Debate & Choice Points
Rooted in Ancient Greece and India, the practice of debate played an essential role in shaping the world we live in. Early democracy called for people of the republic to make decisions and to fully understand the consequences of those decisions, debate came to life. Individuals taking opposing sides of an argument and presenting evidence and logic to prove their point. All to sway the masses based on the argument.
This then became the framework for the modern legal system. Two sides pitted against each other in an adversarial debate to determine the innocence or guilt of an individual. This model was adopted as it is believed to fully deconstruct a situation to gain a full 360-degree perspective and achieve the best understanding of what happened. This reinforced the belief that through excessive discussion and presentation of sides the truth will come forward and justice can be served.
The same logic holds true for group innovation and organizational strategy. Brainstorming starts with no comments or critical feedback to inspire idea flow and the generation of more solutions. There comes a point in the process though when the group shifts to reduce the number of ideas down to a handful of great ideas. Debate is a favored exercise to overly discuss the merits of an idea, not only to understand the concepts better but to help find the blind spots and enhance it.
A good brainstorming session ends with numerous ideas, a great session ends with too many ideas that it verges on being overwhelming. The first step begins with pairing down this list to the truly brilliant ideas. This starts the process of taking theoretical concepts and mentally manipulating them into the construct of your organization. Known as the fit factor.
The next stage is determining your choice points to help you make strategic selections. Choice points are a decision-making process based on what variables are of the most importance to you and how you will evaluate ideas. The choice points will guide the direction of which idea or strategy should be selected.
For example, if you run a laundromat and the differentiation between you and your competitors is customer service your choice points would be based on those variables. Then during an ideation session, you are evaluating a delivery service, a digital transformation to a phone application-based payment system or creating a centralized dry-cleaning facility. Your decision would be guided by the customer service choice point and lead you to the delivery service.
Another supplement to evaluating ideas is to search for value nets in your industry. Value nets were identified by Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff’s book Co-Opetition where they identified cooperative competition structures. These mutually beneficial partnerships with competitors that make both organizations more competitive. This was exampled by the long-standing rivalry between Apple and Microsoft, yet the two eventually paired to allow Microsoft Office products on the Apple platform. Apple users got new streamlined features to use while Microsoft opened a new revenue stream.
Trained early in careers, many leaders don’t like to make choices. It sounds counter intuitive, but they like to keep their options open (Lafley & Martin, 2013). Open options allow time to gather more data and to understand second order effects. For example, the invention of the television product brought forward the film production industry. The third order effect would then be the rise of the specialized camera and audio equipment products. There is a net positive to delaying decision-making.
Also, there is a net negative to delaying decision-making and reaching a point where not choosing equates to a certain organizational death. There are three dangerous temptations of failing to choose, trying to buy your way out of an unattractive game, and accepting an existing choice as immutable. Many will suggest that you are better to choose the wrong path than to not choose at all but that is too simplistic. You are best suited to choose a date when you want to decide by and ensure the analysis doesn’t paralyze the process.
The strategy process is about long-term value, you want to think deeply and analytically about this. After a great brainstorming session your first instinct is to dismiss the truly unique ideas and to select the strategy that appears to be the most logical superficially. That is exactly what your competitors are doing. They are taking the cognitive easy and low risk road while bypassing disruptive and novel strategies.
Henry Mintzberg is one of the founding fathers of management theory. A Professor at McGill University in Montreal his life work and writings center on strategy work. Mintzberg believes strategic thinking is where managers synthesize their vision using intuition and creativity. He argued that strategy not just a data led process. Strategy was a data driven science combined with artistic design, a true combination of art and science. Analytics are strong in incremental plays; however they are less good at transformation strategies.
Adam Brandenburger another leading strategy theorist developed a 4C model to long-term breakthrough strategies along the same line as Mintzberg. It starts with Contrast to challenging the status quo. The Combination of linking products to services. Using Constraints to turn limitations into strengths. Applying Context of similar problems for reflection.
When I look at my own business my emphasis centered on establishing repeatable business. The choice points I selected were web page visits and clicks, newsletter subscriptions, book sales, introductory meetings, and engagements secured. While evaluating the brainstorming ideas that my team developed, they were evaluated against these choice points to understand if they would positively impact those variables of generating more business or not.
There are times when markets are simply too chaotic. You will not want to commit to any direction until the chaos dies down. It is adopting a strategy with a limited aim. You are waiting for a balance to form. While buying your time, drain your enemy with pin pricks instead of blows. You can still gain market share by simply forcing your competitor to react when they are attempting to wait things out.
Your strategy may put you in a position to buy a company. This brings forward never-ending potential benefits from capturing new intellectual property to new customer segments. There are two factors to consider when acquiring an organization, make sure the company is structurally attractive and a culture fit with you. The goal with mergers is always to help you transform and get better. However, that typically doesn’t work out that way due to poorly managed transformations.
Acquisitions start with analysis and end with transformation. Right in the middle is negotiations. Mostly, mergers and acquisitions become mistakes when value is lost in the bidding war. With both sides looking to take their pound of flesh both companies suffer in the end. Look for ways to offer value in your void.
Early success in his career led Napoleon to believe that an offensive was a solution to all problems. He chose to be mobile and fast, though that eventually led to his defeat in Russia. Later, the pendulum swung, and the French in World War Two invested in the superiority of heavy weapons. Believing that the second war would mimic the trench warfare of World War One, they did not strive to lead in mobile warfare. This quickly led to the Germans capturing France in record time.
Classic military strategy is taking the high ground. High ground is hard to attack and easy to defend due to the angles of fire that it creates. It is a natural asymmetry that forms an advantage. In modern society, this is Walmart, Amazon, Google, and Apple that have established their markets and shaped their battlefields. This doesn’t mean that you can’t win a battle where you don’t have the high ground or if the market is rigged against you. It just means that you must find a more creative way to disrupt King Kong.
The market is the battlefield. As you command your organization your focus centers on how you attain an advantaged position? The costs to capture high ground is enormous. However, it is much cheaper to create a new market or battlefield. The friend of the small business is innovation, it creates a new market, and the mammoths are always slow to get there.
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