In examining Competitive Advantage and Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter, I started to think about analyzing sports teams. That gave rise to thinking about how the New England Patriots operate. In Porter’s world, there are three kinds of generic strategy: cost leadership, differentiation, and focus. Which does Bill Belichick employ?
I would assert that the Patriots are a differentiator. Imagining these generic strategies from the perspective of sports, one could think of cost leadership being a very general and widely-used strategy. The cost leadership generic strategy essentially entails doing what most other competitive rivals do but trying to do it a little better than they do. Differentiation, on the other hand, sees a different game, so to speak. Concisely, cost is about doing things differently; differentiation is about doing different things.
So many teams in the NFL are just trying to do things a little better than rivals and I think that even a lot of the better teams in the league operate that way. I look at teams like Green Bay, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the New York Giants. They all draft the similar kinds of players based on similar kinds of metrics and, hopefully they work out better than rivals. And oftentimes they do. They, perhaps, scout or coach better than rivals do but they’re still looking for the same kinds of players – the most talented guy at the most needed positions.
In contrast, the New England Patriots may pass on a more talented player to gain an extra draft choice, for example. The patriots may pass on a more talented player because that player doesn’t appear to enjoy and love football. The patriots may pass on player because he is not, in their estimation, up to their standards in terms of football intelligence. There are many reasons why New England may not want a player that another team would, even if they fit the Patriots’ system. It is those reasons that differentiate New England from its rivals. It may not work if your franchise is missing a genius head coach and a fundamentally perfect quarterback but it certainly has worked for New England.