The age of the 2000’s brought the personal computer (PC) to the masses. The internet, new to the public, motivated the public to purchase a computer for their home so that they could explore the new internet frontier. This brought forward numerous players in the PC market including Apple, HP, Micron, Compaq, and Dell.
The electronics business had historically been a retail channel partner model. The product was designed and manufactured by a company but then sold by the likes of Sears, Best Buy, Circuit City, etcetera. Dell’s strategy added a twist to differentiate themselves by also selling direct. While Dell still used channel partners, a consumer could also call them directly to purchase a PC. This enabled Dell to have better bargaining power on prices with partners because they were not held hostage with the threat of their products being pulled off the shelves.
This brought forward the gold rush to Dell adding people en masse with high sales incentives. They capitalized on the pioneer market. Benefiting from high collaboration and innovation around cornering the consumer sales market share Dell took a strong lead in in the PC world. However, pioneer markets eventually turn to mature markets where they top out in terms of adding capacity and personnel. By the time of the 2008 recession Dell finally reigned in their hiring and lavish sales incentives. It was a good eight-year growth run but all pioneer market winners eventually turn into corporate bureaucracies.
Strategy work is a unique form of innovation. Differentiation means stepping away from the normal in many cases to become a pioneer. Early entry into markets and pioneering involves high risk but low entry barriers. However, this enables the first two companies to market to shape the industry environment for their favor. The remaining competition will have to endure slower growth and stringent competition for market space.
To position your organization for the frontier, your focus should be on getting the best out of your team. People naturally are creatures of habit making them blind to novelty. This is okay for the day to day; however, you need to do something special to get unique efforts. You must shape the work environment to enable these unique insights.
Shaping a culture to unlock innovation consists of several dynamics. When performing innovative and strategic work, people take their initial insight and tweak it instead of developing robust options. To get peak performance, the organization must maximize the effects of the work environment, processes used, teaming, and leadership. This takes planned foresight to achieve this state of high innovation performance.
Research points that individual knowledge breadth is capital in complex problem solving in the face of uncertainty. It also points that high levels of innovation can be helped though systems priming. Your goals begin with getting your organization and individuals to fire on all cylinders before going into a strategy session.
This initiates with the work environment. The environment needs to be one of challenge and one that does not default to the status quo or low risk options. Associated with this posture is the value of ensuring safety and security of the team. This is the mental safety where they can freely express ideas with a fear of losing social status built up with the team. Lastly, the environment needs to be one where bureaucracy is reduced. Nothing kills ideas better than the belief that the organization couldn’t implement the right strategy because there are too many administrative obstacles in place.
The next focus area centers on the innovation process. This can be two things, either a planned innovative session with the goal to identify something unique or providing novel insights throughout the entire process. Both effects are needed in the strategy process and they start with the ability to achieve deep thought. This varies from person to person ranging from taking long walks to having ideas formulate while in the shower. What it isn’t though is being constantly interrupted because you’re too busy running the business. If you cannot breakaway to synthesize concepts and ideas, you will default to the first thing that pops into your mind and then move on to your next task.
For your strategy process, you want to include into your event on how you can incorporate multiple perspectives. Big innovation comes when an outsider who is far from the problem and reframes it in a way that unlocks the solution. Having a diverse team is one aspect but designing activities to incorporate all their perspectives is better.
The next focus shifts to the team. You will build a team of experts, your goal is to fully utilize each member to develop the best strategy, insight, or innovation. If you don’t intend to use their perspective, there is no point of including them into the process. Once the team forms, your work will shift to building trust amongst team members so that they can not only speak freely but that they can also debate ideas without feeling that their status is being threatened.
The last element falls to leadership. The leaders’ goal is to elevate the teams thinking to come out with a better strategy. This begins with giving and ensuring mutual respect amongst the team. Your role is to remain judgement free of ideas as the leader will naturally sway opinion to their point of view. Lastly, leaders are typically great at solving problems, which unfortunately stunts the growth of their team. During the strategy process, throw out problems and look for solutions versus throwing out solutions looking to attach to problems.
Once you know the culture you want, you must build it. That begins with assessing what culture you already have. This starts with taking the facets you want to exhibit and ranking how you are performing in relation to them. For example, you want to understand if your team has built up a high enough level of trust with one another to innovate together. Observe the next time someone new is introduced to the team where they need to explain the work that they do. Insecure people tend to use jargon and acronyms to overcompensate for their feelings of low status. This is your first red flag that your team is not ready to build together.
Many times, innovation is thought of an individual sport. Building innovation capital typically starts with who you are, who you know, what you’ve done, and your ability to drive new ideas. However, innovative strategy comes from a team and teams aren’t specifically designed to enable creativity. Part of team growth comes from the training process. Not only does it help inform but when done as a team it helps create a shared bond. The training I’m referring to is the team co-creating a shared innovative culture. They have the chance to design it and then figure out how to implement it.
Lastly, the team will want to design ways to reinforce the behaviors they want to exhibit. Building values and principles to reinforce the work you’ve accomplished is not an easy tangible action. The key is to develop routines to reinforce the behaviors that you want to live by. For example, a simple routine is to conduct a blind performance feedback midway through a brainstorming session on exhibiting the right behaviors. If it is an automatic action it helps drive candid discussions while being aware of your surroundings.
When working with a client or when forming a team, obtaining their consent to participate becomes a first objective. A client or team member must first agree to engage in a dialogue before a tough back and forth can be productive. Typically, people are assigned to these meetings with little context or even worse, they were just the only ones available. Leading this you must strive to obtain and keep their engagement.
Strategy is winning aspirations, knowing where to play, how to win, core capabilities, a management system. But as Peter Drucker quoted, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture plays the most important role in bringing all these key aspects combined. Think of the culture you have built as an ecosystem of an organism that can be nudged gently in different directions of participation.
One ever present aspect to strategy is that it consists of hard truths. People can lose resources as well as their own livelihood. Their natural inclination is one of self-preservation. Yet, you still must remain transparent in every stage of the process.
Warfare among man started with the beginning of man. The early years of civilization demonstrated a warfare of chaos and disorganization. Around 3,000 years ago the Greeks and Romans realized that properly led and organized men could defeat skilled warriors that fought as individuals. The successful examples of Alexander the Great and the Roman Legions put this theory on display for the world to see.
Present day organizations and militaries taught the core tenant of teamwork and collaboration. The modern-day mantra for successful companies. Everyone reading this book has also probably been burned by a team member that would reap the benefit of having others on the team do their share of work for them. Teams built for strategic innovation is a different thing.
People tend to look after their own self-interests, yet cooperation is the cornerstone of all civilization. Thinking of life as an iterative game changes how we play positioning yourself for the future carries more weight than winning in the moment. For strategy work you first want multiple ideas from all various sorts of perspectives which balances out individual self-interests. Secondly, when you decide on the strategy, you want everyone to cut it to pieces and debate it to death to ensure that it will hold up to the future scrutiny it will surely face.
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