Strategy

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The Power of Asking Pivotal Questions

Good strategic thinking and decision making often require a shift in perspective — particularly in environments characterized by significant uncertainty and change. Managers can make better decisions by examining both broad market trends and less visible undercurrents. But the questions leaders pose sometimes get in the way of solving the right problem or seeing more innovative solutions. Here, the authors present six questions that challenge executives to incorporate broader perspectives.

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Mastering the ‘Name Your Product Category’ Game

When is the best time to enter a new industry? As it turns out, understanding the product category dynamics in an emerging industry and when a dominant category label has been introduced are important to identifying the “window of opportunity” to enter. Dominant category labels typically are introduced right before the industry starts a phase of rapid growth and consolidation. Companies would do well to track category labels before introducing a product in a nascent industry.

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From Risk to Resilience: Learning to Deal With Disruption

In a volatile, global economy, supply chains have become increasingly vulnerable. Supply chain practices designed to keep costs low in a stable business environment can increase risk levels during disruptions. But companies can cultivate resilience to unexpected disruptions by understanding their vulnerabilities and developing specific capabilities to compensate for them. The authors identify and detail 16 capabilities companies can use to respond to particular vulnerability patterns.

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Adapting to the Sharing Economy

Instead of buying and owning products, consumers are increasingly interested in leasing and sharing them. New strategies can help companies embrace this “collaborative consumption.” For instance, Ikea and Patagonia have found that helping people resell or give away products both enhances the companies' reputations and helps customers create space in their homes for new Ikea and Patagonia items. Companies have also found value in embracing opportunities to share existing assets and capacities.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Mikel Ortega. https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikelo/4056467981
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The Key to Business Success: ‘Stringing Multiple Opportunities Together’

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New research looks at the strategies executives use in capturing new growth opportunities. “Resist jumping at the first potential opportunity,” write Christopher B. Bingham (Kenan-Flagler Business School), Nathan R. Furr (Marriott School of Management) and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt (Stanford University). Instead, evaluate whether one opportunity will it set you up for future ones — what the authors call “sequencing opportunities.” They write: “Sustained business success appears to depend not just on capturing one opportunity but also on stringing multiple opportunities together.”

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Why It Pays to Become a Rule Maker

Managers in some leading companies have pioneered a new approach to sustainability. In this approach, businesses have the potential to be rule makers as well as players in establishing environmental regulations. “There is an expression in Washington,” says DuPont’s Michael Parr, “that it is better to be at the table than on the menu.” Indeed, by engaging with government on the structure of the phaseout of air conditioning chemicals, DuPont helped bring an end to one profitable product life cycle and spawn another.

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Working Toward Totally Transparent Yogurt

Wood Turner has been working in sustainability for 20 years. In 2006 he left his work at a sustainability and brand strategy firm in Seattle to lead Climate Counts, a nonprofit incubated within Stonyfield which scores and ranks large companies on their efforts to address climate change. Now VP of sustainability innovation at Stonyfield, Turner continues his work on bringing climate-conscious practices into the core of business operations. In an interview, Turner describes the collaborative processes that make this strategy work.

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From the Editor: Strategy in the Midst of Change

How do you develop strategy in a business environment characterized by rapid change and considerable uncertainty about the future? That’s a question that many executives in fast-changing industries face. The Fall 2014 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review features a special report on strategy in changing markets, with articles on creating new strategic narratives, capturing new opportunities and finding the right strategic role for a board.

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Beyond Forecasting: Creating New Strategic Narratives

In rapidly changing industries, it can be hard for established companies to build momentum for new strategic directions. But by rethinking the past and present and reimagining the future, managers can construct strategic narratives that enable innovation. A new study helps to understand how managers actually make strategy in conditions of considerable uncertainty, and do it in a way that is coherent, plausible and acceptable to most key stakeholders in the organization.

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The Opportunity Paradox

How can companies capture new opportunities most effectively? When evaluating new business opportunities, there’s a paradoxical tension between strategic focus and flexibility. Managers tend to be opportunists or strategists, and while most managers focus their attention on opportunity execution, opportunity selection appears to matter as much. Sustained business success seems to depend not just on capturing one opportunity but also on stringing multiple opportunities together.

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How Strategic Is Your Board?

Strategic thinking at the top of a company is more important than ever for business survival. But boards of directors have no clear model to follow when it comes to developing the strategic role for the companies they oversee. Should they supervise, cocreate or support strategy? A structured assessment of a board’s strategic responsibilities can bring clarity to its role in creating strategy, and boards should be prepared to change their role in strategy if the industry context changes.

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Creating More Accurate Acquisition Valuations

Deal markets can be “hot” or “cold,” and the state of the economy can bias executives’ evaluation of potential acquisitions. For instance, relying on discounted cash flow scenarios can bolster managers’ sense of confidence and create unrealistically low perceptions of uncertainty. Executives can mitigate valuation biases by having a checklist — the list tempers natural inclinations to focus on the value of growth options in “hot” markets and risk of investment in “cold” markets.

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Finding the Right Corporate Legal Strategy

How can companies use the law to gain strategic advantages? Some companies move beyond viewing the law just in terms of compliance and use their legal environment to secure a competitive advantage. Companies can adopt one of five types of legal strategies: avoidance, compliance, prevention, value or transformation. The right strategy for a company will depend on factors such as its business model, managers’ attitudes toward the law and the legal department’s ability to collaborate with managers.

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Data Analytics Makes the Transition From Novelty to Commodity

Business is nearing a tipping point in which the use of data analytics is becoming routinely adopted. While widespread adoption of analytics will mean that it offers less competitive advantage to companies, it also means that the business environment overall will change. Information systems expert Sam Ransbotham identifies four key changes that businesses need to consider now.

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Asia Pulp & Paper and Greenpeace: Building New Directions, Together

When two organizations are on opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to sustainability issues, it may seem like there’s no hope of ever reaching agreement. Such was the case when Greenpeace and Asia Pulp sat down to negotiate a truce after Greenpeace’s hard-hitting campaign to change Asia Pulp’s forestry practices, which Greenpeace saw as destroying endangered rainforest habitat. But as Asia Pulp’s Aida Greenbury explains, it’s possible even for two polar opposites to find areas of common ground and work together for sustainable business practices.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user Simon James.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/bearpark/6861722073
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How to Compensate For Overoptimistic Project Leaders

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Would you know if a project was heading off the rails? Too often, members of project teams are crossing their fingers and providing only the most hopeful updates. After reviewing 14 studies into the ways in which individuals report (and misreport) the status of information technology or software projects, the authors identified five specific areas for leaders to look out for to avoid being blindsided.

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Crafting Health Care’s Future at Kaiser Permanente

Dr. Yan Chow is a director in the Innovation and Advanced Technology group at Kaiser Permanente. While a physician with over two decades of primary care clinical practice experience, Dr. Chow also has a keen interest in technology (he’s founded several technology startups). His areas of expertise: health care IT innovation, telehealth, big data and analytics. Here, he talks about innovation and the future of health care.

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Creating More Resilient Supply Chains

Global supply chains bring increased risks of disruption from events such as natural disasters. But by understanding and planning for such risks, Cisco Systems improved its own supply chain resilience. Its five-step process: identify strategic priorities; map the vulnerabilities of supply chain design; integrate risk awareness into the product and value chain; monitor resiliency; and watch for events. John Chambers, Cisco chairman and CEO, calls this type of risk management “a key differentiator.”

UBS Reports Writedowns of 18.5 Billion GBP

Is Your Company Addicted to Value Extraction?

Is your company focused on creating value — or on siphoning it off from others? Capturing value from other stakeholders by manipulating the competitive market process to the company’s advantage exposes a company to reputational or legal risks. It also can undermine corporate values. Value extraction is typically easier than developing a competitive advantage through ongoing value creation. Companies can get hooked on the practice, to the detriment of real value creation.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Wilber Baan.
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The Risks and Responsibilities of Tech Innovation

The introduction of Google’s breakthrough wearable computer, Google Glass, creates numerous possibilities for risky behavior on the part of Glass users. Should companies on the cutting be held responsible for their customers’ poor judgment in using new tech? There are legal and social precedents that say they should, but business and corporate responsibility expert Christine Bader suggests ways companies can combat this problem.

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