Sailing and business: #2

Win your side.

On days when the wind is shifty, the winner of a race usually comes from one side of the course our the other; rarely from the middle.

That means you have to choose which side you’re going to sail. No remorse allowed. Eventually, you may realize you’ve picked the wrong side; the winner is going to come from the other side.

What do you do? Experience teaches you not to cross the course and get to the other side. In doing so, you’ll probably end up as the last-place boat on the right side of the course.

Instead, focus on winning your side. If you do, the worst you’ll end up is in the middle of the fleet. And often, the winners on the wrong side still finish better than the losers of the right side. So there’s plenty of upside potential in just winning your side.

How does it translate to business? Back in the ’80s, IBM and Apple took opposite sides of the race course – IBM choosing a common platform (MS-DOS) on which to build its computers, and Apple choosing its own proprietary operating system.

IBM chose what turned out to be the right side, allowing it to build computers for the largest share of the desktop/portable computer market.

Since that decisive moment, dozens of companies on both sides of the platform debate have fallen away; even IBM has exited the PC businesss. Apple, meanwhile, won its side; it became the best among proprietary operating platforms.

As a result of its earliest decision, Apply may never become the largest producer of computers. But because it concentrated at winning its side, Apple today has one of the most admired brands – and P&L statements – in the business.

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