our strategic planning session. Your blog is very timely and useful. I have now added your suggestions! Thank you and I look forward to reading your book The Plan As You Go Business Plan.

  • Strategic Growth Advisors says:

    Superbly written, insightful and very timely (especially for entrepreneurs who are trying to adapt their businesses in these times of economic downturn). Thanks, Tim. Keep on writing!

  • Jordan Bryant says:

    Good article.

  • Paul says:

    great article,great logic. Have a great week end

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