I was a little annoyed with the chosen focus of a recent article by Mr. Michael G. Jacobides and very annoyed with the terminology chosen in Strategy Tools for a Shifting Landscape (subscription required), a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. While I agree that some companies need to reinvent the way they develop strategy, I’m not sure that strategy should be “defined” by narrative plots, subplots, and characters and definitely convinced that the last thing we want defining corporate strategy is a “playscript”.
Business is, well, business. Not playtime. And while it shouldn’t be duller than necessary, it shouldn’t be all fun and games either. Businesses exist to benefit shareholders. And unless you’re a production house generating content for web, TV, and Movie studios, writing scripts is not going to benefit your shareholders in any way. And while I agree that plots, subplots, and characters might be the best way to describe your strategy to all of the members of your organization, who might otherwise speak different languages (mechanical, programmatic, sales, etc.), a strategy should still be backed up by some research, which is typically expressed in the “maps, graphs, and numbers” the author is telling us to avoid.
And while I also agree that the typical frameworks used by industry analysts (five forces and maps) and blue ocean thinking (value maps and value curves) are better at managing the strategy process than enabling the creative and critical thinking required for success, the last thing we want to do is replace one insufficient framework with another, less sufficient framework. While a story might make a great vision, you can’t execute a story. You can only execute a plan, and that requires more than plots and subplots — it requires processes, steps, and success metrics, captured in traditional maps, graphs, and number formats. So while anything that encourages creativity is great, if all we do is focus on the production of play scripts (instead of including them as another tool in our creativity toolbox to get people brainstorming), our strategies will never progress beyond the imaginative vision of a kindergartener.
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A recent article in Strategy + Business on The Promise and Perils of Open Collaboration presented seven strategies you can use to make your open collaboration a success that are worth repeating.
- Craft a Leadership Message
The best CEOs articulate a leadership message that is both universal and of immediate relevance to a company’s strategic needs. Open collaboration is a social process that needs to extend beyond R&D and penetrate the entire organization. For that to happen, a clear message of support needs to come from the top.
- Collaborate with Your Customers
Keeping abreast of the changing needs of consumers in a global marketplace is a tall order. Open collaboration provides new ways to incorporate customers’ ideas and in some verticals, you’ll find that lead users can generate more than half of your innovations.
- Build a Culture of Trust and Open Communication
Trust is needed to win the participation of employees and suppliers in collaborative improvement efforts. In a culture of trust, you can free up over half of your organizational time to innovate. (John Whitney of Columbia Business School has estimated that more than half of a traditional organization’s activities — including the use of time clocks to monitor workers and marketing campaigns designed to win back disappointed customers, are needed only because of mistrust.) Start by creating open forums, on-line and off, where everyone can collaborate.
- Cultivate Continuous Improvement
An early release-and-fix process parallels advances in supply chain management, such as just-in-time inventory methods and insures that the company is on the right track before significant amounts of money are invested in the development of a product that won’t sell.
- Build a Flexible Innovation Infrastructure
Open collaboration relies on the rapid flow of intellectual property among the company’s people and its outside partners and systems that can enable quick decisions about which new ideas to embrace and which ideas to discard. As a result, collaboration must be integrated into every aspect of the business.
- Prepare Your Organization for the New Skill Sets
Open collaboration often runs on open source and knowledge networks, new tools that require new skill sets to use effectively. Furthermore, your employees will need writing skills and the patience to communicate and collaborate when rapid-feedback is the norm.
- Align Evaluations and Rewards
As I’ve said time and time again, top talent deserves top compensation.
Like open source, open collaboration is more than using the tools. It’s embracing the process with an open mind and giving it 100%. It’s walking-the-walk and not talking the talk, and these seven strategies will help to get you seven steps down that path. And then you can work with your suppliers and your customers to build a more successful end-to-end supply chain.
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