Musing about strategy

some questions i’m trying to deal with as i write strategy papers on a number of subjects:

  • if you tell everyone your strategy, is it still strategy?
  • if you don’t tell anyone your strategy, is it still strategy?
  • shouldn’t we use wikis to capture strategies?
  • can linus’s law be made to apply for strategy?
  • shouldn’t customers be involved?
  • and if we work in coopetitive markets, shouldn’t competitors be involved?


and if all the answers go one way, then

does it mean that the distinctive value is in execution, not strategy per se?

just wondering.

9 thoughts on “Musing about strategy”

  1. Heh, interesting twist to strategy issues you have there JP! I’ll bite… :)

    “..tell everyone”: 1/3rd of a strategy would be “how to be different” so if you tell everyone you’d better have a good execution!

    “..don’t tell anyone”: If you’re more than one “delivering a value” (another 1/3rd) you better tell the others. And BTW, good idea to make your customers (who they are is the last 1/3rd of a strategy) aware that you might have a value to deliver.

    “..wikis”: Why not? A pure “pull” to find “what value to deliver, and to who” is not a bad idea.

    “… enough eyeballs”: Well, not so sure here. Do the customer know what value before he has tried? Market research was thumbs down for Walkmans… and probably cars, and planes, and… spending more time on the web than watching TV ;) Don’t ask, let them try, you’ll get the answer fast enough.

    “… customer involved”: But of course! That would be “extreme business planning”, send it out, fail fast and fail often and so forth. Biggest business killer is the board deciding what customers are going to use the product/service how, then spending millions to target. Almost always different from what the board thinks. That said – don’t ask, give it out the accept failure or surprise, have a business model that is built to adapt.

    “…competitors”: Ah, now we’re into semantics! If collaborator is it a competitor? All organisms and organisations lives off each other in some form or fashion – the only way we can survive all is to be different, fulfilling all our little purpose – that I guess is why the last part of a strategy is “how to be different”.

    Oops, that went on and on :)

  2. You might listen to the Cisco Q3 results call from earlier this week to hear John Chambers’ approach – tell the analysts, customers and competitors what the strategy is, and something about how he expects to achieve it – and at a high level provide a forecast, which can be used after the fact to measure whether Cisco excuted on the strategy.

  3. Strategies don’t need to be secret to be effective. Nor do they need to be broadcast. Although, it is interesting to note that the choice to be open or closed about your strategy is /itself/ a strategy.

    So, if we consider an open source strategy for developing strategy…

    Now that is interesting.

    What that sets off, I think, is a battle for strategic position by many involved in the conversation. As long as you can secure a unique role in the ecosystem–one that openly and credibly creates real value better or more conveniently than anyone else–then you can be a part of the solution.

    However, those battles are fiercely fought, and one shouldn’t imagine that open source means folks aren’t competing to secure their own niche. But, if you can credibly establish a framework within which the group can coordinate on one level while competing on others, I think an open source approach to strategy could be quite interesting. Imagine BT accepting strategic input from its individual residential customers!

    In fact, I would argue that any good strategy in an emerging market necessarily entails getting INTO that market and talking with competitors and customers and marking out some aspirational territory. Only those companies who clearly communicate the territory they are claiming will be able to build credible relationships with others in the network, and only those who respond nimbly to others’ feedback will be able to survive as market dynamics shift. Which is a long winded way to say that at least for market strategies, there MUST be a level of openness or the company is really just talking to itself.

    So, execution is just part of it. Your choice of what to excel in at the execution level /is/ the critical strategic decision. Also, the /strategy/ of being open itself establishes a capability to execute–only those who integrate open source thinking into their culture will be able to leverage open source processes. The question then is how do you leverage your current execution capabilities and which new capabilities do you invest in?

    I strongly believe that investing in understanding how to be open is /the/ critical business strategy of the current era.

  4. JP–I have not commented or joined the conversations for a while but this topic is intriguing and close to my heart! So here are some quick thoughts. May be I will follow-up with a longer post on my blog later this week.

    Strategy needs to be widely shared and well communicated across different constituencies–especially when the company is a public entity under the scrutiny of the financial markets and analysts–who as you know hate surprises. Once you tell everyone what your strategy is, keep how you are going to execute it a secret (confidential). Keep your resource allocation plans to achieve that strategy a secret and then deliver on the performance goals you have announced. Those of us who teach strategy in business schools urge our students to understand strategy not as pronouncements but as a pattern of decisions and actions. One may ask–if there is an identifiable pattern from past actions, can one not decipher (infer) future actions. I say not–because strategy is rarely a linear extrapolation of past actions because the world is changing.

    Getting collective inputs through wikis is useful (efficient and inclusive); it is simply a more compelling way to probe every part of the organizational system (inside and outside–including customers and partners). If effective strategy is to be dynamic and responsive, then we need tools and mechanisms that allow for fast adaptation. Wikis (virtual jam sessions, etc. etc.) are new mechanisms that need to be embraced and exploited.

    Now..your last two questions are at the center of a shift in how we think about strategy. Traditional lens is that strategy is firm-centric while as we have discussed before, strategy is network-centric with multiple types of interactions and interdependencies. So, the challenge is to think of strategy less as portfolio of products and businesses but more as a portfolio of capabilities assembled through relationships. Some of these relationships involve customers, some involve suppliers, some even involve competitors but the definitions of these roles are not as clear-cut as in the industrial age.

    Someone asked the other day–“if Apple and Google are likely to compete in the phone space, should Apple Board ask Eric Schmidt to leave?” The answer lies in whether–on balance–Apple and Google are collaborating nore than competing or not. We cannot draw boundaries of firms as isolated islands–so, strategy is becoming network-centric but we still think strategy is firm-centric, created by a few and only to be shared in secret amongst select few. So, where should a firm b eopen and where should it be closed is as critical as deciding the core competencies that should be nurtured inside versus complementary competencies that can be acquired through relationships. Cheers.

  5. Joe, Anne, Sig, thanks for the comments. Looks like I will be writing a follow-up post soon.

  6. All y’all wikkit smaat. I’m probably most consonant with Venkat: strategy = primary concepts that guide the continuous reconfiguring of networks to deliver capability on demand to meet changing conditions.

Let me know what you think

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