Archive | Contrarian Thinking

Strategy vs Execution: Which is the more important and why?

“Successful people start before they feel ready.” – attributed to Sir Richard Branson

I like to ask groups that I am working with which is the more important: Strategy or Execution? This always results in a highly animated discussion about why strategy is the more important of the two. If the strategy is not in place to be executed how can you be sure you will achieve the desired outcomes and results? Good common sense thinking. Then, one person in the room will say “but they’re both important you can’t have one without the other.” I like this response because it is a sign of intelligence as they haven’t accepted the question in the binary form that it was asked i.e. Strategy or Execution (A or B). They have moved to Strategy and Execution (A and B). So for those people I have a secondary and more challenging question which is: “Of the two, Strategy and Execution, which one is the more important and why?” Then we have an even more animated and by now passionate discussion.

Of course life is not binary. Consider the Strategy-Execution matrix above. On the vertical axis is Strategy with Poor Strategy at the bottom and Great Strategy at the top and on the horizontal axis is Execution with Poor Execution being on the left and Effective Execution being on the right creating four quadrants.

Question: Where is the best place to be and why? Quadrant 1, 2, 3 or 4?

The obvious answer: Clearly, the goal is to be in quadrant 2 – Great Strategy / Effectively Executed. No question. Easy! But not so easy to do!

The less obvious question is: what is the second best quadrant to be in and why? Essentially this comes down to a choice of two possibilities. Quadrant 4 – Poor Strategy / Effectively Executed, or quadrant 1 – Great Strategy / Poorly Executed and here again the room is divided into which is the better quadrant to be in, 1 or 4?

The not so obvious answer: The answer is quadrant 4 where execution is the key to success because that allows us in the case of a poor strategy to fail fast and the faster we can fail the quicker we can move to a recovery plan to adapt, change, reformulate or replace the strategy, and go through the cycle again. Failing is an opportunity to start over, to re-assess and to learn. So the second best option is to be in quadrant 4, to execute quickly and effectively on a poor or emerging strategy.

“When in doubt, try it out.” Which requires the courage to experiment and permission to fail fast (and recover quickly).

The next best quadrant to be in his quadrant 1 – Great Strategy / Poor Execution. This can be best described as a missed opportunity as we cannot validate if the strategy is good or if it should be adapted, changed, reformulated or replaced.

The quadrant that we want to avoid at all costs is quadrant 3 Poor Strategy / Poor Execution. This is slow death as we cannot determine what is working and what is not working; Strategy or Execution.

Takeaways: Execution is key. Execution is king. When in doubt, try it out. Fail fast, correct, adjust and adapt quickly. Then execute again. This is the new “execute, recalibrate and execute again” adaptive path to success in the digital world.

PS: I worked with a group recently that challenged themselves as a group to assess where they were today on the Strategy-Execution matrix. Responses varied around the room from “we have pockets of execution across the organisation” to ” we are quadrant 4 for some parts of the business and quadrant 1 for others. (No quadrant 2 and no quadrant 3). An extremely insightful self-assessment of their executional performance using this simple 2 x 2 matrix.


All Failure is Failure to Adapt

Adapt_or_Die_1What made you successful in the past will not make you successful in the future.

“What got you here will not get you there.” – Marshall Goldsmith

Using the past to understand the future

When we look to the past to understand the future we compromise our ability to envision change and see a different possible future. Never take it for granted that your last successes will continue into the future. In fact, your past successes may be your biggest obstacle: every situation, every market, every customer engagement is different, and you cannot assume that what worked before will work today or tomorrow. You must cut yourself free from the past and open your eyes to the present.

“In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.” – J. Paul Getty

Here are 3 things that hold most organisations back:

1. Defend and Extend Mindset

For most people and organisations success is believed to come from defending and extending what was done in the past, every day, every week, every month and every year. Success is believed to come from seeking out extensions to prolong what was previously done successfully. In Defend and Extend thinking the manager’s first priority is to understand the existing business and work to maintain and continue what worked in the past. This means focusing on core capabilities, core customers, core services, core assets, core functionality – whatever is considered core to the business – and firstly defending the core and then secondly looking for incremental opportunities to extend it. Having done this, Defend and Extend Managers believe that the future will successfully take care of itself. They believe that avoiding mistakes is their No. 1 priority and they believe that those who don’t screw up are more likely to succeed than those who take chances.Defend_and_Extend_26.01.14

The longer management tries to Defend and Extend its old business, the larger the Reinvention Gap becomes. The larger the gap, the less likely a business will ever reinvent itself, innovate and create new growth opportunities.

Creating growth = disrupting or inventing your business

2. Lock-ins

Lock-ins are driven by economic necessity and require the organisation to commit to a set of behaviours, structural process, or a cost base to achieve a perceived benefit. They effectively promote doing more of what worked in the past. Lock-ins create blindness to alternatives, reinforce the need to do more of the same and create sacred cows. Lock-ins create a culture of continuing the past at the expense of creating the future. They create a culture of maintaining the status quo.

Learn from the past, but don’t live there

3. Anchors

Anchors are those beliefs and values that tie your thinking to the fixed point in the past. Anchoring is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions. During decision-making, anchoring occurs when individuals use an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments. Once an anchor is set, other judgments are made by adjusting away from that anchor, and there is a bias toward interpreting other information around the anchor. Anchors are often expressed or justified as:

“we’ve seen this before, we need to do….”, “sure we tried that once and ….”, “Let’s ask Bill, he has over 30 years experience.”, or “that’s not the way we do it around here.”

Question: What are you going to do to break with the past and align your business with future growth?


The End of Certainty: The Beginning of Creativity?

End_of_Certainty_1“The future ain’t what it used to be.”Yogi Berra

We are in a period of massively disruptive and unprecedented change. One of the first victims of massive and disruptive change for many businesses today is certainty. There just doesn’t seem to be enough certainty left in the world to go around. More than ever before we are confronting uncertainty, and its two siblings ambiguity and contradiction.

You are probably thinking: “Wow, that is a lot of bad news all at once.” Well, I would encourage you to think again. Maybe, just maybe, we are entering a period of enormous opportunity, possibility and choice. Why? Because uncertainty, ambiguity, contradiction and chaos are the necessary ingredients for experimentation, innovation and creativity.

“The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.” Erich Fromm

Uncertainty, ambiguity and contradiction are the fertile ground of creativity.” – Deepak Chopra

ExperimentationWhat are the 6 keys to creativity?

  • Insight
  • Intuition
  • Imagination
  • Intention
  • Inspiration
  • Choice making

How can you bring about a collective shift in thinking in your work place to move people to the new paradigm of abundant and unlimited creativity?

  • Adapt endlessly. Become open to the unknown by suspending the need to know and the need for certainty. Experiment, explore, inquire and question the future.
  • Get comfortable with ambiguity and contradiction. Become more mentality agile by re-framing the question, changing your mind and challenging your assumptions, values and beliefs.
  • Start practicing “Intelligent Adjacency”. What are the logical extensions or possible connections that you can make? Where could adjacency-thinking lead you?
  • Relinquish entitlement-based thinking. Stop trying to maintain the status quo. Forget about what you think you are entitled to. Let go of the past so that you can move into the future.

Take Away: Certainty -> Uncertainty. Uncertainty -> thinking creatively about the future you want to bring about. Uncertainty is the new Certainty

Question #1: Are you a ‘prisoner of the past’, a ‘victim of the present’ or someone who is creatively ‘shaping their future’?

Question #2: What are you doing to accelerate your personal and organisational creativity?



The Death of Business as Usual: 12 Strategies for Growth in 2012

Welcome to 2012 a year of challenge and change. A year of challenge, why challenge? Because our challenge is to bring about change and this is a major challenge for us all.

“I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways”
– Michael Jackson


“If change were easy, I would have done it long ago.” – Unknown

The challenge of change is breaking through the status quo and that means your enemy in 2012 will be “status quo thinking”. Your job is overcome the Tyranny of Change, not to manage the inevitable. What worked in the past is less and less likely to work in the future. What made you successful in the past will not make you successful in the future. In short: what got you here, won’t get you there. You must turn off the life support system for “business as usual” and embrace the new realities of 2012.

How can you move beyond the status quo and free yourself from the gravitation pull of the past?

12 Strategies for Growth in 2012:

  1. Competitive Separation
  2. ROI = Return on Innovation (not Return on Investment)
  3. Capitalise on Markets in Transition. Move everything to the web.
  4. The Buyer’s Journey: Aligning with your customer’s decision making processes
  5. Discovering your “Inner Advantage”. What sets you apart from the rest?
  6. Accelerating time to adoption: Delivering the desired End-to-End Customer Experience
  7. Tipping the Funnel: Make your customers your unpaid sales force.
  8. Building 3 Horizons of Time (Portfolio thinking)
  9. AND Thinking (The end of OR Thinking)
  10. Differentiate or Die: How to avoid commoditisation
  11. Value Innovation: Understanding Price/Benefit sensitivity
  12. Identifying Next Generation growth

Over the next few months we will explore each of the 12 Growth Strategies listed above in a separate posts. So stay tuned….

Make it happen: Lead first, manage second


Resilient Thinking: Leading in a world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

“Its not what happens to you in life. Its how you react to what happens to you that makes the difference.”

One of the biggest challenges a leader faces today is learning to live with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity despite an increasing oversupply of information. This makes decision making more difficult and problematic than ever before. How can we deal with this growing confusion in our world?

Using Resilient Thinking we can turn around the above with a combination of Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility. The 4 antidotes to Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity work like this: Continue Reading →