The Business of Politics

July 12, 2012
A Confusing Ride Along the Path of a Product
August 1, 2012
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(Originally published July 14, 2012, in Capital, here.)

Politics in a democracy is like business in a free market. The winners in the end are the ones who know what they are doing. It sounds simple. It’s not.

So as the time is now right in Romania for a new political party, what I hope is that it can show businesses here how to do it right and avoid launching like too many others: without the hard planning, without the self-understanding, without making tough choices, and without a roadmap that includes the likely detours. It’s good to be optimistic, but it’s naïve to think that’s all you need.

For any business trying to break through an oligopoly, there are various strategies that come quickly to mind. Whether you prefer a Blue Ocean approach or a more traditional Game Theory (I’d recommend a combination of the two), a new business requires you understand who you are, not who you want to be. You need to see the marketplace clearly. You need a mission statement that fits on the back of a business card. And the mission must be agreed by all who take part.

Given my experience in Romania, any of those seem an almost impossible challenge.

There is an unfortunate impatience here when planning a venture. Too often strategy becomes the victim of enthusiasm. A mission statement gets buried under a general nod with everyone saying: “Please, let’s move on.” Hard thinking and planning get shoved aside by a group – a group that wants to jump right in and get started. (Whatever happened to knowing that foreplay was key?)

When I was involved in planning a new political party in the US, we all agreed it was no different than our experience in starting a new business. It had issues with management, marketing, budgets and distribution. And the biggest mistake the new party could make when fighting against already dominant competitors was thinking it could win by playing the same game. If the same game was wanted then the new entrant was not needed. But too often people don’t know the real business they’re in. They think their task is to beat the big guys head-on.

So to any new political party, I say, if you want to succeed, then see yourself as a business. If you enter believing you are competing with a new and improved version of the same old product, you will lose. Ideas and good intentions will not win the fight.

Understand the market you enter and how you are different. Knowing the difference is key to success. Your opponents will mistake you as just another player. So you have the advantage that you can use Game Theory to anticipate their moves.

Then bring something new. Try the Blue Ocean approach and explain yourself clearly. If it’s not politics you’re playing, then explain what it is. Know that good ideas can sell if the public likes what it’s seeing. Because every industry needs competition to ensure a free market.

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