"Welcome to Commodity Hell." So begins the first chapter of Oren Harari’s most recent book, Break From the Pack: How to Compete in a Copycat Economy, which lays out the realities of today’s cutthroat business world. In this precarious environment, even the most innovative products and services are susceptible to being imitated by competitors, eroding their uniqueness and turning them into low-margin commodities. The book is the eighth from Harari and outlines how companies can break out of the pack and shield themselves from copycat rivals.
As a writer, professor and consultant for the last 25 years, Harari has tried to get his audience to think differently about business strategy. He has not been afraid to go against conventional wisdom, such as the notion that companies can secure market superiority simply by positioning themselves as the biggest player in their industry. In one of his recent blog postings, Harari uses Starbucks as a cautionary tale for why growth may not always be strategic.
The company is on shaky ground—a far cry from its previous years of success, which catapulted it into a $10 billion enterprise with more than 15,000 stores worldwide. Today, Starbucks is experiencing drops in traffic and in profits. Its stock value dipped 40 percent in 2007.
Harari has a theory for why this happened:"The stuffed chairs and sofa have been removed. A few small tables and wooden chairs remain, pushed to the edges of the room. The baristas no longer seem to know the customers, or care. The whole vibe of the place reeks ‘fast food’: Get people in, pump them for multiple sales, take their order, get ’em out."
In short, Starbucks overextended itself for the sake of growing and, in the process, diluted the characteristics that had made it a magnet for coffee lovers.
Harari is not against growth, as long as it is plotted carefully. "Track progress and hold people accountable for results," he says in his blog. The important questions that companies need to ask themselves before embarking on an expansion plan include: How will we grow? What is our special path, direction and underlying philosophy?
Harari’s unconventional thinking is a byproduct of his diverse professional and personal experiences. He was a senior consultant at the Tom Peters Group from 1984 to 1996. He still looks back at that 12-year run as a transformative period in his career. As a consultant, Harari gained firsthand insight into why individuals lead or fail. For his work, the Financial Times named him one of the 40 "best minds" in management in the world.
When not writing books, blogging or speaking to Fortune 500 companies, Harari teaches at the University of San Francisco, where he is a professor in the Graduate School of Business. He says the cool thing about teaching is that he continually learns from his students, who conduct cutting-edge research on some of the most successful organizations and leaders in today’s global economy.