by Alistair Mokoena (@AlistairMokoena) If you ask most CEOs and sportspeople what their goals are, invariably all of them will say it is to be the best. In other words, they strive to be no. 1. And, if you read company vision statements, you will find the same goal. What you will seldom find expressed in those is a desire to remain no. 1.

However, if you pose the same question to army generals, they will tell you that success is winning a war, not a battle. In my view, being no. 1 is like winning a battle — remaining no. 1 over an extended period is winning the war.

Lion. Photo by Alistair Mokoena
Photo by Alistair Mokoena

Consciously express

The danger here is that, if you don’t consciously express the desire to remain no. 1, you won’t plan for it. Organisations that don’t have a plan for retaining their market leadership are no different to couples who plan for a wedding but fail to do so for a marriage.

We see this all the time with our favourite sports teams. They plan for one season at a time instead of planning to dominate for a number of years. They exhaust all their energies in winning the league or a tournament, and battle to retain their winning ways in the following season.

Many advertising agencies find themselves in this position following winning “agency of the year” after topping creative charts. Why does sustained success seem to elude us? How do other organisations get it right?

Do things differently

Organisations that manage to stay on top do things differently. Their game plans consists of two parts: one is called “brilliant basics” and the second is called “game changer”.

Brilliant basics is the plan that got you to no. 1 in the first place. This plan seldom guarantees victory in year two, either because the market place has changed or competitors have copied you. You therefore need to add another plan to your brilliant basics, and that’s called the game changer.

As the name suggests, this means planning for a future that is different from the current. It means moving the goal posts by disrupting the status quo. It involves using scenario planning to imagine what the future could look like and planning for victory in that future state. It is a way of ensuring that you remain in the lead and that your competitors play catch up.


Another word for this is reinvention. You have to reinvent the game by changing the rules so that whoever copies your previous plan fails.

The game plan that helps you become no. 1 eventually becomes table stakes. Everyone will copy it. You therefore need to create distance between you and the competition.

Organisations that enjoy sustained success tend to display the following attributes:

  • They are innovative and dynamic — they embrace change
  • They are hungry and passionate — they don’t allow themselves to become complacent
  • They are ruthless and uncompromising when it comes to performance — they are serious and measure performance against set targets
  • They keep raising the bar with every win — they are constantly trying to beat their previous performance
  • They have a broad view of competition in that they benchmark themselves against the best, not only in their industry but in other unrelated industries
  • They don’t stop learning — they constantly shine the spotlight on their blindspots
  • They reach breakthrough by breaking rules and inventing new ones — they set the industry agenda by determining what good looks like

Master the future

Sustained success requires you to master the future ahead of the competition. After all, the future belongs to those who invent it.


Alistair MokoenaAlistair Mokoena (@AlistairMokoena) — a Unilever-trained Chartered Marketer with lots of blue-chip marketing experience — is currently the outgoing MD of FCB Joburg (he will be joining Ogilvy & Mather Johannesburg as MD in January 2015). One of his favourite pastimes is driving around in the bush, photographing wild animals. Alistair, who switched from client- to agency side at the end of 2012, contributes the monthly “The Switch” column, covering relationships inside agencies and between agencies and clients, to

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