The coronavirus pandemic has reminded business leaders of some unsettling truths: that all assumptions and practices must be continually reexamined and that existential threats can come at any time, from any direction. This crisis will eventually pass. But its ramifications will ripple through the economy for years, and inevitably it will be followed by another global crisis — or an unforeseen revolution in the marketplace. How can companies strategize once they have recognized the limitations of long-term planning in an unpredictable world? By mercilessly examining their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and by gaming out their own destruction before someone — or something — does it for them.
In this article, we will walk you through an intensive, multipart exercise in that kind of creative destruction that we have field-tested with more than 1,500 leaders from around the world as part of executive education at INSEAD. Ordinarily, the process includes participants from multiple companies and plays out over several days as CEOs search for the surest way to demolish their respective companies from a competitor’s perspective. Here, we streamline the exercise for a single institution and a flexible time frame. Ideally, there should be four teams, each with as many as six members, working independently and sharing their insights later in a debriefing session. We call this undertaking the Phoenix Encounter Method because our true subject here is not the ashes of destruction but the revitalized company that will rise out of them.
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A Journey in Three Stages
This process unfolds in three stages.
Stage 1: Groundwork. Prevailing mindsets and values are questioned. Major global trends are examined. Group members work toward a Phoenix Attitude, which embraces upheaval as a catalyst for change.
Stage 2: Battlefield. The facilitator delivers a short list of scenarios that could disrupt the company. The threats might be new technology, demographic shifts, social trends, or all of the above. Group members craft the most devastating attack and use it to shine a light on their business’s weaknesses.
Stage 3: Breakthrough. New strategic priorities are put in place. New business models are adopted. The Phoenix rises.