The New Rules of Doing Business During and After Covid-19

I truly hope and trust you are well and are in good spirits during these extraordinary times during the Covid-19 crisis.

Yes indeed, we live in interesting times. But life goes on. As leaders, we must move forward with the commitment and belief we will get through this, and there will be good times ahead of us.

Navigating Through Covid-19 and beyond

By now you have assessed the situation and have made a series of hard decisions required to navigate the first phase of the Covid-19 era: Survival and dealing with the crisis.

Some of you are fortunate that your business is relatively resilient in that your core products and services can be delivered either digitally and/or via third party delivery services.

(Shout out! Kudos to the men and woman on the frontlines keeping business going and of course the frontline healthcare workers.)

Others of you may have had to make the difficult decision to hibernate, having to wait out the shelter-in-place mandates due to the nature of your products and services (i.e. restaurants, bars, ski-resorts, etc.).


“We don’t get to choose our difficulties, but we do have the freedom to select our responses”
David Brooks

Strategy and execution must align with reality. And reality will change as we navigate through the crisis phase, to the “next” normal phase (TBD), to the eventual “new” normal phase (TBD).

Shelter-in-place is a reality of the Covid-19 crisis. How long it will take to get through to the next phase is unknown.  I hope it will be relatively quickly (by end of May perhaps?), but don’t count on it. We might be in this phase for an extended period. Hope for the best and plan for the worst.

In the crisis phase, what can we do to keep our doors open? How can we best serve our customers, employees and the broader community while being safe and responsible?

But if we have to hibernate, how can we keep our customers engaged and stay relevant during our downtime? How do we best prepare to get back to business when the crisis phase is over? How do we deal with the hardships these times have forced upon us for our customers, employees, partners, and yes you?


Uncertain Times Requires Leaders To Step Up and Lead

We need to be clear with our teams what needs to be done, why and how. Everyone needs to be on the same page, and everyone needs to be clear and committed to getting the job done.

And we need to recognize that the situation is evolving quickly. Our plans need to be resilient and respond to the situation as it unfolds.

Our planning periods need to reflect the pace of change we face. It’s all about learning on the go, being agile and responsive.  

Keep your plans clear and simple. Get them down on one page. Be specific what needs to be done and how to measure it. And use the specific metrics in your plans to assess progress, learn as we go, and make adjustments as required.


As Leader, Your Work Is Not Done

Getting through the crisis phase is job number one, but our work is not done. We need to be thinking what comes next. How can my organization navigate the next phases and come out stronger than ever?

What are some of the strategic possibilities that await us? Which ones do we want to strive for? Which ones must we plan for if things don’t go as we hoped? And what will we do about it?

Now more than ever, strategy & execution is essential. Take care of the now, but don’t lose sight of the future. The only thing we can count on is change. Adapt and respond accordingly.

Indeed these are interesting times we live in.




PS: Relationships and conversations are essential in navigating through these challenging times. Do what you can to connect with people, have real conversations and build relationships.

I am always looking to meet interesting people, learning from them and sharing ideas, insights, resources and connections with them.

If you are and interesting person (and I am sure you are), and interested in having a 30-minute virtual coffee meeting with me, please go to my calendar and set a time for us.

If you prefer to correspond with me through LinkedIn, here’s my address:

I am here to help, listen, inspire, provide and share ideas in navigating through these uncertain times.

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Keep Your Plans Simple Stupid

It isn’t that we don’t plan. It’s actually pretty easy to plan. I can tell you first hand, I have written  thousands of plans. Many of them achieved great results.  

But the majority of them didn’t pan out. And it wasn’t because the plans were flawed. The reality is, the execution was flawed.

My plan was perfect, but it failed miserably!

First we need to understand planning and execution go hand and hand. You can’t have one without the other and expect great outcomes.

The reality is that execution is what makes or breaks a plan. Especially plans that require us to venture into new territories and uncharted waters, like strategic planning and launching innovative new products.

Planning needs to be treated as a learning system

A plan takes shape by defining an initial set of action we will take to achieve a desired outcome. It’s based on the best set of knowledge and data we have at hand.

Yes, there is front-end discovery activity that happens before we solidify the plan like defining what is it we are trying to achieve, and why is it important to us.

What follows is a continuous learn by doing sequence focused on achieving the desired outcome. As new realities are uncovered, we either stay the course, reshape and improve the plan, or abandon the plan and look for a new course of action.

Plans need to be documented and shared

Let’s take a step back. I am making the assumption that plans have been written down and are clear. With key metrics defined including “what victory looks like” when we reach it.

But how many plans never escape the grey matter of your head? Don’t assume if we talk about our plans often enough, they will solidify into a clear set of actions that our team will understand and know what to do to achieve the business objectives.

If you are a relatively small organization, with reasonable clarity of what needs to get done, then perhaps talking about the plan is sufficient.

But as your organization grows, there are just too many activities going on around you that are swamping and perhaps trumping your assumed plan of attack trapped in your head.

So why do plans get stuck in our head?

Most likely it’s because a we have the wrong idea of what a plan is. And/or we are using the wrong tool for the job.  

What we don’t need is a multi-page business plan/case used to raise money or justify a capital expenditure. Those plans have their place, but that’s not what is needed in most planning situations.

What we need is a simple on page plan that gets to the essences of what needs to get done. It answers these five critical question.

  1. What are we trying to build?
  2. Why are we building this?
  3. What key objective will we measure?
  4. How will we achieve these objectives?
  5. What actions must we take to execute?

Keep Your Plans Simple Stupid!

As with many things in life, less-is-more when it comes creating clear and actionable plans. But reducing complex plans into a simple one page document might seem impossible.

It’s not if we follow a process prescribed in the One-Page-Business Plan™, and engage a trained facilitator to help us step through the process.

Great! With the one-page-plan in place, we can now address the execution phase of planning:

Implement a Performance System Focusing on Key Objectives & Learn by Doing

Yup, the KISS (keep-it-simple-stupid) principle applies. We do not need a complex system to measure execution.

What we need is a simple performance system and dashboard that helps keep everyone focused, measures what matters, facilitates learning and provides accountability that things we agreed to are getting done.

Want to learn more about the one-page-planning and executing system?  Drop me a line, or do something really bold: pick-up-the-phone and give me a call. I am always open to helping leaders succeed.

Warmest regards,


The One Page Business Plan is a registered trademark of the One Page Business Plan Company © 2012. All Rights Reserved. 


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Rethinking the Christmas Tree – the Never-Green Holiday Tree is Born

So it’s Christmas time and once again I find myself wondering why do I need to put up a Christmas tree anyway?  What’s the purpose or job-to-be-done?  Why do I spend time doing this? Why am I so grumpy about it anyway?  

Never Green Holiday Tree

And why an evergreen tree? Where did that come from?  I have never been to Bethlehem, but I am pretty sure there aren’t evergreens there. So how in the world did an evergreen tree get associated with Christmas?

Bah-humbug!  Putting up a Christmas Tree is  a lot of work, I said to myself, and for what purpose?

Okay “Kevinezer” – let’s start with the purpose or the job-to-be-done of a Christmas tree. At the highest level, the job-to-be-done is emotional:

“To get into and be in the holiday spirit”

So how do people do that? Well there are lots of ways to get that job done. And in fact people do several sub-jobs (activities) to get into the spirt. One is decorating the home, and the Christmas Tree over the years has become a center attraction of decorating both at home and in public spaces.

How did the evergreen become the Christmas Tree?

That story turns out to be a bit more involved than I can do justice in a short blog. The long and the short, according to the History Channel

The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.

But the Christmas Tree was far from an overnight sensation. In fact as late as 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans. The turning point – or inflection point in management mumbo jumbo:

In 1846, the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Unlike the previous royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at court immediately became fashionable—not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society. The Christmas tree had arrived.

Check out the History Channel to learn more about the history of the Christmas tree.

I would be lying if I were to say that I don’t enjoy looking at  and experiencing Christmas trees,  with the lights, ornaments and all. It invokes warm and fuzzy feelings and brings back many happy memories of Christmases by gone.

Yet I still pondered, why an evergreen tree? Real or artificial. The innovator and product developer in me said “there’s got to be a better way.”  

Consider this, putting up  a tree is time consuming, and then worse, you got to take it down when the holiday season is over. For me, taking it down after Christmas is both time consuming and emotionally depressing.

Those aren’t the only undesired outcomes I’d like to eliminate.  And of course, I want to increase and achieve more desired outcomes by doing the job better.

Ornaments Are The Focal Point

For example, being able to display our ornaments so we can see and enjoy them better versus losing site of them inside the tree’s branches.

My wife and I over the years have collected a lot of fun and interesting ornaments to celebrate the holiday. Every year we add new ornaments to our tree. It’s a tradition for us. And we love displaying them and showing them off to our family and friends.

And finding a place to hang an ornament in a typical evergreen is a pain as well. So my goal in designing a new Christmas tree was based on maximizing my desired outcomes and minimizing my undesired outcomes.


First the short list of the  functional jobs of the tree:

  1. Increase the visibility of seeing the ornaments on the tree. The ornaments are the center of attention and focus, not the pine needles.
  2. Decrease the time it takes to set up, decorate and display the tree.
  3. Decrease the time to take the tree down and store it away.

There are more, but you get a sense of the requirements based on functional job-to-be-done.

And the emotional job-to-be-done:

  1. Get into the holiday spirit by displaying all our fun ornaments on a unique hanging system called the “Never-Green” Holiday tree!
  2. Feel good about knowing that I helped address my wife’s desired outcome: decorating the house to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season. The best gift is the gift of love after all.
  3. And feel good about making something new and special, with my imagination and hands! Satisfying the “maker” in me.

For me the Never-Green gets my important job done better than a traditional evergreen, eliminating the hassles of putting up an evergreen tree and feeling great when I fire up the lights on my Never-Green tree.  

Full disclosure – it used to take me about 45 minutes (best estimate) to put up my old artificial tree not including hanging the ornaments. With my new Never-Green – I am into it about 30 hours from design to implementation … hey it takes time to build prototypes, but next year by golly, it should only take me 10 minutes to pull it down from the rafters and set it up. Yippee!

So the Never-Green may never catch on fire (okay bad pun) like the evergreen tree, and may in fact not get your specific jobs-to-be-done in addressing your desired outcomes in getting into the holiday spirit,  but as in all innovation adoption cycles, it’s got to start somewhere, even if it’s just a market for one.

What do you think? Tell me about your Christmas tree and the job-to-be-done it address. Would you adopt a Never-Green?  Or are you sticking to tradition and the status quo?  

Wishing you and your love ones a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!





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Want to Improve Your Innovation Results? Then Approach Innovation as a System

A colleague of mine pointed out to me: “Every business is perfectly designed to produce the results it is producing.” What a profound statement!. As I started to think about it, it made perfect sense.

Our actions and “implied” or “emergent strategy” dictates the results we are getting. If we say we want more innovation, yet continue to do the same old things over and over, is there any wonder why we don’t get better results?

The long and the short: Improving your innovation capacity requires us to rethink and redesign our organization as a system of integrated parts.

Successful Innovation Requires a Systems Approach.

No one part in the organization can get the job done by itself. It requires team effort, a rethinking of strategy and decision making, and a retooling of the core processes and methods that are required to play in the new realities of your markets.

Innovation as a System

It starts with leadershipleaders need to set the tone and the direction. And provide the means and resources for the organization’s transformation into an innovative culture.

This reminds me of an observation that was made of Steve Jobs. Sure he was a visionary and innovator. No doubt about it, but what he sometimes doesn’t receive enough credit for is that he was a change agent.

Steve Jobs was described as a bulldozer who could break down cultural barriers, bureaucracies, and accepted processes, that tend to want to keep innovation in check. It’s not because organizations inherently don’t want to innovate, rather they don’t want variations.

Variation is bad for operational excellence. On the other hand, innovation requires change and involves uncertainties and chaos, which is antithetical to achieving operational excellence.

You also need the right people on your team. The sad and difficult reality is not everyone in your organization is ready or able to make the change necessary to compete successfully in the new reality.

It goes beyond skill sets, which to a large degree can be improved and learned. It’s really more about attitude and disposition. Specifically, it requires curious and inquisitive mind set. A natural desire to want to learn, experiment, and discover. To want to make a difference in making the world a better place by helping people.

This reminds me of the old brick layer story, it goes something like this:

Once there were 3 bricklayers. Each one of them was asked what they were doing.
The first man answered gruffly,
‘I’m laying bricks.’
The second man replied,
‘I’m putting up a wall.’
But the third man said enthusiastically and with pride,
‘I’m building a cathedral.’”
– Author Unknown

The first two brick layers might be fine in a predictable and stable environment. They do as they are told, and probably follow a well thought out process and do their task pretty well. But in a fast changing and dynamic environment, we need to constantly upgrade our skills and processes to compete successfully. Sticking to the old way of doing things simply won’t work.

Members of a high performing innovation team need to have active curious minds to quickly bring questions to the company and industry orthodoxies – and discover new possibilities that spark innovation. 

But that’s still not enoughInnovation won’t happen if the processes and methods to innovate are absent. Without these in place even the greatest talent will flounder.

I am reminded of the Beatles and the Magical Mystery Tour. With all the collective talent that made up the Beatles, they thought they could create and produce a successful movie by winging it. Without storytelling and film making processes, the outcome was predictable: A total film-making flop.  

Here’s the rub

Leadership, people and process are required to build a system “more perfectly designed” for innovation. Without a system approach, innovation will likely produce unpredictable and poor results.

And innovation success will not happen unless leadership takes an active role in making it happen. Leaders need to create the environment and provide the freedom for people to innovate.

The good news is that there are many leadership and people skills, systems, methods, and practices a company can both adopt and adapt in building a culture of innovation. I’ll dive deeper into the how to create a “more perfectly designed system” to innovate and grow in future articles.

Free your people, and create a system to innovate!


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Creating the Next Big Thing for Middle Market Companies

I recently joined Mike Smart Founder and Principal Consultant at Egress Solutions on a webinar  to discuss the need and challenges middle market companies face in launching innovative and breakthrough new products.

Middle market companies, which I define as $10 million to $100 million in sales, face the same competitive forces as their larger brethren. An environment characterized by complexity, volatility, and blinding speed, where the introduction of new technologies have made new business models possible while dramatically lowering costs.

Simply put: the rules of the game in almost every industry has changed dramatically and will keep changing. What’s working today may very well not work tomorrow. Competitors, both existing and new, will continue to evolve and adapt to meet the new realities.  

The Changing Realities of the Competitive Landscape

Middle market CEO’s are well aware of the competitive forces and new dynamics.. They know they have to innovate to stay in the game.

But the harsh reality is that innovation is hard. It’s expensive, involves a high degree of uncertainty and risk. The success rate of new innovation is dismally low. Numerous studies have shown that failure rates for new innovations range from 60% to upwards of 80%. 

Risk aversion is one of the many reasons companies choose not to innovate. Time and resources, lack of processes and methodologies, and lack of talent and skills top the list of why companies fail to innovate.

And middle market companies, unlike larger companies and well-funded startups, face additional challenges. Larger companies have the staying power to invest in innovation experiments, and VC funded startups have resources to carry them until their strategic investments payoff.

But  middle market companies have a lot more skin in the game. Betting the farm and losing is not an option.  

So what’s a mid-market CEO to do?

To begin with, we need to think about innovation differently. First we need to recognize that innovation (or innovating as a verb) is a strategy to achieve the goal of creating DEFINITE COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE by delivering a steady stream of new customer value.

Strategy and innovation are different sides of the same coin. One side of the coin, strategy, defines where we will compete: who the customers are and what important jobs they need and want to get done better.

The flipside of the coin, innovation, defines how we will win customers and beat the competition. The solutions and underling technical and organizational capabilities that will allow us to be competitive in a fast changing market landscape.

Losing sight of the duality between innovation and strategy leads to wasted energy. Middle market companies do not have the luxury of innovating for the sake of innovating. They have limited resources to pursue activities that don’t directly create customer value and definite competitive advantage. Innovating with a strategic purpose is essential.

Secondly, we tend to think of innovation as launching disruptive, game changing new products into the market. This is “a” strategy,” one that can create huge dividends, but also extremely difficult and risky. Like an investment portfolio, risky bets have their place. But if the portfolio is too weighted in risk, losing a bet can be devastating.   

The good news is that there are other innovation options for mid-market companies to choose from that are far less riskier than disruptive innovation. As outlined in Geoff Moore’s book “Dealing With Darwin – How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of  Their Evolution,” opportunities to innovate happen across all phases of the technology and category (the extended period of a technology adoption) life cycle.

Innovation Happens Through the Category Life Cycle

In our webinar  we go deeper into the innovation options and their relative risk/reward profiles, and how to create an innovation development portfolio to balance risk with “sure-bets.”

Becoming Customer and Market Focused

We also discuss the best lever a mid-market company can pursue is to change its business orientation from being product, technology and sales oriented, to a customer and market orientation.

As I have discussed in many of my past blogs, focusing on important jobs people want to get done better, will provide a strategic direction over the long haul.  The jobs-to-be-done innovation framework provides a methodology and common language to define a company’s winning aspiration (what victory looks like) and a robust and flexible strategy that provides adaptability and resiliency to the ever changing market landscape.

But innovation processes and methods like jobs-to-be-done, won’t be successful without creating a culture of innovation. Where the culture shifts its orientation from product centric to market and customer centric. And willingness to experiment and learn to be better prepared to both anticipate and react to opportunities as they unfold.

Finally, leadership is ultimately responsible for making strategy and innovation happen. Without the full support and commitment from leadership, innovation becomes just hollow words. This will lead to cynicism and destructive behaviors from the team.  

Make no mistake about it, transforming a culture into a culture of innovation is hard. It’s easy to stick to your knitting and try to do it better. But that simply isn’t a viable play in the new area of “digital everything.”  Leadership and its commitment to creating value for customers through innovation is paramount.

Check out our webinar “Creating the Next Big Thing” to learn more about how mid-market companies can play the game of innovation to win. And stay tuned for future articles that will dive deeper into “innovation for mid-market companies.”

Play the game of innovation to win!


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Strategy Needs to Evolve to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Environment

Imagine you are the quarterback in the big game, and you find your team down 17 to 0, with 8 minutes remaining in the game. Your game plan (strategy) up till now has been to run the ball and control the clock. But it hasn’t produced any points. Times running out. Are you going to continue to stick to the plan or try something different?

Strategy Needs to Evolve With the Game

Down 17 points, 8 minutes to go – time to change the plan

Chances are you are going to switch to a hurry-up offense  because the ground game strategy is a bust. And time is running out. There will be no tomorrow.

Same goes for the business leader when facing competitive forces in the marketplace. At some point in time, your business landscape will change. What worked in the past (your strategy) no longer works. Competition is becoming fierce. Sales and margins are declining. Times running out.

Like in football, your strategy has to evolve as the game unfolds. Perhaps even change depending on how radically the playing field has changed.

After all, what’s the point in continuing to offer a product or service that customers no longer want? If you aren’t competing for the right things, (i.e. helping people get important jobs done perfectly), with a solution that provides clear value, then no level of planning and execution will matter

For example, up to about the mid-eighties, typewriters (you remember what those were right?) were an essential office product. They helped companies get the important job of communicating and presenting information in a professional, clear and aesthetically pleasing documents.

But along came PC’s and laser printers. Not only could office workers create documents more efficiently, they could now share documents over computer networks. Typewriter manufacturers tried to add WISYWIG displays and other PC like features. But the value proposition simply was no longer compelling. The category for all intents and purposes, was dead.

What if typewriter companies had understood the changing landscape and had the means and courage to compete with a totally new set of rules? Would they have survived? Perhaps, but we will never know because these companies stuck to their knitting and tried to compete till the ghost had literally left them.

Indeed, spotting a trend and then creating a totally new winning strategy doesn’t come easy. Most of the brand name companies like Smith Corona are long gone. IBM on the other hand, faced the realities of the market and dropped their typewriter business altogether to pursue more promising businesses.

How about your company? Is your strategy still working?

There are many indicators that can tell us how well our strategy is working. Of course looking at our sales and profit margins is the obvious place. But because these numbers are lagging performance indicators, it may be too late to react in time if major shifts and disruptions have occurred.

A more forward leading sign is to examine the number of products and services you are offering. As well as the product and program development projects you have in the pipeline. A proliferation of SKU’s and projects may be a sign that your strategy is no longer effective.

Steve Jobs once famously said:

“I’m as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”

Strategy is about making choices. To compete effectively, a company must make choices about what it will and won’t do, who it will and won’t serve, where it will and won’t devote resources. An explosion of products and projects is a sign your strategy needs rethinking.

Rethinking and shaping strategy – where to begin

Start with your current strategy. How well is your strategy achieving your objectives? Have you made and are you sticking to hard choices of what  you will do and won’t do? Who you will compete for (customers) and who you won’t compete for?

Moving forward, what trends, threats, challenges, and opportunity lay ahead that could potentially require a change in the strategy? Are there pending shifts in social, technical economic, environmental and political (STEEP) trends that will impact the playing field?

There are a number of  strategy tools, models and  methods available to help analyze your current situation and scope future opportunities and threats.  In fact there is an overwhelming number of tools to the point where paralysis by analysis can kick in if you lack a clear strategy making process.

I suggest you define and create your strategy using any number of simple frameworks including the business model canvas and a strategy  making system I find particularly useful: the “Strategic Choice Cascade” Martin and Lafley define in their excellent book Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works”

Martin and Lafley on Strategy  

Strategy is a Set off Choices About Winning. It’s an integrated set of choices that uniquely  positions the firm in its industry as to create sustainable advantage and superior value relative to the competition.”

Strategy Answers these five interrelated questions:

  1. What is your winning aspiration? The purpose of your enterprise, its motivating aspiration.
  2. Where will you play? A playing field [target market] where you can achieve that aspiration.
  3. How will you win? The way you will win on the chosen playing field.
  4. What capabilities must be in place? The set and configuration of capabilities required to win in the chosen way.
  5. What management systems are required? The systems and measurements that enable capabilities and support the choices.

In future articles I will dive deeper into how to use Martin and Lafley’s strategy cascades, business model canvas, jobs-to-be-done innovation theory, and design thinking to assess and improve your current strategy and/or evolve and create a new winning strategy.

In Super Bowl LI the Patriots faced a daunting task before the end of the first half. The team made halftime adjustments, as well as on-the-field adjustments during the second half to achieve the “comeback win of all times” in Super Bowel history. They faced reality, made their adjustments and worked as a team to get the job done.

Your team can do it as well by thinking strategically by facing reality and making the best set of choices to win to increase your odds of winning.

Hut hut!


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The Balancing Act Between Deliberate and Emergent Strategy

In my previous article, The Reports of Strategic Planning’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated, we discussed why top-down (deliberate/intended) strategy or bottom-up (emergent) strategy taken at extremes, doesn’t work.

Deliberate strategy assumes we can precisely predict and plan for the future. It’s a matter of collecting sufficient data upfront, doing proper analysis and creating a plan, that if executed will yield the desired results.

balancing act between deliberate and emergent strategy

balancing act between deliberate and emergent strategy

Unfortunately, we can’t predict the future with any accuracy when dealing with complex adaptive systems such as a competitive market place. Competitors aren’t going to sit back idly letting us have our way. And technology and other outside forces won’t sit idle either. The playing field is changing too fast, sometimes in ways we could not have imagined.

And likewise, if  we don’t have sense of direction, and a well-designed strategic process to manage uncertainly, our future will likely be controlled by external actors and events, resulting in a future we neither planned nor wanted.  It’s the old Alice and Wonderland (see video) conundrum: 

“Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”
The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
Lewis Carroll,   

Not knowing where you want to go may be fine for  Alice and the Cheshire cat, but hardly a winning strategy for sustainable success.

Choosing the “best option” direction given imperfect information

Strategy is all about  making the best choices and setting a direction based on some combination of facts & experience, It’s about agreeing where to focus resources, energy and emotion to achieve long term sustainable success. It’s about deciding where to play and how to win in the market.

Chances are at the outset of strategy making process,  you will not know precisely what victory looks like. But as long as you have an initial sense, or idea, that’s sufficient to move forward.

Strategy, like innovation, is an iterative process. Direction will emerge and become clear as you test, validate and reshape your assumptions. This is the balance act that must be managed between deliberate and emergent strategy. 

Setting a bold direction

Direction is an overall goal of where a company or organization wants to be sometime in the future. It’s the end game of what your organization or future will look like. Without direction and buy in, an organization can’t focus its energy in achieving sustainable growth.

Thus, defining “victory” is critical. And it needs to be something far reaching but doable. The core value of forcing yourself into a specific definition of “victory” is that it narrows the field of play considerably. It allows us to focus resources and create a winning strategy working backwards from what victory looks like.

Kennedy’s space is a good example of specifying what victory looks like:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

~ JFK – May 25, 1961

This is the epitome of a powerful victory (vision) statement.  The end game is clear, and its bold. There is no confusion of what victory looks like. And while the objective is specific, it doesn’t specify how.  That’s where and how the emergent strategy evolves and innovation happens.

Did Kennedy imagine and create his victory statement out of thin air? Of course not. He worked with his senior advisors in exploring what would be possible given the current and near term state of technology. And  based on what was a feasible, a bold and doable objective was defined enabling the US to win the space race.

Being bold, and living with the uncertainty of what unfolds in the future takes some guts.  I believe not being bold is the reason why so many strategic plans are nothing more than extensions of the budgeting process and guarantees status quo thinking.

Roger Martin points out if a strategic choice doesn’t keep you up at night, chances are your choice is not bold. And most likely incremental and non-inspiring resulting in maintaining the status quo.

In their book, Playing to Win, Martin and Lafley stress that if you want to compete successfully, you need to explicitly commit to winning. Just playing the game for the sake of playing, will lead to disappointing results.

Imagine what the outcome of the space program would have been if Kennedy’s victory statement was to build bigger and faster rockets than the Soviets. Sure, our American scientist and engineers could have done that, but for what purpose? What would the end game have been?

Probably something far short in both impact and achievement than landing a man on the moon. And probably at a far greater expense, since there was no clear goal to inspire the nation to win the space race.

If your goal is to be a vibrant ongoing concern in the future, your aspirations need to be bold and ambitious to escape status-quo thinking and inspire your team to create bold results.



Posted in New Product Development | Comments Off on The Balancing Act Between Deliberate and Emergent Strategy

The Reports of Strategic Planning’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

When I read management articles about the death of strategic planning, I am reminded by the quote Mark Twain quipped after hearing a major American newspaper printed his obituary:

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Yet there is some truth to the idea that strategic planning is dead. At least the traditional method of strategic planning many companies subscribe to.

Comander's -Intent

Traditional strategic planning is based on a top-down, command and control process. Where the senior management team define “the plan” based on detailed analysis of competitive playing field (industry and market situation), and define a step by step game plan, when executed, achieves their business objectives.

The problem with top-down, command and control planning

Henry Mintzberg, an internationally renowned thought leader in strategy identifies three fallacies of command and control planning:

First is the fallacy of predetermination.

When we believe we can know the future,  we are led to create a “rock-solid” plan based on our “predict and prepare” line of thought.  

Simply put, we can’t predict the future with any accuracy. There are too many variables (customer attitudes, demographic & socioeconomic shifts, technology innovations, regulations, environmental issues, etc.) and actors (customers, competitors, political agendas, regulators, etc.) who have a say on how the future unfolds.

Second is the fallacy of detachment.

This refers to the tendency of planners to remove themselves from the scene of action. It’s the “Ivory Tower” syndrome. Strategy is delegated to planners and formulated without direct contact with the realities of the playing field.

Third is the fallacy of formalization.

This is when we cast our plans in stone – or what some call the “binder” mentality. We create these detailed and eloquent plans that end up in a binder on the shelf, collecting dust. No on looks at it, thus over time it becomes detached from reality. It represents less and less what a company actually does.

We can’t completely predict the future, so why bother planning for it?

Since the future is difficult to predict, perhaps this is why many companies believe strategy planning is dead. The environment is too dynamic to predict, the strategy will probably be wrong. So instead, don’t waste time creating plans that will most likely be irrelevant as the future unfolds. Instead, be fast and nimble and execute on the fly.

Being fast and nimble, with the capability to execute on the fly is a strategy!  

But being fast and nimble without a clear definition of  where to play, and how to win, the strategy becomes what Miles and Snow call a reactor strategy.  A reactor has no consistent strategic approach; and drifts with environmental events, reacting to but failing to anticipate or influence those events.

Hardly a winning strategy for long-term success.

Integrating top-down and bottom-up strategy to achieve success

Top-down strategy and bottom-up strategy taken in isolation leads to poor strategy. Instead, what is needed is a combination of the two planning methods.

Top-down sets the direction of where a company will play, and how to win. It is expressed as strategic intent, or commander’s intent. It describes “what victory looks like” at some point in the future.  

Strategic intent often is articulated in vision and mission statements

From strategic intent, a “deliberate” strategy is formulated. Deliberate strategy outlines exact business intention. It specifies clear goals and objectives, and a series of metrics the organization will use to measure its progress and success.

The business then coaches employees to work together in all aspects of accomplishment of these goals. Employees must think through and discuss all actions in the interest of matching company goals.

Deliberate strategy shouldn’t be confused with the top-down command and control dogma. Deliberate strategy is not about creating a fool proof strategy cast in stone, but rather a clear definition of where to play, how to compete and what victory looks like. 

From the bottom-up, strategy emerges

As the organization engages in the market place, it discovers what works and doesn’t work. This when bottom-up strategy connects top-down strategy. And the overall strategy evolves, or emerges, to fit the realities of the playing field.

When strategic intent is properly communicated and understood, employees have the framework to make good decisions, and take necessary actions to win customers and beat the competition.

The actions that an organization takes forms what is called emergent strategy. Also called realized strategy.  

According to Mintzberg:

“Strategies can be planned and intended, they can also be pursued and realized (or not realized). And pattern in action, or what we call realized strategy, explain the pursuit.” He goes on to say:

“In practice, of course, all strategy making walks on two feet, one deliberate, the other emergent. For just as purely deliberate strategy  making precludes learning, so purely emergent strategy making precludes control. Pushed to the limit, neither approach makes sense. Learning must be coupled with control.” 

Strategy making like innovation, is a learning process

I have argued in the past that strategy and innovation are different sides of the same coin. They both focus on where to play, and how to win customers. And both are grounded in the reality that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Like the innovation process, strategy making (versus planning) is an adaptive and learning process that starts with a direction (vision, mission, objectives), defines a set of hypothesis (or assumptions), and proceeds with a set of experiments to discover what’s real, what’s not, what works, and what doesn’t work, to adapt and shape the overall  business strategy.

In future articles we will examine strategy making frameworks that integrate deliberate strategy with emergent strategy.

Play to win by knowing where you want to go, and adapting to the realities of playing field.


Posted in Front End of Innovation, Strategy | Comments Off on The Reports of Strategic Planning’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

Why Breakthrough Ideas Often Never See the Light of Day

A common ailment of new product development is the inability of companies to kill off projects that no longer demonstrate economic viability. The reason it’s so hard to kill off marginal projects is because too much time and ego has been invested.

A lesser known aliment is killing off promising new ideas too early in the innovation process.  Especially at the initial moments of an idea. The initial idea has very little form, and lacks a credible story to stand the scrutiny of judgement.  


Initial ideas are too easy to dismiss

In the earliest stages of idea generation, ideas are totally leveraged (i.e. no significant resources have been committed). Thus they are seldom measured or accounted for. They simply get dismissed without a lot of thought or consideration. “Who has time for all this distraction anyway?”

More often than not, these potential game changing ideas eventually emerge from outside the company. Management can only shrug its shoulders when it realizes it let another game changer slip through their fingers. They wonder “why can’t we innovate around here?”

Experienced management got to where they are by having good judgement and making good decisions. They knows how the game is played (winning customers). But what they often fail to recognize is that the current rules of today’s game will most likely will not be the same in the future

Whether engaging in strategy making or innovation, managers need to be aware that initial ideas are vulnerable and fragile. New ideas don’t fit the current business model. And on their own don’t have enough strength to withstand the rigors of conventional wisdom and business practices.

Implementing a formal strategy making and innovation program

The first step to improving your odds of identifying a game changing new idea is to implement a formal strategy making and innovation program. It needs a dedicated cross functional team properly resourced, with a specific and clear charter to shape the future of your firm.

Most successful companies create one year operational plans to budget and execute around. For the core business, that’s a good practice. But for your strategy making and innovation teams, they need to be looking ahead to formulate new strategies of where you can play and how you can win in the future.  And your the process must be designed to handle the creation and nurturing of new ideas that currently are outside of the core.

Instead of thinking of time frames in terms of years, I find it more useful to think about strategy and execution in terms of innovation time horizons (see figure 1 – adapted from Innovation Tournaments, Terwiesch & Ulrich).

Innovation HorizonsFigure 1: Innovation Time Horizon Opportunity Zones


Horizon 1 is where your current core business is located.  

The business model is proven and working. Operational excellence and sustaining innovation are primary strategies. A one year planning horizon, with quarterly reviews, is appropriate.

Horizon 2 is where your next big opportunity will be found for most companies.

Markets, capabilities and technologies already exist or will soon exist. Often technologies and capabilities can be acquired from the outside at an acceptable cost and time frame (i.e. the risk of the unknown is manageable).

Defining market segments using the jobs-to-be-done innovation lens, will help identify underserved job users, and their specific needs that aren’t being met today.  In other words, demand is already out there. People already have important jobs they need to get done, though they may not be totally aware of their jobs, nor imagine better ways of getting them done.

Horizon 2 is ripe for disruptive innovations. Creating innovative solutions for underserved and currently non-customers can provide huge growth and dividends. Horizon 2 is anywhere from 1 to 5 years out.

Horizon 3, where”far-out opportunities” exist, is by far the most risky.

It’s  sexy to be at the cutting edge. But more often than not, the cutting edge is in reality the bleeding edge.   It’s truly a white space. Technologies and more importantly, customers don’t exist yet. Horizon 3 is where science fiction meets reality. It can be anywhere from 5 to more than 20 years out depending on how radical the innovation is (i.e. flying cars).

Because of the risk of dealing with the uncertainty in the white space, most companies are better off adopting a “fast follower” strategy.  Let the pioneers take the risk and create the markets. Be aware of future possibilities, and build capabilities that will allow you to be a successful fast follower when the time is right.   

Creating “the next big thing”

Focusing your strategy making and innovation efforts on horizon 2 opportunities will yield the best results. That’s not to suggest horizon 1 opportunities should be ignored. On the contrary, if your core business is in a growth industry, then horizon 1 is where your development team should be focused.

But always be aware that the playing field will change overtime, and your ability to grow using your current business model will eventually decline. The next big opportunity won’t be found in horizon 1, rather in horizon 2.

As for horizon 3, for most firms it’s too far-out to be viable. However you should be aware of technology and social trends that exist in horizon 3, and start building capabilities to be a fast follower when the market is ready for exploitation. This strategy works for Apple, why not you?

The next question of course: how do we create a strategy making and innovation process that allows us to discover great ideas in horizon 2 and keep them alive to become the next big thing? A topic for upcoming articles.

Here’s to new horizons!


Posted in Front End of Innovation, New Product Development, Strategy | Comments Off on Why Breakthrough Ideas Often Never See the Light of Day

Creating a Competitive Advantage Requires a Reformulation of Your Strategic Playbook

In a fast pace competitive environment where change is the only real constant, how does a business build and maintain a competitive edge?  How does it consistently win customers and beat the competition?

where to compete and how to win

The simple answer is to build the capacity and processes to develop and launch meaningfully differentiated products faster and better than the competition.  

Pretty obvious – of course! But how does  a CEO  know if his marketing and development team is focusing on the “right” opportunity? 

And how does he manage the uncertainty and risk associated with innovation and new product development?

And how can he justify, much let alone, allocate resources to developing speculative new products, when his current resources are already over taxed on executing the existing core business?

All good questions, requiring serious strategic thinking (where to play, how to win), clarity (what victory looks like) and commitment to realizing your vision (winning customers by getting their important jobs done perfectly).

Here are some important factors to consider when reformulating your business strategy and innovation playbooks:

Commit to innovation and new product development as a key strategic initiative  

Without formally setting innovation and new product development as strategic imperative, chances are it will become a second or third order priority. If you want to be competitive over the long haul, not committing to innovation and new product development would be a huge mistake.

The rules of the game (your market landscape) are constantly changing. Not only are your “known” competitors trying to eat your lunch, there are new competitors from outside your industry, with innovations and disruptive business models looking to gun you down.

Simply put: what worked in the past, will not suffice in the future. While you worked hard to build customer loyalty with your current products and service, better solutions to solve customer problems will always emerge. This is what makes competition a great benefit for customers. But competition is a real vulnerability for companies who don’t evolve with the times.  

The fact of the matter is that customers will always seek the best solutions to get their important jobs done. Therefore, if you want to keep and attract new customers, you need to be the most innovative player on the playing field.  

Your innovation and product development strategy must include

1 year, 3 year and 5 year objectives and definition of what victory looks like. Yes the future in hard to predict, but without a clear and committed direction, you are likely to waste resources on chasing marginal business opportunities versus creating true breakthrough new products and business models.

A strategy and innovation game plan built on learning loops. Because we live and operate in an environment of complex adaptive systems, the only certainty is our environment will keep changing. New disruptive technologies, new competitors coming out of nowhere, new rules of the game, and new customer attitudes and behaviors.

A strategic product and capability portfolio to balance growth and risk. Think of this as your investment portfolio that you must properly fund if you expect it to yield results in the future. You need short-term and long-term investments in new products, people, skills, technologies and processes.  See How Much Risk Is In Your New Product Development Portfolio?”

Fall in love with your customer’s problems, not your solutions.

Abandon your product/solutions lens and adopt the jobs-to-be-done market lens to really understand the customers’ problem set.

Use that knowledge to create true customer value and “insanely great” products that help customers get their  important jobs done perfectly, from start to finish. The whole user experience, no details are too small.

If you stick to your product oriented lens, you will eventually become obsolete because the new breed of competitors don’t play by your rules, they play by a new set of rules designed to win over your customers.

Don’t let this happen! Focus on the important jobs and related jobs your customers want to get done, and help them get it done perfectly.  

Combing the jobs-to-be-done innovation framework with a flexible and adaptive development process based on learning loops, will provide your team an innovation game plan to successfully manage the uncertainty and risk associated with launching innovate new products. Your odds of success will increase dramatically.

Final thought: No Problem – No Profit.

No matter how good your ideas and technologies are, if they don’t help people get important jobs done better than competing alternatives, then you will lose the game of winning customers and beating the competition.

The jobs-to-be-done innovation framework , the design-thinkers triad of success and the business model canvas are essential tools that all companies can use to improve their odds of success of launching breakthrough new products.

As the sergeant from the old Hill’s Street Blues TV  series used to say:

“To it to them (the competition) before they do it to you.”

Go out there and compete to win by falling in love with your customer’s problems and out innovating the competition!



Posted in Jobs To Be Done, Strategy | Comments Off on Creating a Competitive Advantage Requires a Reformulation of Your Strategic Playbook

The Innovator’s Playbook

Discovering and Transforming Great Ideas Into Breakthrough New Products

The Innovator's Playbook

The Innovator’s Playbook provides an innovation framework based on the "jobs-to-be-done" innovation theory pioneered by Clayton Christensen and others. This proven methodology frames innovation opportunities from the customer's perspective to create products and services that match the needs of the people who use it.

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