For information on the latest version (now 3.0) of the Playing to Win Strategy Canvas, you may find it here.
A few days ago, as I was waiting for an item I purchased in my local Apple store to be brought out to me from the back of the store, I had the opportunity to observe Apple’s frontline strategy be played out in front of me. It revolved around another floor associate assisting a gentleman considering the purchase of an Apple watch.
Now, you might be thinking, what possible strategy would or could an Apple associate on the floor really need? Apple devices sell themselves, right? Wrong. Especially in the case of the Apple watch, which was a strategic product choice seemingly unrelated Apple’s core business. Many pundits questioned Apple’s decision. For many, it was a head scratcher.
It takes a special kind of person to be inspired by a mandate riddled with risk and having little margin for error, such as the one issued in the early 1990s by NASA to its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California: “Take risks but don’t fail.”
Such a person is Brian Muirhead, who at age 41 in 1993 accepted the job as flight systems manager of the Mars Pathfinder project and with it the NASA challenge to land a cutting-edge, remote-controlled robotic all-terrain rover on Mars that would reliably beam back images, collect samples, and return scientific data on the red planet.
Process improvers the world over rally around root cause analysis as if it were the Holy Grail of all things organizational. But is it?
Understanding the root cause of a problem certainly makes sense in the context of a present day situation carrying the potential for a correct answer or solution. In the process improvement world, problems center on reducing some form of excess, which comes in several traditional flavors…all of which center on something not working as well as it should be in a perfect world.
But the one critical place in business where root cause analysis has no real place is in strategy formulation.
A significant portion of my strategic facilitation work is with internal functions, a click or two below corporate and business unit strategy: marketing, human resources, purchasing, and even internal strategy groups.
There is good news and bad news in this. The good news is that internal functions have recognized the need to be strategic, even if it is because higher level strategies demand supporting strategies. The bad news is how many internal functions don’t think strategy applies to them.
When I ask internal functions to show me what guides their department’s work, I’m more often than not handed a plan, which is a budget in disguise. It is rarely explicit in laying out a winning aspiration and clear where-to-play and how-to-win choices.
I regularly engage in hansei (reflection) after each of my facilitation engagements. It’s a simple learning mechanism, essentially an after-action process of asking: what I expected to happen (my hypothesis if you will), what actually happened, and what explains the gap, if there is one. And there invariably is. The gap is where learning and insight live. It creates new knowledge. It’s how I improve. I know no other more effective way.
I do what I call a “rollup” of those individual after-action reflections a few times each year, to identify important patterns. Peter Drucker called this the “Feedback Analysis.” I do what he suggested, which is to layer my reflections with input from others…clients, session participants, etc. I’ve experienced exactly what Drucker did when he wrote, “I have been doing this for some fifteen to twenty years now. And every time I do it, I am surprised. And so is everyone who has ever done this.”
My most recent insight runs along the lines of:
Shout out to my friend David Burkus who has just published his second book, Under New Management: How Leading Companies Are Upending Business as Usual. After reading the advance copy, I had the chance to pass a few questions by David. You can find our interview in two places:
Great book, fun read, and under $20! Enjoy.