Jill Bamburg, part of BGI's core faculty team, led a fascinating discussion around strategy at our final intensive of the year. The June 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review ignited the conversation as they published three articles oriented around the evolving world of strategy.
- Transient Advantage: Achieving a sustainable competitive edge is nearly impossible these days A Playbook for strategy in a high velocity world
- What Is the Theory of Your Firm: Focus less on competitive advantage and more on growth that creates value
- The New Dynamics of Competition: An emerging science for modeling strategic moves
As technology has moved from waterfall implementation to MVP and Agile processes, companies that are most nimble are the ones succeeding. What sort of implications does this have for strategy? The argument is that as business evolves, so must strategy.
I hold that perspective that good strategy includes evolution. I also appreciate my classmate Emily Kanter's stance on growth, and recognizing the cyclical nature of the world, also appreciates how businesses can exit the marketplace(Also a shout-out to Cameron Miller "To grow or not to grow"). In the HBR article "What is the Theory of Your Firm", they capture this concept well:
...To make matters worse, attempts to grow often undermine a company’s current market position. As Michael Porter, the leading proponent of strategy as positioning, has argued, “Efforts to grow blur uniqueness, create compromises, reduce fit, and ultimately undermine competitive advantage. In fact, the growth imperative is hazardous to strategy.” Quite simply, the logic of this perspective not only provides little guidance about how to sustain value creation but also discourages growth that might in any way move a company away from its current strategic position...
Aside from changing paradigms around growth strategies, this point illustrates to me how effective our old theories can be. Porter's theories around competition and strategy evolved around the concepts that "Zero-sum is ho-hum" and effective strategy requires working with uncertainty. To me this speaks to our conversation around Purpose in Business.
John Boyd's OODA loop theory on strategy truly captures working within a dynamic environment. Moving quickly through this loop is essential to learning, and ultimately, surviving. Their are some powerful parallels between this theory on strategy, and how we move through our own lives. Boyd comes from a military background, where strategy in war truly determines the impact on human lives. Even the new theories on startup strategy, with Eric Ries and the lean startup embraces the OODA loop. The purpose of the minimum viable product(MVP) is primarily in moving through the loop quickly.
Good strategy lasts through the ages, whether it's Sun Tzu's Art of War or Musashi's Book of Five Rings, it comes down to the application of strategy.
What variables affect the application of strategy?
The largest barrier that I have seen, and which also resurfaced during our conversation, is the effective application of strategy in super-sized organizations. The bigger the ship, the harder it is to turn. This isn't an argument against growth or large organizations, it's simply the acknowledgment that more challenges around adaptability arise the larger an organization is. I wonder what implications organizational design theory has around this. Can we use fractal design processes to allow all elements of an organization change at once? What about biomimicry? There are countless examples of a cluster of organisms dynamically shifting together. Schools of fish that can turn on a dime, or insects who lead from the rear.
What opportunities do we have to allow effective application of strategy?