Brain Food: Speaking out - Professor Michael Porter, Harvard Business School

If you are introduced as 'The World's Number One Business Thinker', you'd better be good. Michael Porter started well: 'Thank you for that introduction, chairman; you read out what I wrote very well.' That raised a laugh, as did his little joke about seeing the European Conference on Customer Management fully booked with over 1,000 delegates: 'The economy must be picking up.'

by Khalid Aziz, chairman of spoken communications specialist the Aziz Corporation -
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Professor Porter's theme was all about strategy. For content, it was the best exposition on the subject I have heard, and we soon overcame the fact that we were being addressed by an academic. He was iconoclastic too - audiences love that. 'You can be too close to your customers. Too close and you'll fail ... It's not necessarily about being the best or biggest, it's about being unique.' He discussed how people 'mix up the vision/mission thing with strategy', and offered us five tests on whether you have a strategy.

It was all going pretty well. Granted, his one-dimensional accent was beginning to grate, but no matter - the content was good. With half an hour to go, he noticed he was going to over-run. He dropped slides on the hoof, leading us to think we were being short-changed. He ran over time by five minutes, then six, then seven, and got tetchy when the chairman asked him to bring his remarks to a close. Having done reasonably up to that point, he eventually over-ran by a full 10 minutes. Unforgivable.

Key moment: Porter's elegantly argued point that competing to be the best is ultimately a zero-sum game from a business point of view.

Key lesson: Stick to your time slot; if in doubt under-run.

Foot in mouth ...

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