Christopher M. Barlow, Ph.D.
The Co-Creativity Institute v Glen Ellyn, Illinois v (630) 221-9456 firstname.lastname@example.org v www.cocreativity.com
Managers spend most of their time trying to do things right, but from time to time they need to stop and think about whether they are attempting the right things. While some people are in love with the idea of outside experts driving strategy, I am convinced that the people best prepared to discover strategic opportunities are the people in the organization, in the situation, as long as they can shift their thinking from problem solving to creativity, from consistent execution to strategic perspective. Lets review some basic concepts and some well regarded authors about strategy. (My apologies to those excellent authors where I misrepresent or misstate their concepts.
Not the Obvious: Hidden Benefits
We seem to use the term strategic to label decisions and behavior that lacks an immediate obvious benefit, but seems to provide surprising success in the long term. My distant relatives, the Sioux warriors of the American plains were noted for initiating daring raids, then, obviously terrified by the superior fighting skills of the US Cavalry would race away in fear. Racing to wipe them out, the soldiers would go over a hill or into a canyon and find themselves surrounded by an overwhelming force. Acting like a coward to conquer an enemy is certainly strategic.
This non-obvious nature affects two very tough issues of strategy - discovery and execution. Discovery is tough because it requires a deeper and broader understanding of the strategic context that allows perception of opportunities beyond the obvious. Execution is tough because people are not comfortable acting in ways that conflict with the obvious and "normal".
Executing Strategy: Breaking a Habit
While unlimited opportunities and resources would allow us to do everything, real life requires us to decide among possibilities. It is important to note that the root of the word "decide" is to "cut off". If you choose to add behaviors or allocate resources without choosing which behaviors to stop and which activities to stop funding, you have not decided. If an organization cannot stop doing the old, they cannot capitalize on the new.
New strategies generally require changed behaviors but people often have trouble abandoning their previous behavior, unless they come to re-understand the situation and the advantages of the new strategy. This same mental
inertia makes it difficult for people in the system to spot the less obvious, but more useful strategic alternatives.
Strategy: Occasionally Excellence Works
To some with extensive experience in an industry, profession, or practice, faithful execution of accepted practice with high quality seems the best strategy. Education misleads people to believe that if every aspect of a process is excellent, then success is inevitable. This implies that the company with a near perfect accounting system, near perfect finances, excellent marketing, efficient manufacturing, the best employees in the best structure, and the best products serving the best customers in the marketplace will thrive. Unfortunately, many organizations are in niches where there is little return on the investment for going from “good enough” to excellent in many of their activities.
I often share with my students the story of a well-known company with mediocre employees, mediocre customers, mediocre locations, and an undifferentiated organizational structure losing money on its core business that has made its founder one of the richest people in the world.
While excellence in one or more areas can have immense strategic returns, strategic thinking is needed to figure out which areas are worth it.
A number of authors and researchers have proposed different frameworks to guide strategic thinking and action. The…