Strategy as Transformation
Senior executives need simple, but very powerful frameworks that help them to think strategically, and to align people in the organization through the use of a common strategic language.
The three box thinking model is an example of a framework that I use to facilitate strategic thinking and alignment.
Actions companies take belong in one of three boxes:
Box 1 -- manage the present;
Box 2 -- selectively abandon the past; and
Box 3 -- create the future.
Box 1 is about improving current businesses. Box 2 and Box 3 are about breakout performance and growth.
Many organizations restrict their strategic thinking to Box 1. This tendency has been particularly acute in the past two to three years, as most leaders have emphasized reducing costs and improving margins in their current businesses.
But strategy cannot be just about what an organization needs to do to secure profits for the next year. Strategy must encompass Box 2 and Box 3. It must be about what a company needs to do to sustain leadership for the next ten years. In fact, the central task of an organization’s leaders is to balance managing the present with creating the future. Examples of successful Box 2 and Box 3 initiatives include: Dell’s direct model in the PC industry, Wal-Mart’s transformation of the discount retailing industry, Apple’s introduction of iPod, and Southwest Airlines’ revolution in the airline industry.
Organizations that operate within a short timeframe base their actions on the assumption that their industry is stable and static. But it takes years for large organizations to change directions. If you take this into account, change is rapid and nonlinear. For instance, nanotechnology and genetic engineering are revolutionizing the pharmaceutical and semiconductor industries. Globalization is opening doors to emerging economies, such as India and China, and billions of customers with vast unmet needs. Once-distinct industries, such as mass-media entertainment, telephony, and computing, are converging. Rapidly escalating concerns about security and the environment are creating unforeseen markets. And other, more subtle changes are important as well, such as the trend toward more empowered customers, the aging population in the developed world, and the rising middle class in the developing world.
As a result of these forces, companies find their strategies need almost constant reinvention because the old assumptions are no longer valid, or the previous strategy has been imitated and commoditized by competitors, or changes in the industry environment offer unanticipated opportunities. The only way to stay ahead is to innovate.
Part of the job of executives is to make money with the current strategy. That is the challenge in Box 1. Part of their job is to make up for the decay and commoditization of strategy. That is the challenge in Box 2 and Box 3. Too many companies ignore these two boxes until it is too late.
My hope and goal is to help companies transform their industries and reinvent their strategies. In my next post, I'll provide an effective illustration of nonlinear change to help you think about how we identify non-linear shifts and market discontinuities.