The Burning Platform and other recommended readings in strategy

This October, I start teaching Leadership in Action. This is one of BI’s most progressive educational programs in terms of experiential learning and strategy is a core issue for the participants.

Leadership in Action is BI’s concluding program in the Bachelor of Management degree. Designed for experienced managers, the program makes heavy use of action-reflection-theory as a pedagogical model. Teaching in this model is even more fun, and creates an even stronger learning experience than regular business school programs. Ragnhild Wiik, Irene Grastveit and I hope to put together an amazing program for our students this fall.

For the upcoming November module, strategy and teamwork have the main focus. I’ve dug through the current strategy literature to find an appropriate mix of readings, research and cases. The list, I believe, also serves as a current recommended reading list for any student of strategy looking for some updated material.

Case study: Nokia and its Burning Platform memo

Right now, there are no better cases for teaching strategy than Nokia. The sudden shift in Nokia’s fortune, its abrupt decline in share price and the drastic situation the company finds itself in today makes for a great learning experience.

Asking in my classroom, “go back a few years, how many of you owned a Nokia phone?”, I get some 60 – 80 % yes. The follow-up question, of course, “How many of you own one today”, and I am left with a handful of students; most whom are looking to upgrade to an iPhone anyway. When students look around the classroom, they become amazed at the difference. Well, welcome to Nokia’s world.

Nokia’s in a major turnaround situation. New CEO Stephen Elop described the company’s situation as “Standing on a burning platform”. This is of course what Professor John Kotter describe as “Establishing a Sense of Urgency”, the first of the eight steps in his recommended change process. What makes Nokia so special is the openness with which it (now) communicates with. Few CEO’s have ever been this open and frank about the challenges. This makes a lot of internal material openly available for analysts, journalists and business schools to follow. In turn, making Nokia the current case of choice in my management programs. I believe we will see a number of books, chapters and case studies dedicated to Nokia in years to come.

Strategy as Revolution
Gary Hamel’s 1996 article has long been a hallmark work in the field of strategic innovation. The article describes perfectly what Nokia is being exposed to. On one side Apple’s high-end products are running away with 60 % of the industry profits. At the same time Asian low-cost manufacturers, coupled with Andriod, are fighting its way up from the low-end. Hamel describes “Nine ways to industry revolution”. Reading this in 2011, some 15 years after it publication is chilling, as Apple’s iPhone adventure fits nearly all of the nine steps outlined in the article. Strategy as Revolution is a great read for aggressive strategists.

Playing Seriously with Strategy
When it comes to shaping and creating strategy, Johan Roos, Bart Victor and Matt Statler has written a detailed research paper on “playing with strategy”. The authors state: “if the constraints of strategy processes are changed, the content generated will also change”.

The authors challenge the paradigm of strategymaking as a ‘thinking process’. Using LEGO bricks as the tool, the authors test the process of strategy creation using physical (playful) objects to create shared meaning. The paper – and its subsequent work has led to LEGO bricks becoming an accepted tool into the strategy process. Today, companies can work with specific Serious Play consultants and even buy their own Serious play strategy kits.

Can You Say What Your Strategy is?
Can you and your executive team – no wait. Can you and every single employee summarize your strategy in 35 words or less? That’s the BIG question Collins and Rukstad ask. We love this piece. Words to lead to action. And action is the essence of executing strategy. Problem is, if people don’t really know the what, where and how of strategy, then they are likely to do their best, based on their guesses. As Kaplan and Norton’s research has shown, some 85 % of employees can’t say what their strategy is. Our numbers from Norway, based on research conducted in 2008, indicates a higher number. 55 % of respondents stated “I know and understand our strategy”, but still, that’s half the workforce that don’t. So, yes, like Collins and Rukstad say: It’s a dirty little secret: Most executives cannot articulate the objective, scope, and advantage of their business in a simple statement. If they can’t, neither can anyone else.


The Innovator’s DNA
How can we become more innovative? How do I find innovative people in my organization? If you believe strategy is a creative, innovative process, more than just an analytical process – and we do – then the question begs “how do we become more innovative?”.

The authors – a trio with extensive experience in innovation research – has identified five “Discovery skills” for true innovators. Associating, Questioning, Observing, Experimenting and Networking are identified as the five core skills of innovative leaders.
The article– and more recent book by the same title – is an interesting read in a field that received little attention; what does innovative leaders actually do? We are working on a separate blogpost looking specifically into this. For now, the Innovator’s DNA is strongly recommened into any strategy process.

Science of Serendipity
This gem of an article is sailing to the top of our reading list for courses in strategy, innovation and leadership. Written by the founders of ?WhatIf!?, Dave Allan and Matt Kingdon. The article looks at innovation in a context of strategy and execution.
To outsiders, the pair says, “Nurturing innovation can look like a dark art, but the real secret is that it’s driven by a process any leader can learn”. As such, the article maps out some core ideas for how to build innovation processes; an essential in strategy.

“Innovation, we believe ,….is a fascinating new management science that is still in the early stages of development”. Well said, gentlemen!

How P&G Tripled Its Innovation Success Rate: Inside the Company’s New-Growth Factory
A company that has put innovation at the heart of its strategy process is Procter & Gamble. A ten year process, the company is now bearing the fruits of developing a long-time, deep innovation capability. P&G’s CEO states “We know from our history that while promotions may win quarters, innovation wins decades.”
The article – another well-written piece by the Innosight team – lays out the detailed roadmap P&G used to create its innovation strategy. It is a great read for companies that are looking to expand their innovation agenda. If your firm still does not have a basic innovation strategy, this might be too much of a good thing.

The Burning Platform and other recommended readings in strategy

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