Let's talk about purpose: One community, one shadow

Have you sometimes found yourself confused at best, frustrated or cynical at worst, by the vagaries of ‘mission, vision, values’?  CEO’s lament the confusion of language around these constructs. And ‘consumers’ lament of the disconnect between the words and their observations. Daniel Pink refers to transcendent purpose.  He also observed: when the profit motive gets unmoored from the purpose motive, bad things happen. Banking Royal Commission anyone?

This blog unpacks one model for ‘visioning’ and makes the case for junking most corporate value statements. And I offer an approach to ‘purpose’. For me, the test of purpose is: authenticity; emotional connection; and open conversation.

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MBA's, strategy and judgement

Why do we teach the various models and concepts of strategy?  Is it as simple as Lewin's aphorism: there is nothing so practical as a good theory?  Actually, it is much more than that.  At its core we are teaching judgement; or at least, providing tools that will enhance judgement.  

But what is judgement?  What does it look like in action?

To finish I offer my own simple mantra for a great strategy process: immersion; synthesis; simplification.  

DDB ... a strategist's view

PS: to my regular readers, my apologies. It has been too long.  But in the last couple of months I've been teaching multiple MBA programs; working with a CEO to develop their strategy; and travelling to KL for some leadership development programs on strategy execution.  And more.  

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I feel the need, the need for speed ...

Most of us think about decision quality - making the right call - when we think about strategic decision making.  But it turns out speed is also vitally important.  More CEO's are ousted for indecisiveness than for wrong decisions.  Too many companies know that they are slow, but don't know what to do about it.  

Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO describes their approach to high velocity decision making.  It is predicated on maintaining a Day 1 mindset.  ‘Day 2’ companies make high quality decisions, but they make them slowly.  For Bezos, Day 2 is stasis, followed by irrelevance and excruciating, painful decline. 

Are you a Day 1 company?  What does your extended leadership team think?  And what practices can you put in place to accelerate decision speed in your organisation?  

DDB ... a strategist's view

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Opening minds ... thinking differently

Strategy is ultimately an expression of collective mental models.  To create a strategy that is more than ‘mere incrementalism’ we must therefore create new mental models.  But the idea that people can just 'think differently' is delusional.  We need build into our strategy processes something that makes this real.  

Scenario planning is one such tool.  It exposes us to alternate plausible futures which we ‘experience’ through the scenario narrative: it is through storytelling that we make sense of events.  And in turn it is this ‘experience’ that shifts our mental models.

What are the possible triggers for using scenario thinking?  And does the evidence support the notion that scenarios are more than just a neat story telling trick?

DDB ... a strategist's view

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Brexit surprised. Trump shocked. A strategist’s view

I am often asked: ‘when should you conduct a major strategic review’?  There are various catalysts for a deeper strategic review: a new CEO; serial underperformance; business model disruption; major external shocks.  Brexit should have been a catalyst for a process of deeper strategic reflection within most enterprises.  Post the Brexit decision if you weren’t running scenarios which contemplate a Trump presidency as part of a broader geopolitical shift you were gambling on a status quo potentially under threat.  The next step in that narrative has now unfolded.  Post Brexit it was no great stretch to imagine a Trump presidency. 

But what does this mean for business?  The reality is no-one knows. But in a VUCA world, scenario planning is the best tool to prepare your organisation for what may lay ahead. 

Note: this is a slightly longer blog than usual (ca. 5 mins)

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Apparently mining blew the boom ... but who's the greater fool?

The headlines scream at you: major miners blew the boom.  It is true they repeated the patterns of all commodity booms.  But are we guilty of playing Monday morning quarterback?  What might they have done differently?

And what about shareholder value?  When did we lose sight of the value part of the equation?  And who was the greater fool?

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Strategy's fundamentals ... better practice, not neater theory

Henry Mintzberg was right when he declared ‘we need better practice, not neater theories’.  Three theoretical paradigms provide an overarching framework for strategic thinking.   And these were part of the economics discourse more than 50 years ago.  But any one of these by themselves is insufficient.  

It is the overlay of the insights from these three paradigms that create the case for change and that shape the strategic option space for an organisation.  Organisations can improve the quality of their strategic thinking by applying these frameworks with a combination of discipline and creativity.  

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The cost of presumptions - international case studies

At their most dangerous presumptions are assumptions that are accepted as a ‘social fact’.  This makes them more dangerous than assumptions.  Assumptions should be explicitly identified and can be tested.  But we remain blind to our own presumptions. 

The risk of presumptions is everywhere around us in the age of disruption, but it exists also in other areas.  Shell lost control of a major project in Russia; Tata had to move the Nano car plant weeks before commissioning.  

Presumptions in both cases turned out to be a very costly.  

What can you do to reduce the unanticipated risk of presumptions?

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Breakout strategy: what if anything were possible?

At its core, strategy is design.  And great design starts with the question: what if anything was possible.  If we start with constraints we get designs for tomorrow that merely tweak today.

What if we applied the same design principle to the strategy process?  This would improve the chance of creating something truly distinctive: a ‘breakout strategy’.

In preparing for a leadership conference Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz argued:

Before we could challenge the status quo, my colleagues and I had to see it in new ways, reframe our existing ideas, and move beyond self-imposed constraints to imagine new possibilities.

How bold are you willing to be  to achieve something truly distinctive?  

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Avoiding Gray Rhinos ... strategic renewal and the status quo trap

Strategic renewal is a fact of life,  While strategies constantly evolve, organisations experience strategic drift either through organisational entropy (the tendency for systems toward increasing disorder) or market and competitive shifts that are no longer reflected in our strategies.  The challenge is to respond to these issues before you reach crisis.  Regrettably, organisations often move too late.  Why?

There are two explanatory factors: a ‘failure to see’ or a ‘failure to move'.  This blog illustrates the power of some of these issues and describes an approach used in a recent workshop to overcome some of these limitations.   

This is part 2 of a three part series of blogs looking at some of the issues at different stages of the strategy life cycle.  To see the earlier blog click here


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