“Strategy prevents them from thinking!”

by Didier Marlier on Friday May 24th, 2013

This is the cry from the heart, our strategy specialist, Nick van Heck from Executive Learning Partnership, said to a client who was complaining about his people, following the script instead of behaving as real entrepreneurs. In the old days, when strategy was anchored in the long term, leaders surely expected their people to implement and follow it by the book. Today is this a healthy assumption to make?

In an article published by the H.B.R., Downes & Nunes talk about “Big Bang Disruption” (see their webinar http://blogs.hbr.org/events/2013/04/big-bang-disruption-why-classi.html). Following the authors, in the old days, one could see disruption happen and disrupted companies were the first responsible for their demise, largely due to their arrogance and complacency (the box called Dream or Illusion by Nick van Heck http://enablersnetwork.com/2011/so-here-comes-the-depression-again-watch-your-unconscious-reactions/) The story of Harley-Davidson looking down on Japanese motorcycles, just good enough to take parts of the market that it would not bend down to seize, is still in our minds.

But, take a few examples:

  • Downes & Nunes mention Tom-Tom and Garmin, known for their GPS quality. From the day Nokia, Apple (with a few hick-ups) and Androïd decided to add maps and navigation as standard features on their mobile handsets, Garmin lost 70% of its market value and Tom-Tom 85%. Could those two companies have preempted that disruption?
  • Imagine you run a “Radio-Taxi” business in the gigantic 12 million inhabitants megalopolis of São-Paulo. More than 600 drivers pay you a healthy sum each month to be connected to your system. How could you ever guess that a “Pizza-freak” in New-York, frustrated by the long delivery time of his favourite meal, could kill your business in a record of time? Based on the company he built (where customers could see their pizza underway via the GPS that the biker was carrying, an angry customer, sick and tired to wait for taxis that never seemed to come in São-Paulo, applied the same system to cabs. Following the drivers who were testing the app, their business was up 50%, risks highly mitigated and cost 10% of the membership to Radio Taxis… Could the Brazilian Radio companies have preempted that disruption?
  • If you were Unilever or Colgate Palmolive, how would you have guessed that a team of idealists, seeking to diminish the usage of clean water, would invent an electrolysis system, cleaning the laundry without water (and as an unexpected benefit/damage without detergents)?
  • If you were a retail bank, would Google appear as a major disruptive threat through its OB3 initiative (a business supposed to provide cheap access to wi-fi to isolated parts of the world). What would prevent Google (for any strategic or opportunistic reason) to provide people with a free access to Wi-Fi, wherever they are in the world, against their opening of a bank account in the new, virtual “Google Bank”? If that fictional scenario were turning real, how many retail banks would this threaten?

How could these companies ever “guess that future”? How could you keep on the radar screen people who are far from being your obvious competitors? Downes and Nunes claim that, in “Big-Bang Disruption”, the assailants may not even know you exist nor have the intention to attack your market. You are just a collateral damage…

In the Disruptive Economy, strategy can indeed prevent us from thinking and become a blinder. This is why Nick van Heck and I have started recommending to our clients to engage their organizations in the permanent “strategizing” process. Strategizing is a process of “Intelligentization, development and engagement of the organization.

  • Intelligentization: As most of you know, the human brain is hit, every second by 11 billion bits of information. The conscious, “intelligent” brain may only process 50 to 70! This was fine under the “long Term Regime”. It is NOT under the Disruption Economy, where the Management Team acts like the conscious brain and should digest 10, 100, 10’000 times more to keep-up. Continuing the metaphor, if we were able to equip the rest of our body with small decision centers that could see threats and opportunities come and react on them, without jamming the already very busy conscious brain, we could make a huge step forward. And this is what Strategizing is about: clarifying what the strategic intent of the organization is, at all levels. Give people time and space to co-create clarity, meaning and ownership around that strategic intent and what it means to them. This is how an intelligent organization will emerge, little by little, through organized and impromptus strategic dialogues between the people.
  • Development: By encouraging people to strategize, we also lift the overall awareness and edge of each and every one in the organization. People will think strategically, explore, be curious about what is happening outside the organization. People’s knowledge about competition, technology, innovation, customers will increase whilst the collective intelligence raises.
  • Engagement: We are back at the famous Kennedy janitor’s quote of “I am sending a man on the Moon”: How do you think that your people will feel when they realize that they contribute to enhancing the strategic thinking in the company? As Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology approach, has demonstrated, the two pillars of sustainable satisfaction and engagement at work are to have a solid sense of purpose and to feel able to influence things… That is what a strategizing process allows.

Strategy prevents our people from thinking! Strategizing creates intelligent organizations, develops its people and motivates them.

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