Strategy

Fake it til you make it?

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Are people basically divided into two broad camps – the ‘fake it til you make it’ (the marketers & promoters) and the ‘keeping it real’ camp’?

‘Fake it til you make it’ is about projecting confidence, whether real or illusionary. It’s downside is arguably in making our social groups less cohesive and less real. ‘Fake it til you make it’ can be spectacularly successful – politicians, singers/rappers and A-list movie actors being examples of this. Ironically though, politicians campaign to solve real problems, rappers rap about their gritty own life struggle to success, whilst successful actors choose to star in movies that often have themes of real strength from overcoming adversity of some kind.

Some pioneering cultures have a phrase about ‘keeping it real’. Others talk about ‘keeping your feet firmly on the ground’ (unless you work for the weather service, the airlines, the navy, NASA or Virgin Galactic).The ‘keeping it real’ camp includes support groups, social workers, therapists, counsellors, teachers, coaches, trainers and assessors of all kinds. This camp arguably advocates that ‘struggling to succeed is simply walking the journey’ is what life is about and that being honest about this struggle helps us to build important bridges with fellow human beings. In the world of entertainment, reality shows are in theory about ‘keeping it real’, although programme directors inevitably choose hyping the truth over the reality, if if means improving the viewer ratings in a competitive industry.

What about in the field of design – which camp do designers fall into? Steve jobs said ‘Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’ In product design, great and successful designers don’t tolerate fake. They are obsessed with building amazing, perfection and excellence. In contrast, fine artists can excell at illusion in their art, folling the viewer’s eye into almost believing the two dimensional is actually the three dimensional. Or that the World shown within their art reveals a far more beautiful perspective on the World outside. Musical artists and actors generally want to create real. It’s the marketing staff of their companies that want auto-tune, edit and airbrush.

Whichever of the two camps a person falls into, perhaps real performance is still the key goal and ambition the driving force. Oscar Wilde famously said ‘all of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.’ Life arguably isn’t about ‘suffer in silence’, ‘know your place’ and ‘mustn’t grumble’. It is about ‘be the best that you can be’, ‘dare to dream’, ‘give yourself a break’, ‘learn from your mistakes’, ‘recognise the perfect parent does not exist’,  ‘respect yourself’ and ‘strength through adversity.’

Lastly, somewhere along the line, as we switched from selling the products of our labour to selling the services of ourselves, the ‘fake it til you make it’ mantra started to dominate, in business, in our romantic lives (as singles) and increasingly, everywhere else. How do we jolt ourselves out of that mantra?

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Science and AI

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Biology champions diversity, uniqueness and ever more complexity, with few equations of biological laws. Chemistry and Physics champion the balance of forces, the consistency of atomic behaviour and favour the trend towards disorder. With many equations to represent these things. How can the sciences be working against each other? Are they collaborating to grow our understanding, but then competing to share our understanding?

The age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – where the human desire for freedom and choice will come at the heaviest price – AI selling freedom and choice to us, on its own terms.

What is possible and what is safe? When it comes to AI planning, we should design what is safe and then design what is possible. When it comes to business strategy, taking the opposite approach is best.

Counting the beat

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With numbers, leverage matters more than materiality.
‘Data-driven decision making’ is only better if you collect and merge the right kinds of data.
Sometimes you need a stand-alone crystal ball, not a fully-integrated computer system.
Absolute value changes and percentage changes; like heads and tails on a coin. You need both to get the full value.
The plural of anecdote isn’t data.
Accountants count the cost, when strategists fail to differentiate themselves.
Behind most good text and noble speeches are great numbers.

Evaluating Strategic Options

Conventional wisdom regarding evaluating strategic options is to use a SAF approach:

S means Suitability of the strategy. A means Acceptability. F means conduct a feasibility study.

My personal opinion on this (am willing to be persuaded otherwise – what do you think?):
1. How can you truly judge suitability before you’ve seen the results? These days, defining the competitors and the market is hard as market boundaries become more blurry. A strategy professor (Prof George Tovstiga) at Henley Business School* suggests  that it’s now no longer about competitive sustainable advantage (as Porter had proposed), but that companies effectively move from one unsustainable advantage to another unsustainable advantage.
2.  If evaluating strategic options (using tools like cost benefit analysis & risk scoring say) is difficult, then evaluating feasibility (conducting feasibility studies) is likely to also be difficult, with the quantified results perhaps have a large margin of error in reality. Suggest that like for forecasting, all you can do is best efforts and be flexible enough to react tactically along the way, if things start going really pear-shaped. Organisations can try ‘proof of concept’ and prototyping of new product ranges/business models/business arrangements to new or existing markets, but there is still likely to be uncertainty on a) how competitors will react, b) how well the prototype will scale-up to full market or business model size, c) how long market demand for that product range/business model or business arrangement will hold.
3. Regarding acceptability,  I suspect many strategic options get chosen in organisations, largely on how the politics operate at the senior level (this would be a good post-grad research project for someone to test out). Also, if a private company has a majority shareholder who is also the Chief Executive (like Microsoft in the early days, co-owned by Bill Gates & Paul Allen, or Richard Branson with Virgin with his famous phrase ‘screw it, lets do it’), then gaining acceptability on specific strategic options is relatively easy. However, if members of the senior management team aren’t the business owners, but are fairly transparent about their plans to the majority shareholders/debt holders, acceptability still may or may not be an easy hurdle to jump.
http://www.henley.ac.uk/web/FILES/corporate/cl-Changing-the-way-we-strategise-GT-WEB.pdf

Jobs, AI and business models

I just read a really interesting article on the McKinsey’s website ‘Artificial Intelligence meets the C-suite’, where some leading business academics discuss the implications of rapidly advancing artificial intelligence on conventional organisational structures run by senior executives. http://www.mckinsey.com/Insights/Strategy/Artificial_intelligence_meets_the_C-suite?cid=mckq50-eml-alt-mkq-mck-oth-1409

Rather than review the article, instead, here are some follow-on points to consider.

  1. In a future World influenced, if not dominated by AI and hyper-competition, will the strategic goal of capturing  ‘sustainable competitive advantage’ instead become ‘maintain competitive advantage’, with advantage mostly gained by using data and cutting-edge analytical techniques?
  2. Will most future companies become more like MI5/MI6 – gathering and analysing data comprising most of the work and then acting in very specific ways, once insight is gained?
  3. With the rise of AI, will a growth job for human managers be to spend increasingly more time making judgements about whether to develop & deploy staff, versus commission AI to create/deliver products & services?
  4. Will next-generation, business process reengineering (BPR) instead become AI BPR?
  5. With the rise of AI, will ‘efficiency in limited-scope environments’ dominate over ‘inefficiency in wide-scope environments’, causing entrepreneurs to move their business models into that space? Some examples:
  • to base their business model on data expertise (and rapidly go where the data takes them), not (staff) domain expertise,
  • to simplify (value chain) negotiations,
  • to simplify the challenge of motivating & leading staff,
  • to simplify the need to gain political consensus,
  • to balance internal data analysis (on costs, internal resources & activities) with external data analysis (on markets).

Strategy

Differentiation opportunities are like animals in the rainforest – numerous but elusive to find. Each one unique. Some are related and the life of many is under threat.

Focus and differentiation are less about strategic choices when you reach the crossroads and more about continuous forward movement, where every day is a crossroad.

Strategy is like virtue – something that everyone needs to understand and practice daily. And something that so few of us understand the value of, let alone practice.

Strategy isn’t a response to competition, but its prevention.

Organisational brands are less umbrellas, sheltering and defining a set of practices. They’re more like launch pads sending us off to impact brave new Worlds.

How many differentiation opportunities become a choice between’ providing standard core products with segmented (differentiated) service, versus providing segmented (differentiated) core products with standard levels of service?

2D and 3D Worlds

In a 3D World, it’s interesting just how many jobs involve 2 modes or 2 statuses only.
How would the World operate if many of us were forced to act, by considering a hybrid state, or a time dimension as well?

Computer programmers code for a binary World, and for Windows or Mac. The obvious hybrid state is open source.

Product designers recognise right or left-handed people, male or female, real or virtual, real or imitation, outdoor or indoor, interior or exterior, toxic or non toxic. Time is an exciting third dimension to encourage flexibility into the design.

Management consultants love framing problems using 2D matrixes. Their business problems typically consider; merge or acquire, debt or equity, make or buy, outsource or insource, labour-intensive or automated, cost or quality. Most matrixes would likely yield different insights by adding a time, or hybrid dimension to them.

Graphic designers love their 2D reference grids & think black & white or colour, pixels or vectors, rush job or non rush job . Their creativity is enhanced by adding any additional dimension.

Snowboard instructors teach rookies who are goofies or naturals, on-piste or off-piste, on snow that is real or artificially-created.

Accountants journal in a double entry World. They also consider; cost and price, cash or credit. Rate of change is an exciting third dimension to consider in their reporting.

Court environments have prosecution and defence, innocent or guilty. expert witness or non expert witness, custodial sentence or non custodial. Would we have greater justice by considering a hybrid state or time dimension as well? To be fair, mitigating circumstances and suspended sentences respectively, are examples of this already.

Economists divide into macro and micro. Would we have more useful economics by considering an irrational behaviour dynamic, or adding the time dimension as well?

The Military recognises friend and foe, military or civilian. Hybrids include those people who can be won over as future supporters –change the tactics to consider the hybrid status of some people encountered in the field.

Bankers match borrowers and lenders. They also consider costs and prices. Time and/or changing risk is an exciting third state to encourage flexibility into the design.

Traders match buy and sell, act or delay. Time or changing risk is an exciting third state to encourage flexibility into the design.

Food for thought?