Hey Ryan, you and I have been dancing around this question for a few weeks, so I thought it’s time to put it to the real test – let’s hang it on the blog and work it out. I’ve been really excited to see where some of the more unanswerable questions have gone; the harder they are, the more interesting things become.
We do a lot of work around “strategy”. It’s sort of an abstract concept, and it’s so overused, sometimes the word verges on losing its meaning. I went in search of a concise, useful definition not so long ago…I found a really nice definition from a designer named Barbara Ballard here. She defines it quite simply…
Strategy is the plan for how to compete.
I like that simple definition because, in practice, things get messy fast. A strategy can be a shared agreement that drives the businesses, it can be a constraint that helps people make execution decisions, it can be a guideline for handling the competition. When done well, and communicated correctly, a good strategy can create an amazing business.
Strategy as we know it has changed so much in the last 30 years (more, even). Some of this takes root in the popularity of MBA programs that encouraged us to build strategies assembled from industry best practices. Then, as accounting and computer systems allowed us to gather more and more data, we saw movements toward quantitative rigor and evidence-based decision making. Supply-chain optimization gave use six-sigma and the Toyota production systems. The evolution of software gave use enterprise planning and other real-time management tools. And throughout the whole period we’ve slowly been getting our head around how much organizations and culture play a huge role in how we do what we do. All of these elements compound and complicate how we formulate strategies. There are some bedrock concepts that seem to forever guide us, but as a rule this field is moving at serious clip.
On top of all this, we work in radically new ways. This shift in communication has completely changed the way we approach strategy – the quicker a company can serve and communicate with it’s customer, the more options (and pitfalls) it creates. Taking it to the extreme, I’ve even heard arguments for customers first, strategy later.
Ok, this is all getting a little dramatic, so I’ll get to the ask…
Acknowledging that predicting the future is futile, but understanding that it’s important to understand what could be next, what do you think is the future of strategy?