Do We Have A Strategy?

The case study discussed in class outlines the development of Dyson Appliances Ltd. and asks, does Dyson have a strategy?

According to the text, Dyson first came up with the idea of a bagless vacuum cleaner in 1978, and then spent five years developing prototypes – over 5,000 prototypes! In 1984, having failed to find a distributor in Europe, he licensed the technology to a Japanese company and the product became very successful in the Japan. He then set up his own factory in England, but later had to move production to Malaysia to reduce costs. Dyson patented his ‘dual cyclone’ technology in 1980, and in 1999 successfully defended the patent by taking an infringement action against Hoover.

So, is there a strategy evident here?

From the row behind me, one student argues – quite stridently – that Dyson has no strategy! It’s interesting to note her background: she’s a chemical engineer. The chemical industry has decades-long product cycles, and requires significant capital investment accompanied by detailed, long-term planning. The ad hoc nature of Dyson’s progress must seem to be seriously inadequate to someone who is used to ‘intended’ planning.

In contrast, the software industry, where I work, is a fast-changing environment with relatively low capital requirements. We’re all familiar with the legendary software ventures where a few developer friends create a product in just a few weeks, quickly gain traction, iterate, iterate, iterate, and finally sell the business after just a few years for an astonishing sum of money! While these are extreme cases, there is a sense that what constitutes strategy in one industry might be completely inadequate in another.

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The recommended text describes strategy as “the long-term direction of an organisation”. Using this definition, we could say that when he started out in 1979 Dyson did indeed have a strategy: to build a better vacuum cleaner. A detailed, long-term strategy would have been meaningless at that early stage because of the level of technological and market uncertainty.

So, if you can articulate  the long-term direction of your company, then you have a strategy. Whether or not that statement of strategy is adequate depends on the context.

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