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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Monday, March 21, 2011

On Mr. Strategic

I am not sure whether I am seriously violating copyright law with below text, but I fully and totally credit Mr. Strategic himself for what’s to come. My passion is to share wisdom, ideas, energy, creativity, confidence, and passion. I don’t see much harm in doing just that.

Kenichi Ohmae, also known as Mr. Strategic, management guru, author, speaker, and previously partner in McKinsey & Company is a classic, as is his book “The Mind of the Strategist – The Art of Japanese Business”, first published in 1982, right when I was crawling out of puberty.

Beside the habit of rigorous analysis, this is what’s characteristic for the mind of the strategist:
-       A sense of mission
-       A constant drive for achievement
-       With a creative and an intuitive thought process rather than a rational one
-       And an intellectual elasticity or flexibility that enables the strategist to come up with realistic responses to changing situations, not simply to discriminate with great precision among different shades of gray.

In strategic thinking you solve problems by formulating the question in a way that will facilitate the discovery of a solution. In the case of chronic overtime, don’t ask: “What should be done to reduce overtime?”. The answers will likely be to work harder, shorten breaks during and the like.
The intrinsic limitation to this approach is that the question is not framed to point toward a solution – it is directed toward finding remedies to symptoms. Better questions to ask would be:
·         Is this company’s workforce large enough to all the work required?
·         Do the capabilities of the employees match the nature of the work?
Bottom line: you cannot overstate the importance of formulating the question correctly which leads to concrete, practical ideas rather than vague proposals for ‘improvements’ like the ones seen in many suggestion boxes.

Business strategy is about competitive advantage. ‘Strategy’ should be used for actions aimed at directly altering the strength of the enterprise relative to that of its competitors. The principal concern is avoiding doing the same thing, on the same battleground, as the competition.

Identifying the key factors for success: discover what distinguishes winners from losers and why. In some industries production technology is the key factor to success (e.g. soda industry), in others it’s the distribution network (e.g. truck sales), so it differs greatly.

Challenge the business and the strategic thinking by confronting what’s taken for granted in an industry or business by asking the simple question ‘why’. Instead of accepting the first answer you should insist on asking why until you get to the guts of the issue and to possible fundamental bottlenecks.

Strategic tunnel vision. The more severe the pressure on business executives and the more urgently a broader view is needed, the more dangerously their mental vision seems to narrow down. This is especially likely to be true of a businessman who is obsessed with the idea of winning and sees everything in terms of success or failure. Such an executive may be unable to perceive that there is any room for intelligent choice among various courses of action.

What is needed, and what is to be avoided according to the master?
1.    Flexible thinking – Understand the full range of alternatives that lie before you and constantly weigh the costs and benefits of each one. Considering alternatives requires you to pose “What if” questions. If the situation were such-and-such what would be our best course of action?
2.    Perils of perfection – In competing for market share there is no sense in trying to draw up a “perfect” strategy. What is vital is timing. The most brilliant strategy will be useless if it fails to take account of the ever changing market and the ever changing technological possibilities.
3.    Keeping details in perspective – A related vice is timidity. All too many people in responsible management positions seem unable to make well-timed decisions on their own. There may be too much reliance on third party judgments or there may be a lack of information or an incapability to analyze the information correctly. Intellectual timidity is a distrust of all definite answers, a hopeless feeling that problems are too complex and many-sided to yield to clear-cut solutions – a classic incidence of self-fulfilling defeatism. Having once chosen their direction many successful Japanese companies obstinately persisted with execution of their plans regardless of minor shifts in circumstances. Many large, western counterparts insist on getting everything exactly right when it comes to working out the details of a plan.
4.    Focus on key factors – obsessive thoroughness to the point of perfection has its place. In the pursuit of the key factors, the strategic thinker cannot afford to be anything less than a perfectionist.
5.    Challenging the constraints: find out how the managers responsible for a problem area see the problem and what proposals they have in mind for solving it. Usually the response will be something like “There is not much we can do”. Questions to be asked:
a.    Tell me precisely what are the limiting factors that have convinced you that nothing can be done?
b.    What alternatives would be open to you if all these constraints were removed?
If there is no common recognition within an organization of the ideal goal and the obstacles to its attainment, managers’ energies are all aimed in different directions and progress towards remedying the problem is all but impossible.

I like to conclude with Thomas Alva Edison’s recipe for inventive genius: 1% of inspiration and 99% of perspiration. Sensitivity, will, and receptiveness are necessary ingredients for creativity.

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