The Problem with Strategy…
The Measure of Great Strategy
Einstein famously said that today’s problems won’t be solved by the same thinking that created them. The same applies to strategy. The problems with strategy – the failure rates, the length of time it takes, and so on, demand a new mindset.
This is an age of accelerated change and innovation, that makes the future uncertain and challenges the traditional approach to strategy formation and acclerated growth:
Number crunching of market data, consultants reports and market research studies are insufficient. Great strategies are based on insights (not just information). They are imaginative and creative, as well as logical and scientific. They engage the left and the right brain (so to speak):
Great strategies are not just based on information, analysis. Rather they are based on curiosity, imagination and experimentation. The focus has shifted from knowing and controlling to learning and adapting.
Strategy requires a open mind and fresh thinking – something that can be a real challenge. Not only does it require keeping an open mind, but it requires challenging old ways of thinking, unquestioned assumptions and out-of-date mental models. That includes meta cognition (i.e. thinking about your thinking) and re-framing opportunities and challenges in order to break free of old patterns of thinking.
Strategy requires not only the ability to openly explore the issue of performance, but more importantly a potential mindset. That is a focus on identifying opportunities to exploit underutilised skills, competencies and capability (as well as to develop them where required). It is a future focused and positive perspective that is all too often lacking.
Getting an accurate fix on the situation requires understanding the myriad of factors that shape success. It requires a ‘systems thinking‘ mindset – that goes beyond people or events as the sole explanation for performance.
Strategy is a battle for hearts, as well as minds. The ultimate test of a great strategy: does it get people fired up? That is why a strategy manual or report is not enough.
Predicting the future is not easy. Managers need to challenge the way they see the world and how they envision the future. They need to re-examine their mental models of their business and its industry if they are to successfully adapt to market changes (e.g. technology, customers, competitors and channels). A great strategy requires the ability to see things in a new way – a way that your competitor’s cannot.
Traditionally strategy was set by senior management and then proclaimed to the masses. It was created in the board room – far away from the realities of the marketplace. However the reality is that today’s senior mangers don’t have all the answers.
But people cannot simply be handed a strategy – there needs to be engagement, ownership and buy-in if the strategy is going to work. A bottom-up approach is required – strategy cannot be decided by one (or a few people) at the top. Moreover the new approach to strategy is about questions, as much as answers.
Strategy is about choice. A strategy cannot sit on the fence. It must represent a commitment to one particular course of action, over another.
In respect of growth that choice concerns the customers, markets and segments served (as well as those note served), as well as the products and solutions provided. That inevitably involves tradeo-ffs and compromises, a cornerstone of competitive advantage.
When it comes to strategy it has long been held that planning is as important as the plan. Indeed today’s strategy gurus say that the conversation about strategy is as important as the strategy. In particular the ability of a team to discuss, set, execute and adapt strategy is itself a competitive advantage.