Executing Strategy

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Harnessing the Secret Structure of Innovation

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 11 min 

Innovation, much like marketing and human resources, can be made less reliant on artful intuition by using information in new ways. But this requires a change in perspective: We need to view innovation not as the product of luck or extraordinary vision but as the result of a deliberate search process.

Embracing a Strategic Paradox

Within a business, opposing ideas typically lead to conflict and, in the face of conflicting demands, managers will feel anxiety, stress, and frustration. However, the authors’ research at Aeon Co. Ltd., one of Japan’s largest retailers, suggests that a positive approach to handling conflicts between opposing ideas can create new value for a company.

Protect Your Project From Escalating Doubts

Many big projects start off well, but then lose momentum and spiral downward as skeptical stakeholders withdraw support. Executives need to identify common triggers that spark stakeholder concerns — and take action to avert the ‘cycle of doubt’ that can ensue.

Free Webinar: Building a Business Creation Engine

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 1 min 

MIT SMR coauthors Clayton Christensen and Derek van Bever discussed their recent article, “The Hard Truth About Business Model Innovation.” They explained how understanding the stages of business model development is crucial to creating a successful process for repeated innovation.

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Competing Through Joint Innovation

Even as multinationals struggle to make inroads in emerging markets, companies from those markets are finding ways to compete in Europe and the U.S. A case in point is Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications company, which has used strategic partnerships to gain ground in Europe. Huawei’s overseas expansion closely resembles the strategy the company used to build its position in China: Start at the perimeter and work toward the center.

Warding Off the Threat of Disruption

In a fast-changing digital landscape, companies shouldn’t wait too long to reconfigure their offerings — but they also should be wary of moving to an untested technology too soon. Monitoring trends in related industries and identifying high-potential startups for acquisition helps to ensure appropriate timing for business model changes.

The Hard Truth About Business Model Innovation

Attempts at business model innovation have led to both repeated failures as well as seemingly inexplicable successes — and few formulas to help guide business leaders. Yet a study of both failures and successes shows that the journey to successful innovation is predictable, although “travel time” differs by industry and circumstance. The manager’s dilemma is to identify whether the journey is one the company wants — or needs — to take.

Harnessing the Best of Globalization

Globalization offers significant opportunities, yet most companies approach key decisions haphazardly. Although the complexity of globalization means managers rarely can fully analyze a global business opportunity before they need to act, the basic tensions in global business models are straightforward. A simple analysis of global ventures along these dimensions can help entrepreneurs develop clearer expectations and decision-making processes.

When Strategy Walks Out the Door

Managers should be skeptical consumers of external strategy advice. External strategy advice can be costly — and wrong. The best sources of insight about strategy tailored for your company can lie dormant within the company itself, in its employees. Ironically, companies often expend significant resources on obtaining flawed external advice while the employees with the best strategy ideas are ignored — and thus may walk out the door.

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How to Manage Alliances Strategically

Companies that lack the resources and knowledge to undertake key strategic growth initiatives often seek partners who can fill in the gaps. The skills that make such alliances work, however, aren’t well understood; executives often make flawed assumptions that prevent the partnership from achieving its goals. An integrative, holistic framework for alliance management helps executives avoid these pitfalls and create value via strategic alliances.

Finding a Lower-Risk Path to High-Impact Innovations

Pursuing a high-impact innovation strategy can have terrific payoffs — but it’s also extremely risky, and most companies won’t do it. Yet a comparatively less risky, proactive approach that strings together “lily pads” of capability-building investments, technical and conceptual advances, and market explorations into “enabling innovations” can bring companies closer to their goal and provide a long-lasting competitive edge.

How Scenario Planning Influences Strategic Decisions

Anecdotal evidence suggests that considering various scenarios helps strengthen decision making. To test this idea, researchers offered a scenario-based workshop to executives to see how considering scenarios affected decisions. They found that though participants’ confidence in their choices never wavered, the strategic choices they made before the exercise often changed dramatically after viewing the scenarios, with a tendency to become more flexible and focused on long-term value.

Managing Tensions Between New and Existing Business Models

Exploring new business models may be a good way to stay competitive, but doing so can create tensions internally, in areas such as organizational structure and competition for resources. Companies exploring business model innovation may not recognize the inevitability of these tensions and thus be poorly prepared to manage them. But understanding these issues may lessen some of the organizational challenges associated with business model innovation.

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Free Webinar: Foundations of Analytics Strategy

The 2016 MIT SMR/SAS Data and Analytics report, “Beyond the Hype: The Hard Work Behind Analytics Success,” finds that competitive advantage from analytics is declining — but that organizations achieving the greatest benefits have figured out how to ensure that the right data is being captured. In this webinar, the authors of the report explain how companies are making this transition and which are seeing the most success.

Why Learning Is Central to Sustained Innovation

Many managers think they can create better products just by improving the development process or adding new tools. But it’s skilled people, not processes, that create great products. So-called “lean” organizations invest heavily and continuously in the skills of product developers, and rather than developing single products, they think in terms of streams of products. By making people the backbone of the product development system, companies can achieve a triple win: increased innovation, faster time to market, and lower costs.

Keep Calm and Manage Disruption

Disruption can be averted, and many businesses manage through it by beating the new competition, joining them, or waiting them out. “To be sure, facing disruption is no picnic,” writes Joshua S. Gans, author of The Disruption Dilemma. “But it also isn’t the existential threat that so many see it as.” Many businesses are finding ways to weaken disruptive events, sometimes by investing aggressively in the new innovation after entrants had brought it to market or by acquiring the entrants and the actual disruption.

Using Social Media in Business Disputes

An emergent defensive strategy is being used by both upstart players facing established competitors and by newcomers (such as Tesla, Airbnb, and Uber) facing government regulators. Called “lawsourcing,” the strategy advances legal and public relations goals through social media campaigns, online petitions, and boycotts to draw attention to disputes. These tactics are often framed in moral and ethical terms, and they are being initiated by even very small players.

Mastering Strategy

How can executives develop their skills as strategists? One way is to learn from the masters. The book Strategy Rules: Five Timeless Lessons From Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs (HarperCollins, 2015) explores insights drawn from the careers of these former CEOs of Microsoft, Intel, and Apple. In a Q&A, the book’s authors, David B. Yoffie of Harvard Business School and Michael A. Cusumano of MIT Sloan, explain how strategic thinking is a capability that leaders — even the superstars — develop over time.

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