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September 21, 2010 / pkdhodapkar

To change or not to change

While trying to achieve business or social change, it is interesting to study what has been successfully done by others, elsewhere. Hence one should look for case studies from all possible sources, including popular media. After a few hours of watching TV, I could gather quite a few for my case folio!   

In an episode of ‘Man vs. Food’ in TLC channel, the successes of standardized foods like beans (Barney’s Beanery, LA), chicken wings with sauce (‘Buffalo wings’ from Buffalo, NY), hot dogs (Lafayette Coney Island hot dogs) were highlighted. The core recipes have not changed for several decades. Why would someone change something which is liked by so many customers all over the country and even abroad? However, this is a dysfunctional way of looking at strategy. We need to take a closer look at the reasons for these successes.

 Take the case of Buffalo wings. What started as an impromptu dish for the guests who had dropped in late, the recipe (with the proprietary sauce at the heart of its success) grew into an international hit. The only variation that has been introduced over the years – the sauces come in different grades: mild, medium, hot and suicidal (yes, that’s the term they use). There are food fests organized around this ‘product’, with several events thrown in for ensuring fun and participation. Is there something else to this success, apart from the customers’ liking for the product? Sure. Firstly, the success of Buffalo wings clearly shows the importance tradesecrets. Secondly, without meticulous supply chain management, and event management capability (possibly outsourced) the product cannot be provided at the scale that is being done presently. 

The movie ‘Kinky boots’ provides another perspective on business strategy. In the plot, the hero inherits a shoe factory from his father. He soon discovers that the business is in trouble as the key customer is shifting to a cheaper, lower quality brand. In a struggle to keep the factory going, he has to take many unpleasant decisions-laying off many workers, mortgaging his house, etc. In spite of all his sincerity, he ends up damaging relationships with fiancé and subordinates. A chance encounter with a drag queen and a suggestion by a female colleague makes him hit upon a diversification strategy – a niche market consisting of sturdy and queer shoes for the drag queen and many others like ‘him’. After a lot of struggle, he ends up being successful with the help of his stakeholders. 

The above story (a touching one, no doubt, with lot of elements in it) is another dysfunctional way of looking at strategy. Change is portrayed as something thrust upon, a struggle to be overcome with no possibility of systematic planning.

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