wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
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John Kay (1948- )John Kay


Scottish expert on corporate strategy and business success (pictured right) who writes regularly for the Financial Times.



Key books

Foundations of Corporate Success (1993)

 John Kay(see for more detail Foundations of Corporate Success in the Business Books section)


An organization’s success is dependent on its distinctive capabilities - strengths that can’t be copied by competitors - called core competencies by Gary Hamel (pictured right) and CK Prahalad (pictured right below)

A successful strategy uses these capabilities to:

  • exploit market opportunities.
  • delight as many customers as possible.

 John Kay

To put it another way, an organization’s strategy is concerned with:

Matching its capabilities with its markets. 

(called a resource based approach to strategy).


A distinctive capability must be:

  • sustainable (lasing a long time).
  • appropriable (exclusively, or mainly, benefiting the organization).


So there are three main distinctive capabilities:


1. Continuous innovation

To be continuous innovation must be supported by architecture and reputation (see below).


2. Architecture

A system of uniquely superior relationships with the organization’s customers, employees and suppliers.


3. Reputation

Based on innovation and/or architecture.


BMW’s distinctive capabilities are its reputation derived from the quality of engineering from its highly skilled workforce.


Key quote on core competencies

Corporate success derives from a competitive advantage which is based on distinctive capabilities.



Obliquity (2010)


Obliquity is the principle that success is best achieved indirectly.


For example, the most profitable companies don’t primarily focus on profitability but on the best ways to achieve them:

  • visionary purpose (stonemasons built great cathedrals for the glory of God).
  • personal fulfilment in work and leisure.
  • innovation.
  • employee and customer satisfaction.John Kay

For successful people money is a by-product of doing something that they’re passionate and knowledgeable about - for Bill Gates (pictured right) it was business and computers).


Oblique decision making is:


1. Creative and adaptable to change - requiring:

  • constant experimentation.
  • different solutions and ways of thinking.
  • continuous evaluation of objectives.


2. Based on limited choices and information


3. Aware that the consequences of decisions can’t be totally foreseen


Key quote on organizational objectives

The most profitable businesses are not the most profit-oriented.


Key quote on happiness

Happiness is where you find it, not where you go in search of it.


Key quote on decision making

Effective decision makers are distinguished not so much by the superior extent of their knowledge as by the recognition of its limitations.

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