Tag Archives: Vision

VISIONLESS STRATEGY – DESTINATION UNKNOWN

Not too long ago the importance of establishing your Vision prior to developing your strategy was accepted practice. Increasingly however a school of thought is emerging which suggests that strategy does not require vision.

Far from being good advice, visionless strategy is a shortcut to…..destination unknown.

VisionlessThe purpose of Vision is to provide your strategy with direction. In the same way that you can better plan a car journey if you know the destination, so you can better plan your business strategy (or any other strategy) if you know where it is you intend to get to.

Good Vision is a bit more than that; good vision answers the question; ‘what does success look like?’ To continue the car journey analogy, vision might give you a destination of ‘London’ – okay for planning in general terms but a bit vague. Good vision would be more specific; ‘the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith W6 in time for a theatre show at 8.00pm.’

The problem with most businesses is that they simply do not understand strategy (McKinsey, 2011). This extends to the Vision which drives strategy too.

A couple of years ago I spoke at an event at which I was sharing the platform with Microsoft. The theme of my talk was creating good Vision. In preparing my talk I researched those I was sharing the platform with in the hope I could use them as good examples. Unfortunately, while researching Microsoft’s Vision I came across a great example of how not to do it!

I can hear you now; “hang on Jim, Microsoft. Are you sure? They are a pretty successful company!” Let me explain.

The Vision was; ‘A PC on every desk.’

Having found this poor example of Vision, rather than avoid it I phoned up my contact at Microsoft and explained what I had found and asked if they minded if I used it as an example of how not to do it. His reaction surprised me; he laughed. After he stopped laughing he invited me to go ahead before letting me know how relieved Microsoft were to have caught how bad that Vision was in time.

He explained; had Microsoft continued to blindly follow this Vision for much longer the smart phone, tablet, and mobile working tools revolution might have passed them by completely. Now, although they are playing catch up, at least they are in the game.

‘A PC on every desk’ was a Vision in the ‘destination London’ bracket. It gave a vague direction but failed to describe what success looked like and, worse, offered no deadline. To those peddling the idea of visionless strategy Microsoft’s poor ‘PC on every desk’ would be cited as evidence that Vision doesn’t work whereas the truth is that the Vision itself was poor.

Another reason for poor Vision, one I come across on an almost daily basis, is that of confusing Vision with Mission. Put very simply and in short, your Vision is where you are going, your Mission is why you exist. The two are often linked but not the same. The Girl Scouts used to cite their Vision as ‘help a girl reach her highest potential.’ This is a great example of an organisation mistaking what they do with where they are going; their Mission and their Vision. If applied properly as Vision, to drive strategy it is unlikely to prove successful. The visionless strategy peddlers will use this as an example of why vision doesn’t work, why it is unnecessary. The truth is that it is just poor vision.

The third group of visionless strategists have existed for far longer; they are that group who rather than figure direction prefer the idea of “just getting on with it.” They are easy to spot, they are often the people who seem permanently busy but generate little forward momentum other than by chance.

Their hero might even be Lao Tzu*; he who is mistakenly and frequently quoted as stating “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” (The more literal translation is, “a journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet”).

The ‘just get on with it’ brigade would start walking, literally taking the first step. However, more sensible first step might lie in first determining your destination. To return to the car journey analogy the person (business) who paused to first define what success looks like will arrive at the Lyric Theatre (and on time), those who just got on with it could well be……..….well……..…anywhere!

To put it in real terms, let’s say our Mission was to conquer space. What are our options when we come to our Vision?

  1. We don’t need a vision to give us direction, let’s just get on with it.
  2. “We are going to outer space.”
  3. “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.” (John F Kennedy, 25th May 1961).

Whose Vision (or lack of) will give their strategy the sharper focus, the higher chance of success?

Who is your money on?

 

*To put Lao Tzu’s oft quoted words in perspective it should be noted he also said, “a good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” Indeed Lao Tzu, although frequently quoted in business, was not a strategist but a philosopher and writer who marvelled in the journey of life. He should not be confused with Sun Tzu, the Godfather of everything we define as strategy today.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global, 2012, 2016.

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STRATEGY ISN’T ALWAYS ABOUT VISION

Much of the information that is available, whether printed word or online, to those seeking to learn how to better develop strategies tends to refer to what strategists term, ‘Vision-Based Strategy’ falsely giving the impression that all strategy should be vision based.

If all in the garden is rosy, this might be the case however reality does have a habit of throwing up problems which side-track us from our vision. When this happens, what do we do with strategy?

strategyEver since H. Igor Ansoff’s ‘Corporate Strategy’ (1965) popularised the concept of business strategy to a wider audience, strategy has evolved at an incredible pace with numerous models, theories, versions and methods arriving (and frequently departing).

How many different models of strategy are there? Probably over 1000 and, as in many other areas of life, some are good, many are mediocre, most lag behind or have fallen by the wayside.

It sounds confusing but it doesn’t need to be. Fundamentally nearly all of the successful models fall into one of two camps.

Model One; Vision-Based Strategy (aka Goals-Based Planning)

This will be the more familiar model to most working in and with strategy. It is ‘vision-based’ in that it defines the future before working (planning) back to the present by defining specific objectives that will need to be achieved against a set timescale if the Vision is to become reality.

These objectives will typically be specific (e.g. to increase profit margins on ‘product X’ by 10% by the end of the next four years). Actions will be attached to each goal clarifying the what, when, why, where, who and how to each objective.

A good Vision-Based Strategy will consider both external and internal factors, clearly identify organisational priorities and utilise both historical intelligence and analysis of current factors. In looking to the future, consideration will be given to informed forecasts, intuition and common sense.

Vision-Based Strategy tends to be longer term planning, certainly longer than 3 years with sounder models looking 10-12 years ahead although it should be noted that this will be subdivided into strategic planning cycles (frequently 3-5 years in duration).

Model Two; Issues-Based Strategy

This model will be less familiar to many although that is not to say it doesn’t have its place.

With Issue-Based Strategy we begin with the present and Work (plan) forward to the future. As the name suggests, it is typically used to identify issues faced by the organisation and work them forward toward solutions.

Common practice is to identify issues as questions (e.g. “how will we recruit our Board of Trustees?” or “how will we address the shortfall in expected funding?”) Action plans are then compiled describing the what, when, why, where, who and how required to address each issue.

Although this model can be used to address external factors it is more commonly utilised to focus on internal matters and the establishing of strong internal structures and systems.

Issue-Based Strategy tends to the shorter term, typically one year and never more than three. It is generally beneficial for young organisations, those facing critical current issues and/or those with far less resource (e.g. personnel or funding) than is required for its desired development. Generally, through sound Issue-Based Strategy, once issues have been addressed organisations will emerge stronger and then benefit from more Vision-Based planning.

The Hybrid Model

It is possible for a Vision-Based Strategy to incorporate Issue-Based planning. For example, if short term, unpredicted problems arise while working towards a longer term vision it will make little sense to ‘bin’ a Vision-Based Strategy which is otherwise delivering. Far wiser to incorporate into it Issue-Based planning designed to address and solve the problem so delivery of the longer term vision stays on course.

Don’t overcomplicate it

As stated earlier, since 1965 there have probably been over 1000 different models of strategy of which all of those which have stood any test of time are based on either Vision or Issue.

Regardless of which model you are applying, it is worth remembering that at its most basic, strategy is about identifying and working through the challenges which hinder you from reaching your chosen destination. Challenges that can be predicted should be planned for via ‘Vision-Based’ thinking, those that can’t will likely require ‘Issue-Based’ thinking as and when they arise.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global, 2011, 2016

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A TRIP TO THE OCEAN

Blue Ocean Strategy is not for everyone, it requires a special set of skills and abilities. But for those who have them, identifying the Blue Ocean and swimming towards it can be great news for business…..

ocean-turtleMuch within corporate strategy hinges on either the development of or the protection of competitive advantage. You have a strategy and the strategy seeks to exploit ways in which you have an advantage over those in the sector with whom you compete

In some sectors this is becoming harder and harder, it is becoming difficult to differentiate in over crowded market places and bland conformity appears to be winning out (or at least that is the impression given).

In 2004 W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne defined this crowded market place as the ‘Red Ocean’ – the known market place, limited and bitterly fought over. Kim and Mauborgne proposed that there is another place in which to do business, the ‘Blue Ocean’ – the unknown and uncontested market space. Blue Ocean Strategy was born.

But the Blue Ocean isn’t for everyone. First and foremost it requires you to be innovative, without innovation you are not going to be able to swim away from the Red Ocean to the clear waters where competition no longer lurks.

What does a successful Blue Ocean Strategy look like? Think of Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque-du-soleil-brandCirque du Soleil was created in 1984, before anyone had even coined the term Blue Ocean Strategy. The circus trade was dying. It couldn’t compete with the growing number of alternative leisure activities available to children and animal rights protesters were beginning to win the battle to ban performing animals.

Competitive advantage was sought by having bigger big tops, more famous clowns, more grandiose shows but the public wasn’t being fooled; it was still the same show in (slightly) different clothes.

It would appear to be an act of lunacy, of corporate suicide, to decide to enter this marketplace but that is what Cirque du Soleil did. However, instead of competing in the overcrowded Red Ocean, they innovated, they created a whole new market for circus performers.

Instead of children they targeted adults, instead of big tops they used theatres and vast indoor venues, instead of being the same as everyone else they found ways not only to differentiate but to operate in new markets. Suddenly adults were queuing up to go to the circus and were happy to pay a lot more money for the privilege!

The key is to mix innovation with the identification of ignored or unchartered waters in the way Cirque du Soleil did. When identifying the Blue Ocean so clearly twenty years after the advent of Cirque du Soleil, Kim and Mauborgne were also kind enough to provide a kind of handbook with four guiding principles:

  1. Reconstruct market boundaries.

It sounds obvious but instead of continuing to hunt in the same crowded waters, look for where the competition isn’t operating. This might be among users in place of purchasers, it might be an ignored demographic, it could even be in service as oppose to product sales. Try anticipating rather than following trends, identify the emotional appeal over the practicality.

  1. Think ‘big picture’.

Yes, (good) strategy should always do this anyway but in reality many corporate strategies have become bogged down in budgets and spreadsheets. They over-rely on historical data and give too little consideration to common sense and intuition. When looking to the future think blank canvas; think what could we do?

  1. Look beyond existing demand.

Don’t only look at existing customers, look at non-customers. How can they become new and repeat customers? Cirque du Soleil did it by taking the circus to adults in adult venues. Calloway Golf found out that many of their ‘non-customers’ didn’t like playing golf because hitting the ball was too difficult and so designed a club with a bigger head.

  1. Get the strategic sequence right.

If the answer to any of the following questions is ‘no’ you need to rethink your strategy:

  • Buyer utility – does your idea offer exceptional buyer utility (not the same as exceptional technology)?
  • Price – does your pricing make you accessible to the mass of buyers?
  • Cost – can you hit your cost target and make a profit at your strategic price?
  • Adoption – Have you identified and are you addressing the hurdles to adoption up front?

The Blue Ocean is not for everyone but for those who are innovative and who can see a big picture it does offer opportunity. A word of warning though, just because your new ocean was blue does not mean it will always stay blue. When Karl Benz invented a replacement for the horse drawn carriage he was swimming from the red ocean to the blue. When Henry Ford saw the opportunity to mass produce and popularise the automobile he was doing the same. But no one today would suggest that either Mercedes Benz or Ford operate in Blue Oceans!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global, 2011, 2016

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IMPROVE YOUR PLANNING; LISTEN TO THE CATERPILLAR

Online, in person and in print; there are any number of places you can seek advice on developing sound strategy but in the rush to get on with the planning, don’t overlook the importance of properly defining what it is you are planning for…..

alice-in-wonderland-caterpillar-and-hookahLewis Carroll’s novel ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (commonly called Alice in Wonderland) was first published in 1865. It is generally considered to be one of the best examples of a genre known as ‘literary nonsense.’ And it is probably reasonable to think of it as nonsense as it tells the tale of a girl called Alice who falls down a rabbit hole and who then meets a number of strange anthropomorphic creatures. However, behind its enduring popularity lies Carroll’s ability to use logic to relay significant parts of his tale.

Consider the moment when Alice, lost, comes across a caterpillar:

“Excuse me sir,” Alice enquires, “could you tell me which road to take?”

Wisely the caterpillar asks, “Where are you going?”

Somewhat dismayed, Alice responds, “Oh, I don’t know where I’m going sir.”

“Well,” replies the caterpillar, “if you don’t know where you are going, it really doesn’t matter which road you take.”

The caterpillar imparts sound advice not only for Alice but for anyone involved in strategic planning. The temptation is to rush to the planning, to start describing the journey, the ‘how’ part of reaching the destination.

But pause a moment and consider the sage advice of the caterpillar; if you haven’t taken the time to get a clear picture of what success looks like, to properly define and describe your desired destination, then how can you accurately plan to ensure you arrive at your desired destination?

Having a strategy is not the key to success many think it is; the key lies in having a good strategy. And without a clearly defined destination, no strategy can be considered good.

But don’t take my word for it; ask a caterpillar!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global, 2012-2016

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