Why a "soft edge" is crucial for superior customer outcomes

By | July 23, 2014

Rich Karlgaard, entrepreneur and Forbes publisher wrote a book this year which may prove every bit as seminal as Jim Collins’ Good to Great or as industry defining as Tom Peters and Robert Waterman’s In Search of Excellence.
Titled the The Soft Edge, Karlgaard posits that truly great companies that want to get ahead (and stay there) require superior soft edge skills to match the hard edge skills and strategic base that a company must have in order to be a contender at all. The strategic base for a company is  its markets, competitive positioning, innovation and potential disruptors. The hard edge is what financial folk love – the balance sheet, the P&L, the supply chain, logistics, size and scale. Karlgaard believes great companies excel at optimizing all these. But the soft edge is what is required today to propel a company ahead of its competitors.

The soft edge is a set of norms that are culturally informed but go beyond that. Essentially it is  a set of values that cannot be easily copied. He identifies 5 key values which he contends are essential: trust, smarts, team, taste and story.

See his Forbes post on The Soft Edge here.

NetApp is a company that people tell us ‘just feels plain different’. Much of this I believe can be explained by our soft edge. We have a strong strategic base – check, we are well managed financially by any measure – check. But where I think NetApp sets itself apart is the focus on those values in the soft edge.

And this is not self-serving. This is all about putting customer outcomes at the center of our thinking and the soft edge helps deliver on that. If you do get to read his book, you will see that NetApp is frequently referenced as a company that truly takes the soft edge seriously in order to deliver superior customer outcomes.

Check out my short video as I explain this some more.

gingell soft edge


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