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Six Big Strategic Questions, And Five Ways To Think About Them

Different companies, and different geographies, have different financial years and different seasonality, but as we move towards the end of the year, it always feels like time for a little contemplation of the big questions. Not questions about individual project or operational issues; not questions about quarterly returns; but the big strategic questions about direction, focus and capability. 

Siz Big Questions

The big strategic questions about direction, focus and capability. 

I would like to pose six questions to you for contemplation over this end-of-year period, framed around the six parts of the ‘Winning in the 21st Century’ framework that we at LEF use to structure our thinking. 

Proactive Haptic Sensing1. Are you exploring the trends you need to?

I remember thinking that I knew I was getting old when music groups I had not yet heard of started publishing their greatest hits albums. Similarly, I used to be at least vaguely aware of all the key technology trends and disciplines. Then I began walking into the computer section of bookstores and seeing books about trends, disciplines and concepts that I didn’t know. Now, I increasingly find myself in the position that someone is telling me about a really key trend I had completely missed. Just as a small example, I read a lot about all the different things announced by Amazon at its recent conference, and felt quite on top of things, until my colleague Lewis Richards explained the significance of Amazon Greengrass to me. Similarly, Simon Wardley in our team began talking about Serverless a while ago, and I had to take myself on a crash course. The questions to be asked are: are you and the rest of your business sufficiently aware of all the key trends that will provide opportunity and threat to your business (and your career)? Do these include trends outside your industry that may break into your industry soon? (Blockchain is a good example for many of us.) Have you got a mechanism for making sure that you stay on top of them? And perhaps most challengingly, how do you know you are right? How do you know you haven’t got biases/blindspots? Where is the challenge coming from? 

Digital Identity2. Does your business/government agency have a compelling identity?

Do your customers, partners, employees (current and potential) and regulators understand the role you play in an increasingly digital world? Are they excited to be part of your story? If so, why is that the case, and how can you amplify it? If not, how can you fix it? And again, how confident are you of your answers to these questions? How do you really know? 

Outside-In Assets and Capabilities3. Are you outside-in enough?

Are you exploiting services available in the Matrix, the cloud++ enough? Or are you experiencing inappropriate levels of inside-out inertia, not-invented-here syndrome, we-are-special-you-don’t-understand-itis? It is not that everyone should move everything into the cloud/Matrix tomorrow, but that you should question whether and how you could be bolder. If competitors are being bolder, that is of course a strong signal, but also quite a late signal, of more outside-in opportunity. 

Digitally Reimagined Portfolio4. Are you reimagining your value proposition?

Are you rethinking how you show up in the market, in terms of products, services, customer experiences, or are you ‘putting digital lipstick on the pig’, approaching the digital world as an eCommerce, omni-channel or eBusiness opportunity? Are you being challenging enough to yourselves? Could/should you be cannibalizing your own products and business models more aggressively, before someone else does? 

Adaptive Execution5. Are you making your business adaptive enough?

Not just in terms of agile methodologies like Scrum, DevOps, etc., but in terms of creating a culture of innovation and experimentation, providing high levels of transparency, facilitating collaboration? And again the question – how do you know? Can you somehow stress test this adaptiveness? 

Value-Centric Leadership6. Are you choosing based on value, and are you making sure the value of your investments is realized?

It’s an old subject, but there is a lot of choice and change coming down the pipe for all of us. Romancing the value problem won’t help. Any investments made here will pay off time and time again. 

Customer/Citizen7. And the seventh question out of six (!) is: Are you truly focusing on your customer, or only on your customer’s relationship to your products?

Being truly customer-centric means understanding things from the customer’s perspective – understanding the B2C consumer’s life, or the B2B corporate customer’s context, and how your offerings fit in to their lives from a digital perspective. UX/CX (user/customer experience) is no longer enough. You have to go all the way to digital anthropology. 

How might you go about answering these questions? One problem that all businesses have is that they get stuck in their own mindset. It is important to look at things with fresh/different eyes/mindset, or even better, from a different perceptual position. Here are five things you might do, and that we at LEF would be happy to help you with:

  1. Take the LEF 21st century organization survey and associated workshop that gets into the detail of the above questions to help you understand your current capability, and the desired future state. 
  2. Specifically look for analogies in the marketplace. Look for others in different industries that are facing similar contexts to you, but are further ahead in addressing them. Consider looking to extremes, like very high speed industries, sports, or (if your appetite allows) taking an amoral look at criminal or other ‘dark side’ industries, to garner learnings. 
  3. Bring outsiders into decision-making and governance bodies at all levels (not just board level) to help bring fresh thinking and challenge in. People from other industries, customers, ex-customers and non-customers are all good candidates. 
  4. You might also consider running an ethical digital business hack. Borrowing the idea and meme of ethical hacking from the security community, you could run a workshop/a team to work out how they would destroy your business if they were a startup, a traditional competitor, a competitor crossing over from another industry, or an ecosystem/value chain partner moving up or down the value chain to eat your lunch! 
  5. An even more radical idea, still only a thought experiment, is to try to shake up your business’s thinking a lot, through our concept of a ‘Deliberately Destructive Reverse Digital Strategy’ workshop. Imagine getting a group of people together, ideally from both inside and outside your business, and doing the following: 
    • Fantasize about how a business similar to yours might operate in the most exciting possible future. We suggest a five-year time horizon. Don’t make this vision depend on technologies that are nowhere near ready (like quantum computing or teleportation), but nearly ready trends like wearables and augmented reality are fair game, as are any business model changes. 
    • Spell out how that business would operate, and what the benefits of that ideal business model would be, compared to where you are now. 
    • (The weird bit!) Try to come up with ways to deliberately destroy that incremental value, to return that future ideal business as quickly as possible to where you are today. 
    • Look at the methods you have chosen in step c) to destroy value, and consider whether you could reverse them to create value. 

We at LEF wish you all a happy (and contemplative) end of year. 



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Research Commentary

PDF (4.1 MB)



21st Century
Adaptive Execution
Proactive, Haptic Sensing
Reimagining the Portfolio
Value Centric Leadership


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