Strategic Innovation & Marketing ACCELERATORS

Why Make Time Now for Strategy Exploration (Part 1)

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Why Make Time Now for Strategy Exploration (Part 1)

“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills,” goes a Chinese proverb. The new decade promises to bring us disruptive change. Digitalization will significantly alter how we do business. In 2020, we will also start a new long cycle, The Sixth Wave of lead-technological development. Moreover, In the coming years, Gen Z will enter the workplace while the last Boomers will retire by the end of the new decade.

What does all of this mean for you if you’re a CEO, a business unit leader, or an entrepreneur? Gather your troops and take some time to explore the evolving strategic environment and the big picture of your business in the coming months. Today and in a follow-up episode published in four weeks, let me share how we may guide you and your management team through a Strategic Xploration Exercise with the help of the strategy toolkit in our X-IDEA toolbox.

1. Xpress your understanding of your strategic business challenges

A Strategy Xploration project begins with you and your senior managers sharing your views on key strategic challenges that you foresee will affect your business. We help you frame these challenges appropriately as how-to sentences. We may unify these in one Initial Challenge statement (expressing either a perceived problem to tackle, an opportunity to seize, or an important goal to pursue). For example, “How to strategically align our business to the digitalization of key value-adding activities in our industry?”

Next, we propose exploring these perceived challenges in a Strategy Xploration Workshop. Ideally, your company fields two teams for the exercise so that these can challenge each other’s views (to counter Groupthink). The workshop kicks-off by you introducing the project objectives and initial challenge to the teams. After that, we prefer hosting a “Speaker’s Forum.” Thereby, 3-4 speakers brief the delegates on the case by sharing pertinent facts, trends, and needed process know-how in an edutaining way. Typically, the speakers are topic experts from inside the company (such as a market researcher or business development manager) and outside experts (such as a futurist or an innovation process expert from Thinkergy).

Following that, we ask the teams to start keeping track of things they don’t know about their case (but would want to know) in an Un-Knowledge List. They also begin collecting insights (or sudden “ahas” about what’s really going on in their business) in an Insights List, and also jot down initial ideas during the subsequent Xploration-step.

2. CALM-LY Xplore the evolving strategic environment of your business

After setting the scene, it’s time for real work. We invite the teams to CALM-ly Xplore their case by “traveling down four Xploration paths” and exposing them to carefully picked thinking tools on their way. 

a) CHECK out perceived facts:

“Men that love wisdom must be inquirers into very many things indeed;” noted the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. The first Xploration path provides an opportunity to investigate facts, beliefs, assumptions, rules critically, as well as check on possible sacred cows related to your business. What are some of the tools that you and your teams may come into contact with here?

  • Before the workshop, we charge each team (and the project manager) to compile a “Fact Sheet” with the essential information and numbers related to their business. Then, we ask members of the other team to perform a critical Fact Check
  • Assumption Check is one of the exercises we like teams to do during Xploration. We ask the teams to list their top 10 assumptions related to their case or business (things that “everybody knows are true”). Then, they have to indicate their level of confidence (e.g., “Very sure”) before being asked to present evidence supporting their views.
  • In Sacred Cow Slaughterhouse, we charge the teams to identify “sacred cows” in their business (old ideas that have become so successful that these are now above criticism) and check if it’s now time for creative destruction.

b) ASK and answer great questions:

“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions,” said management guru Peter Drucker. One of the most fruitful Xploration paths is asking smart, provocative, and even “stupid” questions. 

  • In X-IDEA, we have particular questions for each of the five process stages. For example, here is an excellent X Question that I often ask in a strategy Xploration Project: “If you were not already in this business, would you enter it now?” If the team declines, I follow up: “What other business would you prefer to focus on instead?”
  • You would also have to answer Pareto Questions that cater to the law of the vital few (or Pareto principle). For example, “What are the vital few things you do that lead to most of your successes?”, or “Who are the vital few customers that contribute most of your revenues?”
  • Five Times Why (“Why are you in this business?” Why? Why? Why? Why?”) helps you to investigate your motivations and your raisons d’être as a business
  • In contrast, we ask specific SWOT Questions to probe for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to your business.  
  • Finally, Who The F@#$ Is…? is a “stupid” guiding question we ask teams in a Strategy Xploration Project. Then, we use a set of subordinated questions to help you gain clarity on your company’s essential strategic core (vision, mission, values, core competencies, and fundamental value propositions). 


c) LOOK at the situation from different viewpoints:

To help you look differently at your business, we use a range of Xploration tools that allow the teams to assume fresh perspectives and take note of different viewpoints related to their business. What tools might we bring into play here to shift your perspective?

  • Walk A Mile asks the teams first to list key stakeholders of their business and then to empathetically “walk a mile in their shoes” to appreciate their wants and needs, fears and pains, dreams and desires.
  • Customer Portraits allows the teams to identify archetypical users or customers of their business and to empathize with them. (Note that depending on your strategic challenge, you may also identify archetypes for other stakeholders of your business. For example, in a Strategy Xploration Exercise I did for Thinkergy recently, I composed customer portraits of ten potential investor types who might be interested in investing in our business or in some of our innovation know-how). 
  • With Big Picture Vs. Small Picture, we make you look at your challenge on different scales and consider the parts, the whole, and the environment of your business.

d) MAP out relevant information in visual ways:

The fourth and final Xploration Path appeals more to visual thinkers who like to map out information visually. What are some of the tools you might encounter here?

  • A Market Fields Map allows teams to flesh out all adjacent market fields that in some ways overlap with their core business. This tool allows you to become aware of who else competes with you for the customer’s wallet in some way or other, foresee how the market space will evolve, and how we could react to this proactively. For example, we noticed that Thinkergy might partner with key players in some adjacent market fields, and we have converted others into our clients. 
  • Strategic Risk Map helps teams to recognize and proactively deal with significant strategic risks that may negatively affect their business, or even sink it.
  • In a Trends & Discontinuities Map, the teams identify and map out emerging trends and possible discontinuities. We discuss how these trends might affect business, and creatively explore opportunities to ride specific trends.
  • Challenge Sketch allows for an intuitive, “right-brain-directed” analysis of your situation and often brings out surprising novel insights that other tools failed to reveal. Here, we guide you on how to create a series of visual sketches showing people and things, places and spaces, dates and timelines, processes and workflows, quantities and numbers related to your business.

Interim conclusion: Take time to work on your business, not in the business

By the end of a Strategy Xploration Workshop, you and your teammates will have gained a lot of new insights into your business and the evolving market environment. Moreover, you will have compiled a long list of things you don’t know yet about your business and the emerging market space but would want to know. 

What happens next? Come back in four weeks for part 2 of this two-article episode, when I’ll walk you through the subsequent immersion and extraction phases of a Strategy Xploration project.

  • Would you like to learn more about X-IDEA, our award-winning innovation method and toolbox that delivers insights, ideas and results not only for strategy innovation projects, but also for all other modern innovation types (such as product innovation or business model innovation)?
  • Are you interested to do a Strategy Xploration project with us (either as ongoing consulting or in workshop formats)?
  • Contact us to tell us more about your strategic innovation needs.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2020

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