Mastering Strategy

  • Interview
  • Read Time: 15 min 

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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From the Editor: Disruption Everywhere?

The Fall 2015 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review has two big themes: developing tomorrow's leaders, and disruption. In a special report on leadership, four articles explore how to engage, keep, and train the next generation of managers. “Preparing for Disruptions Through Early Detection” highlights the detection techniques to become more resilient. And “How Useful Is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation?” takes a deep dive into Clayton M. Christensen’s influential theory of disruptive innovation.


How to Avoid Platform Traps

Many of today’s most successful technology businesses— including Apple, Facebook, and Uber — are built on a platform-based business model. But the increasing popularity of platform strategies masks a difficult truth: Such strategies are hard to execute well, and they are prone to several common pitfalls. Those platform traps include growth with no strategic focus, pursuing an intermediate approach between the mass market and a niche, and overlooking the value proposition of partners.


Preparing for Disruptions Through Early Detection

In an adaption from his new book The Power of Resilience, MIT’s Yossi Sheffi explains how companies are learning to more quickly detect unanticipated problems that can interfere with their global operations. Sheffi looks at how leading companies are using an array of detection and response techniques, from sensors to supply chain control towers. These tools are helping companies become more resilient to disruptions such as hurricanes, the discovery of product contamination, and political events.


The Leaders’ Choice

The next generation of business executives will face a choice: What kind of companies do they want to lead? Organizations that will treat most employees as costs to be minimized — or ones where both employees and the company prosper together? So-called “high-road” companies begin with different values and assumptions about the workplace. But few MBAs are learning about high-road strategies in their courses, and they don’t learn that they will have distinct choices in how to compete.


Image courtesy of Flickr user A. Strakey.

How Useful Is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation?

Clayton M. Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation has been very influential. But how well does the theory describe what happens in business? The authors of this article surveyed industry experts for each of 77 case examples of disruptive innovation found in two of Christensen’s seminal books. The results suggest that many of the cases do not correspond closely with four elements of the theory of disruptive innovation — and the theory may not fit as many situations as is often assumed.


The Power of Resilience in a Time of Uncertainty

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 1 min 

In an August 2015 webinar, MIT professor Yossi Sheffi, a renowned expert on supply chains, risk management, and resilience, shared insights and examples from his latest research and forthcoming new book, The Power of Resilience: How the Best Companies Manage the Unexpected. He offered insights on understanding and analyzing the types of risks companies face, as well as preparing for and coping with disruptions effectively.


Aligning Corporate Learning With Strategy

Too many corporate learning and development programs focus on the wrong things. "The word ‘learning,’ which has largely replaced ‘training’ in the corporate lexicon, suggests ‘knowledge for its own sake,’” write the authors. “However, to justify its existence, corporate learning needs to serve the organization’s stated goals." Understanding the strategic agenda of the CEO should be a top focus of learning leaders, who can then developing an agenda that is reflective of the CEO’s priorities.

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How is Digitization Affecting Your Business?

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  • Read Time: 2 min 

How much of a threat does digital disruption present to your business? A short online questionnaire from Peter Weill and Stephanie L. Woerner, both of MIT Sloan's Center for Information Systems Research, helps assess digital risk. “Although sweeping technology-enabled change often takes longer than we expect, history shows that the impact of such change can be greater than we ever imagined,” they write. “Think steam engines, cars, airplanes, TVs, telephones and, most recently, mobile phones and e-books.”


Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Ecosystem

Research from MIT Sloan School of Management’s Center for Information Systems Research says that to prepare for a future of digital disruption, companies need to consider which of four business models to adapt. "Given the amount of turmoil digital disruption is causing, it’s time for companies to evaluate these threats and opportunities and start creating new business options for the future — the more connected future of digital ecosystems," write Peter Weill and Stephanie L. Woerner, both of CISR. Companies also need to develop new capabilities in two areas: learning more about their customers and becoming "more of an ecosystem."



Why Corporate Social Responsibility Isn’t a Piece of Cake

Corporate Social Responsibility "is fraught with contradictions, subject to political challenges and demands deep commitment," argue José Carlos Marques and Henry Mintzberg. Responsible corporate behavior, they write, isn't simply “doing well by doing good.” Instead, six changes need to be considered, within and beyond our private institutions. These changes include fostering ethical judgment within the enterprise, rethinking compensation and acknowledging the benefits of regulation.


Integrating Supply and Demand

To compete in different strategic segments at the same time, companies need close coordination between the sales side of the company and supply chain operations. Just as importantly, joining the supply and demand sides of an enterprise presents an opportunity for efficiency and value creation. "A company may have an excellent sales and marketing team and a top-flight operations team and still deliver the wrong benefits to a customer," the authors note. This article includes an online questionnaire for assessing the current stage of your company’s demand and supply integration, with suggestions for how to improve.


The New Mission for Multinationals

Something strange is happening as globalization marches forward: Increasingly, powerful local companies are winning out against multinational competitors. Some 73% of executives at large multinational companies say that “local companies are more effective competitors than other multinationals” in emerging markets. To compete effectively, multinationals need to let go of their global strategies and embrace a new mission: Integrate locally and adapt globally. That means becoming embedded in local distribution, supply, talent and regulatory networks as well as in the broader society.


Competing With Ordinary Resources

Not every company can be built around exceptional talent or exclusive technology. Instead, companies also can thrive by the innovative use of ordinary resources, such as well-managed staffs and competent websites. As management scholars Sumantra Ghoshal and Christopher Bartlett once wrote: “The key function of management is to help ordinary people produce extraordinary results.” The authors examine how business models leveraging regular resources will take different approaches than those focused on scarce strategic resources.


When Consensus Hurts the Company

How do managers “decide how to decide”? Boards and management teams often try to gain consensus, but that’s not always the best course. Research offers insights into when consensus building is the right way to go and when it isn’t — and how leaders can determine the best form of decision making for a given situation. “By prompting a rule on how the decision will be made — by unanimity, majority or delegation — you can significantly influence what will be decided,” note the authors.



Revamping Your Business Through Digital Transformation

Large companies in traditional industries might think that digital transformation can wait — that a follower strategy is a safer route than trying to be a pioneer. "That kind of thinking, while tempting, is wrong," write George Westerman and Didier Bonnet. "In every industry we studied, companies are doing exciting things with digital technology and getting impressive business benefits."

Image courtesy of The Walt Disney Company
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Is It Time to Hire a Chief Legal Strategist?

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  • Read Time: 3 min 

Here’s a strategic angle that most businesses don’t think about: how they can use the law to secure strategic business goals. Leading companies such as the Walt Disney Company have managed to deploy their legal departments to shape the legal environment in order to secure long-term competitive advantages. But approaching legal issues in sophisticated and creative ways isn’t generally a specialty of most C-suite executives. That’s where a “chief legal strategist” comes in.


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.


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.


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.

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