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Bach unicycle:

Strategy and Innovation

About a year ago, I wrote an article, Innovation Versus Vision which argued that the world's most innovative companies do not in fact focus on innovation, but rather they relentlessly strive to achieve a visionary strategy. Leading innovators do not see innovation as a goal. Merely a tool for achieving their vision.

If your organisation is so caught up in innovation that you've lost sight of strategy, something is wrong. You need to look at your strategic vision.

First and foremost, if you intend to be an innovative leader in your sector, your strategy needs to be an inspiring, unique one. If your strategy is so generic it could apply to any business or if it fails to differentiate you from the competition, you need a better strategy! A strategic goal like "We strive to produce great products at reasonable prices" may be laudable, but it is hardly inspiring and even less unique! Even if you could persuade your people to relentlessly pursue such a strategic aim, the result would hardly make your business innovative!

A unique strategy, provided you truly focus on it, does two really good things for your company. Firstly, it makes it much more likely that your company stands out in customers' and potential customers' minds. Companies like Apple, Google and Facebook, for example, have achieved this. Secondly, it gives you a great focus for your innovation. Better still, the more your innovation focuses on your strategy, the more your strategy is ingrained into the awareness of your market.

What if your strategy is conventional and uninspiring? Use a little creativity and make it sexy, make it unique, make it inspiring! And don't worry if you don't fit the strategy now. A little tool called "innovation" will help you get there.

Anticonventional Thinking (ACT)

Anticonventional thinking is a great way to define a unique, inspiring new strategy.

Step 1: Deconstruct the Goal

In order to work out what your unique strategy should be, you need to understand what your company is doing and what you want it to be doing. You need to question your corporate image, not only from your perspective, but from the perspectives of employees, customers and people who chose not to be customers. You should ask what kind of people aspire to be your employees and what kind of people you would like to be hiring. Arthur VanGundy's book, Getting to Innovation includes a chapter on Question Banks, which includes many questions you can ask. I expect many other books on strategy also provide useful questions. The Emmerich Group has a set of strategy defining questions for banks in this PDF document. Many of those questions could also apply to other kinds of businesses.

In particular, it is worth asking "Why does our company exist, what is our purpose?" and "What would we like that answer to be?"

Step 2: Sexy Goal

Your sexy goal is simple: to devise a strategy that is so uniquely inspiring, business academics of the future will be writing books about it and it will be premiere case study material in the world's leading MBA courses in 2020.

Step 3: Build a Big Idea/Strategy Statement

Using the answers to your questions, together with any insights gained along the way, build a big idea -- or, in this case, build your strategy statement. If it is not inspiring enough to inspire business writers of the future to write about it, it is too conventional. Reject such conventional ideas and try out new ones until an idea knocks your socks off. Remember, unlike brainstorming, ACT welcomes criticism, debate and discussion.

Step 4: Step by Step Action Plan

How will you implement your strategy? The first step will doubtless be a communication plan to inform employees and other stakeholders of the new strategic statement. From there, you and divisional managers will need to determine what changes need to be made, and how, in order to align operations with the new strategy.

Be Open to Change

No matter how brilliant your strategy statement is, a disruptive technology, new legislation or unexpected catastrophe (war, earthquake, alien invasion) could make it irrelevant. Kodak, Polaroid and other companies in the film business were doing just fine until digital imagery came along. Being able to recognise such threats and reformulate strategy accordingly is one way not only to stay in business during times of change, but to thrive!

Be Relentless

Once you have defined and communicated your new strategy, you need to focus on it. Innovation should no longer be about innovation. It should be a tool for the pursuit of strategy.

 



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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium