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My last blog, "Five Laws of Conflict - Burning Korans Breaks Them All," generated a flood of emails and responses. Clearly people are passionate on both sides of the issue. My intention was not to take a position, but to simply lay out a practical strategic analysis of the situation.

Passion, when channeled correctly, can create a powerful strategic advantage. When a company's people are all focused on one mission, one purpose, they become passionate and engaged about it. However, in order to truly leverage the passion of your people, you must make sure your strategy is well-defined.

Verne Harnish, probably the world's leading expert on how midsized firms can unlock their barriers to growth, penned a compelling challenge recently, arguing that if you can't express your strategy in one sentence, you don't have a clear strategy.

I think he is right. His challenge opens the door to discuss the tangle of misconceptions of what strategy is—starting with the false belief that strategy is important. We often mistake what is important with what is strategic. This confusion leads to long-winded strategic statements, littered with comas and semicolons that blur into an incomprehensible bundle of jargon barely distinguishable from the bundles the competition totes around.

Over the past few months I have begun comparing the strategy statements of highly successful companies with their less successful rivals. What this exercise is starting to highlight is that fast-growing firms are very clear about what makes them different.

The under-performers, grasping to catch up, lay out lists of priorities that are no different from what every good player in their business should be doing. Who cares if you offer great customer service or adopt best practices or strive for efficiency? Your competitors are doing the same. These things will not separate you from the pack. These priorities may be important in the way that tying their shoelaces is important to Olympic runners. They are important but they give you no edge.

By cutting out all of the important, yet non-strategic, fat from a strategy statement, a company is left with a lean, pure, juicy center of what makes its business great. Use the prompts below to try taking on Verne's challenge to reduce your own strategy to one powerful sentence and see if that clarity can ignite new passion within your organization.

  1. Write down your company's strategy.
  2. For each sentence, ask yourself, "Would my competitors, being smart and aggressive, choose not to copy this?"
  3. If the answer is "no," then delete that phrase. It may be important but it is not strategic.
  4. Whatever you have left is your real strategy. If you are looking at an empty page, then it is time to generate some new thinking. What strategic options are you not now considering?