Category Archives: Strategy

Michael Porter: Competitive Strategy

Of all the strategic thinkers we have covered (like Igor Ansoff, Kenichi Ohmae, and Porter’s student, Kathryyn Rudi Harrigan), Michael Porter deserves a special place. His 1980 book, Competitive Strategy, transformed thinking, moving us from the pre-Porter world of strategic thinking dominated by Ansoff, to the post-Porter world that he still dominates.

Porter is an intellectual and an influencer who does not covet the easy quotability of some of his contemporaries. But the rigour of his analysis has made him all the more sought-after. His books have sold in the hundreds of thousands, and his speaking fees are legendary.

Michael Porter

Michael Porter

Short Biography

Michael Porter was born in 1947, in Michigan, and went to Princeton to study for a BSE in Aeronautical Engineering in 1969. He graduated top of his class and was inducted into the two most prestigious honor houses. He then shifted his focus to business, and went to Harvard Business School, where he received an MBA in 1971 and a PhD in Economics in 1973. From there he joined the faculty.

He remains at Harvard today, as a University Professor, and also Founding Director of Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, which he founded in 2001 to further his work and research.

Porter’s breakthrough came with the 1980 publication of Competitive Strategy. Other significant yet accessible books are The Competitive Advantage of Nations (1990) and the 1998 article and essay collection, On Competition. But these are among 15 other successful books and article collections.

But what you are interested in are Porter’s big ideas…

Michael Porter’s Big Ideas

Before Porter, Igor Ansoff dominated thinking on corporate strategy. His approach boiled down to choosing your market, matching your resources to meet the market’s demand, and then improving your competitiveness to increase your market share.

Michael Porter did not reject these ideas. Rather, he opened them out, approaching strategy from the perspective of the whole industry and then, later, as a national endeavour. He considered that earlier strategic thinking had become confused with simple (ahem) operational effectiveness. He argued that improving operational processes merely levelled out competitors, rather than giving them a differentiation that led to competitive advantage.

Let’s survey five big ideas that Michael Porter has given us. All remain core parts of any business education.

Primary and Secondary Activities, and the Importance of the Value Chain

Porter divided corporate activities into Primary Activities and Secondary Activities.

Primary Activities are the value chain from inbound materials to production operations, to outbound goods and their distribution, to the ‘far end of the value chain‘, marketing and sales, to customer care and after sales services. Here, Porter argued, lay the ground for competitive advantage. The key task is to integrate these into one value chain.

Secondary Activities are the business support functions, like IT, HR, Procurement, Facilities Management, and Finance. These cannot create competitive advantage They can merely enable efficiency, or act as a drag on the business.

Porter’s Five Forces

Corporations sit in a competitive environment, which creates five forces.

Michael Porter's Five Forces

Michael Porter’s Five Forces

Porter’s current view is that a company must aim to use these forces to re-cast the rules of its industry, in its own favour.

Sources of Competitive Advantage, and the Three Competitive Strategies

Porter argued that there are two sources of competitive advantage:

  1. Cost – being able to sell the same products or services at a lower price than your competitors, whilst maintaining profit margins
  2. Differentiation – being able to offer products and services which your customers want, but that your competitors cannot (yet) offer

This leads him to his three competitive strategies:

  1. Cost leadership – build the capability to produce at a lower cost than anyone else
  2. Differentiation – find a new product or service, or enhance what you offer to make it different
  3. Niche focus – find a profitable niche, and dominate it

Recently, we see competitors dominating their market with a fourth strategy, based on a third source of competitive advantage: deep loyalty. How does Apple dominate? Not by offering cheaper products, certainly. Although their supply chain efficiencies mean that their margins are exceptional.

And, some would argue, not by differentiation. Whilst they often lead for a short time here, their rivals also innovate, and certainly catch up quickly. Is there much a Mac can do that a PC cannot? Is there much an iPhone can do that a Samsung cannot?

And a company with as many and varied customers as Apple cannot truly be said to serve a niche.

No, I believe the source of Apple’s current dominance is largely the loyalty of its customer base, built on historic innovation, differentiation in multiple niches, and a reputation for excellence.

Diversification

Like Ansoff before him, Porter sees diversification as a shrewd strategy that spreads a corporation’s risk. This maybe through product development, or business acquisition.

In deciding how to diversify, Porter proposes three tests:

  1. Does the new industry, product set, or niche offer attractive returns on investment? Is there the opportunity to build differentiation or cost leadership?
  2. Is the cost of entry proportionate to the likely returns? If not, the risks are too high.
  3. Does the acquisition or the new venture leave the parties better-off? This is basically Ansoff’s concept of synergy.

The National Competitive Environment

In The Competitive Advantage of Nations, Porter fully articulated a line of thinking that placed national conditions at the heart of corporate success. A strong home base with good infrastructure and healthy competition grows successful global companies. Porter’s Diamond Model sets out four factors that affect a nation’s industries.

Michael Porter's Diamond Model

Michael Porter’s Diamond Model

Michael Porter on Competitive Strategy

An old, but excellent video of Porter describing some of his main ideas.

You might enjoy the Strategy Pocketbook

… and the following earlier Pocketblogs:

 

King Camp Gillette: Disposable Goods

The terms ‘Utopian Socialist’ and ‘Captain of Industry’ are rarely applied to the same person. But they are both sound descriptions of King Camp Gillette. Yet the revolution Gillette arguably led at the sharp edge (!) is not taking us towards a utopia. Far from it. The inevitable consequence of his successful business strategy is a world of depleting resources and growing land-fill.

King Camp Gillette 1855-1932

King Camp Gillette 1855-1932

Short Biography

King Camp Gillette was born in Wisconsin, in 1855. His father was a patent agent, inventor and entrepreneur, who encouraged Gillette and his brothers to tinker and make things too.

The family moved to Chicago and then, after losing pretty much everything in the Great Fire of 1871, to New York. There, Gillette started his business career as a travelling salesman. After a series of jobs, he ended up at the Crown Cork and Seal Company. There, his boss, the company’s founder, recognised Gillette’s ambition to build a business of his own. His advice was:

‘Invent something people use and throw away.’

The Disposable Razor Blade

We all know how that bit of the story ended. The safety razor was already becoming popular in the United States, but still needed to be sharpened frequently. Gillette wondered if he could produce a blade cheaply enough for men to use it until it was dull, and then throw it away and use a new one.

It turns out, he couldn’t at first. So he sold his blades at below cost price, until he could get the manufacturing volumes high enough for the cost price to drop. Gillette had also invented the handle, and his second great innovation was to stop trying to make money on the razor itself. Instead, he gave it away, as a means to tie users into his blades.

So:

  • Disposable products that people need to replace regularly
  • Loss-leading accessories that tie users into the consumable items

Built-in Obsolescence, and a Product Eco-system

Today we’d call these ‘built-in obsolescence, and a product eco-system’. But the formula was phenomenally strong. So strong, in fact, that it was widely emulated – especially once Gillette’s patents expired.

Gillette also initiated the third pillar of the modern shaving business. He was constantly introducing minor innovations and improvements to keep ahead of his competitors – double edged blades, and then tin bladed razors.

Contemporary Corporate Strategy

In a market dominated by a few big players (Gillette among them), the demand is necessarily pretty static (the male population – particularly in affluent nations is not growing, and neither are we growing second heads). In the BCG Matrix, these are ‘cash cows’ – highly profitable lines with minimal growth prospects. All a company can do is defend against its rivals and try to steal some market share. So the strategy of constant incremental improvement remains to this day.

As, obviously, does the Gillette brand. Gillette himself resigned from the business in 1931, due to ill health, but it has retained his name to this day. It is now owned by Proctor and Gamble as one of over 20 global consumer brands. But that’s another business strategy entirely.

Utopian Socialist

Gillette lost a lot of his millions to the Wall Street Crash, but maybe he was okay with that. He wrote a number of books that set out a Utopian ideal for a world of no competition, no wars, and benign monopolistic corporations providing employment and welfare. That’s a dream that still lives on at one end of the political spectrum. Perhaps it’s sad that creating this utopia is not what Gillette is remembered for. Instead, we remember him for the disposable razor blade. Oh well, now I’ve finished this article, I’d better go and have a shave.

Gary Hamel: New Strategist

What is the meaning of corporate strategy? Is it about getting to the front of the queue, keeping your place in the queue, or is it something different. Gary Hamel, once considered by Forbes Magazine to be ‘the world’s leading expert on business strategy’ might argue it is starting the next queue.

Gary Hamel

Gary Hamel

Very Short Biography

There are very few biographical details about Gary Hamel available. He was born in 1954, attended Andrews University. His first job was in hospital administration, but he soon started a PhD at the University of Michigan. There he met long-term collaborator, CK Prahalad. In 1983, Hamel joined the faculty of the London Business School, where he has remained to this day.

However, in 1993, we transferred from a full-time to a visiting professorship and moved to Silicon Valley, co-founding a consultancy firm, Strategos, a couple of years later, with Prahalad. This timing was clearly linked to the publication of their landmark Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Competing for the Future in July/August 1994. It was followed later that year by the book of the same name, Competing for the Future, which became a massive seller.

This set Hamel up for a string of high-selling books, prominent HBR articles, prestigious consulting assignments, and eye watering fees on the conference circuit.

Following the sale of Strategos in 2008, Hamel founded the Management Innovation Exchange. This is an online community dedicated to innovation and disruptive thinking, that very much chimes with Hamel’s approach to strategy as disruptive. He remains influential and sought after and, as a relatively young man, seems likely to continue to influence strategic thinking for  a number of years.

Hamel’s Big Ideas

What are the ‘Big Ideas’ that managers need to be aware of? And, in particular, how can we separate out Hamel’s ideas from those of long-term collaborator, CK Prahalad, whom Pocketblog has already covered?

Here, I’d like to focus on the flavour of the ideas that seem more to arise from Hamel’s thinking. But I must emphasise that I have no insight into how the two work together andI am aware I may be misinterpreting, so welcome comments.

Core Competencies

The first big idea that Prahalad and Hamel put forward was that of core competencies. Corporations need to stop focusing on what industry thy are in, and start looking at what they can do well, as their source of competitive advantage. Hamel is fond of citing examples like Amazon and Apple, who are in the retail and consumer electronics industries respectively… or were.

Now, Amazon is a dominant player in provision of web servers, cloud storage, and data processing, whilst Apple makes much of its money today as a music vendor and software marketplace provider. It was the asset bases and the skill-sets of their people that allowed each business to grow into new markets and achieve a dominance there.

It seems to me that these examples illustrate Hamel’s particular contribution – he favours taking contrarian lines and looking for the surprising, disruptive directions of thought.

Strategic Intent

Prahalad and Hamel charted a shift in corporate strategy from the 1960s and the focus on portfolios and selecting winning product sets, to the 1980s and the focus on efficiency, continuous improvement, cost-cutting and re-engineering, and Total Quality Management (TQM) – all as means of tweaking the corporation to ever better incremental performance levels.

In the 200s, the focus needed to shift again, and in 1994, they foresaw this, under pressures of globalisation, technology shifts, changes in customer expectations, deregulation, and new entrants into markets. Corporations would increasingly need to answer long term questions about where they will be in the future. And if they don’t have the answers, then someone would surely displace them.

Companies, Hamel and Prahalad said, should no longer seek to optimise their position within a fixed market, but should rather either change the rules of their industry altogether, or go and find new markets to conquer.

Hamel distinguishes between:

  • Rule Makers
    These are the founders of their industries, who built dominance by an audacious and concerted move into a new or emerging space. Henry Ford, whom we covered two weeks ago is a great example.
  • Rule Takers
    These are the fast followers – companies that copied successful Rule Makers and also built a strong presence in the same market, largely by taking an established formula, and applying it well. Some would never catch up their rule maker. Others would find substantial improvements or deploy sufficient hunger, to overtake the incumbent leader.
  • Rule Breakers
    These are businesses that disrupted the rules by which the incumbents play. They do things sufficiently differently to rock the market and change it forever. Some have been driven by technological advances, but others have been equally radical by simply applying new thinking. Virgin Airlines and then EasyJet each disrupt the British Airways near-monopoly n the UK, for example.

Strategy as Revolution

Nowhere is this clearer than in Hamel’s 1996 solo HBR article, ‘Strategy as Revolution‘. It seems to me that this article really set the scene for ten years later when Hamel co-founded the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX). Here, he put forward ten principles to consider, if you want to create a truly innovative strategy. I’ll pick out four:

  1. Distinguish between ritualised, calendar-driven strategic planning from the true practice of challenge and investigation that leads to real strategy.
  2. Harness revolutionary ideas throughout the company, because many of the staunchest defenders of old and comfortable orthodoxies are at the top of the organisation.
  3. Don’t worry about making change. Instead, focus on engagement with the people who can make the change happen.
  4. Embrace surprise: you don’t need to plan the whole route or even be sure of the ultimate destination. The direction is the strategy.

Conclusion

It’s too soon to write a conclusion on Hamel. His focus on disruption has helped many businesses change, but it is not clear whether he is riding the wave, or controlling the wave machine. If you want a constant stream of stimulation and challenge though, it is well worth checking out and even participating in his Management Innovation Exchange.

Alfred Chandler: Business History

It’s just a few people who could claim to have invented an academic discipline, but one who could, with some justice, is Alfred D Chandler. He was a historian who studied business, and in so doing, he inferred large historical patterns that still inform our thinking.

Alfred Chandler

Alfred Chandler, 1918 – 2007

Short Biography

Alfred DuPont Chandler was born in 1918 into a Delaware family that had commerce in its blood. In one branch of his family was grandfather Henry Poor, of Standard and Poors, and in another was the duPont family. He studied for a Masters degree at Harvard College before the war, where he was a friend of John F Kennedy. After service in a non-combat role, he returned to Harvard to finish his Masters and earn his PhD with a study of Henry Poor and the coming of the American railroads..

An appointment to MIT allowed him to study more large corporations in depth. His analysis of duPont, General Motors, Standard Oil, and Sears Roebuck & Co led to the publication in 1962 of the first of his three most noteworthy books (among over 25 in total): Strategy and Structure.

He also worked for a while at Johns Hopkins University, before returning Harvard in 1970, as the Isidor Strauss Professor of Business History at the Harvard Business School. There, he wrote his second major work, 1977’s The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. This exceptional work won Chandler the Pulitzer Prize for History, and was the first business book to be recognised with a Pulitzer Prize. The title is a deliberate reply to Adam Smith, whose ‘invisible hand’ is the market. We’ll see what Chandler was referring to in a moment.

In 1990, Chandler published the last of his three major books, Scale and Scope: Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism. In this he shows that it is not just scale of operations that bestows big economies and hence competitive advantage. It is also scope – capturing a diverse spread of markets early on. Uncharacteristically, Chandler looked to economics and borrowed the term ‘first mover advantage’.

Having retired from the Harvard faculty in 1989, Chandler continued to work, write and comment on changes in business, and was a visiting professor at numerous institutions. He died in May 2007.

Themes of Alfred Chandler’s Work

Chandler’s approach of wide-ranging comparative analysis to find historical patterns of evolution and change initially encountered a lot of resistance from the academic business community. These academics favoured using economic and quantitative analysis to build their theories, but Chandler was able to change many (though not all) attitudes. Today’s business school focus on case studies and the rise to prominence of academics and writers like Jim Collins.

Strategy before Structure

The primary thesis of Chandler’s ‘Strategy and Structure‘ is that strategy must come before (and therefore dictate) the structure of the corporation. His historical observations led him to conclude that market forces need to drive shifts in the way organisations evolve, and he was able to predict the increasing trend for decentralisation that continues, in the largest businesses, today.

More recently, academic and business commentators have disagreed. Tom Peters observes that it is structure that determines which strategy a corporation will select, and Richard Tanner Pascale argued that Chandler assumed that organisations act rationally. They don’t, and he also notes that organisational structures play a big role in shaping strategy.

Trust Gary Hamel to sort it out, by seeing the subtlety of the competing views. He notes that the two are intertwined: new challenges lead to new structures, and new structures present new challenges. He concludes:

‘Few historians were prescient. Chandler was.’

Arguably, Chandler is, along with Igor Ansoff, one of the founding advocates of the study of business strategy.

Professional Management

Chandler also charted the rise of professional management; first in Strategy and Structure and then, more fully, in The Visible Hand. He saw managerially led corporations in the US rise with the growth of the railways and the need for complex, geographically-spread, systems. These first arose within the railway companies, and then in the corporations that grew nationally, due to the opportunities that long-distance transport offered.

It was the visible hand of an organisation’s managers that replaced Smith’s invisible hand of the market as a major driver of the structure of a modern business.

Further Reading

I rarely cite another website for further reading about our Management Thinkers, but in this case, I am compelled by the excellence of the article at the Strategy + Business site. I have deliberately avoided borrowing from it. If you are interested in Chandler, this should be your next port of call.

 

Jean-Claude Larréché: Marketing Momentum

Why is it that some of the most successful companies spend surprisingly small percentages of their revenue budgets on marketing? The answer, if you think about it, is obvious: as total revenue income goes up, if you are a successful business, you get more bang for your marketing buck. They may be spending a lot, but the proportion is lower.

So, how do you get your business to this enviable position? The answer, says INSEAD Professor, Jean-Claude Larréché, is momentum. Some products do not need to be aggressively marketed to deliver superior sales performance: instead, their fit with customers’ needs and desires is so great, that they gain a momentum of their own.

Jean-Claude Larreche

Jean-Claude Larreche

Short Biography

Jean-Claude Larréché was born in 1947 and studied electronic engineering at INSA in Lyon, where he was awarded a bachelor’s degree in 1968. He followed this with an MSc in Computer Science at the University of London (1969), and an INSEAD MBA, in 1970. He then went on to research marketing modelling at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, where he was awarded a PhD in 1974.

Larréché’s research led him to develop a now widely used marketing simulation, MarkStrat, and his growing expertise in the modelling of how marketing works led to a non-executive appointment to the board of Reckitt & Coleman (now Reckitt Benckiser), that he held from 1983 to 2001.

In 1982, he returned to INSEAD as Professor of Marketing, becoming The Alfred H. Heineken Chaired Professor of Marketing in 1993. He continues to hold this role. Whilst collaborating in a number of books, Larréché’s most significant publication is his 2008 book, The Momentum Effect.

The Momentum Effect

Larréché differentiates between ‘upstream marketing’ and ‘downstream marketing’. Upstream marketing is designed to start the process of product or service awareness among appropriate prospects, and allow the business to refine their product or service offering, to meet potential buyers’ needs. You do this with customer insight and content marketing tactics. Downstream marketing is the communication and promotion that puts your products and services to the market, to generate purchasing intent.

The key, Larréché asserts, is to divert funds from downstream to upstream marketing, to ensure that you have a product or service that is so attractive to customers, that it creates its own momentum. The obvious example he cites is Apple’s marketing of the iPhone and iPad ranges.

Larréché’s book sets out his 8 component ‘Momentum Strategy’, which he summarises in a diagram like this one:

Twin Engines of Momentum - Larreche

Twin Engines of Momentum – Larreche

Here, Larréché separates out the design and execution (or build-sell-support) components of product development, giving equal weight to the two sides. He also shows these two components as interacting cycles. The cyclical metaphor is an important aspect to note: Larréché argues strongly for our continuing refinement of our offering, to continue to drive momentum.

Here is Larréché talking about his ideas in an InSEAD video

Larréché has transcended his earlier career focus on marketing. With The Momentum Effect, he is really talking about business strategy, and placing his ideas about successful marketing at the heart. You can get a real sense of this in this interview, where he answers some excellent challenging questions, including about how companies lose momentum.

Lynda Gratton: The Future of Work

What will work be like in the future, and how will we respond to it? These are big questions being asked by the influential and much respected Professor of Management Practice at the London Business School, Lynda Gratton. The answers she is uncovering are both obvious and important. We won’t know if her work is ‘right’ until the future arrives, but for now, we would be wise to understand the trends Gratton is uncovering, and respond to them.

Lynda Gratton

Short Biography

Lynda Gratton was born in 1955 and, grew up, and was educated in the north west of England, in Liverpool. She gained her BSc in Psychology from Liverpool University in 1976 and started work there on her PhD. In 1979, she started work with British Airways as Chief Psychologist, while continuing her doctoral studies into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. She was awarded her PhD in 1981 and, in the following year moved to management consulting firm PA Consulting.

She stayed at PA until 1989, becoming their youngest Director at age 32. But Gratton valued the autonomy to create time to read, think, and be with her family above the high salary. So she took a post as an Assistant Professor at the London Business School in 1989.

Gratton’s academic career has resulted in praise and awards. She has authored 9 books to date (the ninth is due out in June 2016) and many influential papers, the most widely read being two Harvard Business Review Articles: Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams (Nov 2007) and End of the Middle Manager (Jan 2011).

Gratton’s best-selling books are Hot Spots: Why Some Companies Buzz with Energy and Innovation – And Others Don’t (2007) and The Shift: The Future of Work is already Here (2007), with her new work looking at one of the five forces she sees as shaping our world for the future: The 100-Year Life: Living and working in an age of longevity (2016)

The Five Forces Shaping our World

We need to start our summary of Gratton’s most important thinking with the forces she identifies as driving change in the world. I think each of us might add one or two of our own, but it is hard to dispute that each of these five will have a big impact. What gives her list credibility is the wide range of big name organisations that collaborated in her research.

Technological Developments

Some of the big developments she points out that will affect us (and some of the other forces, below) are:

  • Cognitive assistants (advanced knowledge systems moving towards artificial intelligence)
  • Cloud and distributed computing – especially linked to mobile devices
  • Advanced robotics
  • Digitisation of knowledge

At some point she projects (as do many computer scientists) connected computers will start to become capable  of creating knowledge without human help. (Note that this is not the same as the potential ‘singularity event’ of computers gaining consciousness, which is at another tier of speculation)

Globalisation

Here we can see trends like labour force mobility, especially in the direction of mega cities that are, increasingly, in the East. This is feeling and fuelled by the emergence of the new economies; the so called BRIC and MINT nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey – along with other less acronymed nations like South Korea and Egypt). Many of the new dominant player will bring new cultural and societal norms to the world of work.

Demographic Changes (and increasing longevity)

The biggest changes will be shifts in life expectancy and the struggles of Western nations in particular to meet expectations around retirement. But as populations age and birth rates decline in the presently less developed nations, the same effect could have far greater implications.

Societal Trends

There are so many trends here – many linked intimately with technology, globalisation and demographics. Women’s social and economic power cannot (and should not) do anything but rise. Freelance work will increase to take advantage of technology and meet the caring needs of people with ageing relatives. Predictions of the demise of family life or the increase in attention given to families from home-based workers seem the most confused – but then the future may not yield neat categories.

Energy

The need to shift to a low Carbon economy to protect the world from rising atmospheric CO2 levels and the inevitable devastating consequences of the global climate changes it will drive will increasingly dominate our futures. This will have complex economic impacts – but nothing compared to what will happen if oceans rise substantially and crops fail around the world. I’d like to see Gratton give more attention to the consequences of water stress and the geopolitical impacts of large mismatches of water availability and need that we can readily predict.

The Three Shifts we can Expect to See in our Lives

These are big forces and Gratton envisages three big shifts in our lives.

Mastery

There are too many generalists, so the law of supply and demand will crush their economic value. This will drive a shift to in-depth mastery and narrow specialisation of workers.  We can easily see how she comes to this conclusion, as the five forces combine to drive and facilitate this shift.

Connectivity

Linked to this is the need and increasing ability for workers to connect with one another globally.  She thinks our work lives will become less competitive and more collaborative. Gratton coins two interesting concepts:

  • Your narrow group of close collaborators, whom she calls ‘the Posse’
  • Your wider group of loosely connected working relationships, which she refers to as ‘the Big Ideas Crowd’

Quality of Experience

From my point of view, her third shift is the most parochial: a move from focusing on standard of living to the quality of our experiences. In Gratton’s timeframe of now to 2025, I doubt this will be a major trend outside the wealthiest parts of the world (and, even here, it may only apply to the wealthy middle and affluent classes). The displacement of work by machines has been heralded for over 100 years and the rise of hedonistic society for many hundreds. I’d like to buy into this one, but it feels most like a consumer business driven rehash of an old trope (Sorry Lynda).

The Five Impacts this will have on Organisations

What I do one hundred per cent buy into is Gratton’s assessment of the big impacts these shifts and forces will have on global-scale organisations. Small, local organisations will lag behind, but even they will need eventually to bow to some of these changes.

Leadership

Connectivity will drive the need for more transparent leadership of our corporations (while many will fight it, fearing the impact of consumer reactions). This will need a more authentic style of leadership from individuals throughout those organisations.

Virtual Teams

Cross border, cross timezone working has grown up over the last 20 years, and will increase. From my perspective, real, empirical research in how to drive high performance from virtual teams is still lagging this trend. This is a hard question, because we evolved to co-operate in small, intimate, and geographically contained teams. We need to find ways to optimise our reactions to an alien environment.

Cross Business Networks

‘Social Capital’ is not just something we acquire as individuals, Gratton suggests. Corporations need connectivity to drive innovation and profitability. I predict that these wider eco-systems may yet morph into the dystopian mega-corporations and global cartels of science fiction.

Partnering with consumers and entrepreneurs

As more workers become independent freelancers, and consumers become more savvy about what they want, corporations will increasingly need to extend their relationships to more fully engage with them.

Flexible Working

You didn’t see this one coming, did you? (Joke) If social, demographic, and lifestyle preferences are shifting, then so too will work patterns. And this will require flexibility from employers.

Lynda Gratton at TEDx

Hear Lynda Gratton talking about how to be ready for the future now, at a TEDx event at the London business School in 2012.

Peter Senge: Learning Organisation

If business strategy is the search for competitive advantage, then the Journal of Business Strategy would seemed to have endorsed one strategy above all others. In naming Peter Senge as their ‘Strategist of the Century’ they implicitly set his concept of The Learning Organisation on a strategic pedestal. Indeed, they described Senge as someone who ‘had the greatest impact on the way we conduct business today’.

Peter Senge

Short Biography

Peter Senge was born in California, in 1947. He attended his local university, Stanford, where he earned a BS in Engineering. He moved to MIT where he studied Social Systems Modelling for his MS, followed by a move to the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1970, where he gained a PhD in management that he completed in 1978. He stayed on, continuing his research into how we learn, within organisations.

His research culminated in his best-selling synthesis of these ideas, ‘The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization‘. This book has been rated by Harvard Business Review as one of the seminal management books.

His subsequent work has built on this theme:

What is The Learning Organisation?

The learning organisation is one that encourages continued learning for both groups and individuals, as a source of competitive advantage. People at all levels from shop floor to senior management will be continually developing their skill levels, knowledge and experience. It is like building an institutional ‘growth mindset’ by increasing the creative capacity.

When Senge published The Fifth Discipline in 1990, the ideas were not new. Indeed, Senge acknowledges his debts, especially to Chris Argyris, and his 1978 book ‘On Organizational Learning‘; and to Arie de Geus. The term “Learning Organization’, which Senge has made his own, was coined in 1987 by Bob Garratt, in his book ‘The Learning Organization and the Need for Directors Who Think‘.

In The Fifth Discipline, Senge describes five core components of personal development. This book is often viewed as highly theoretical, so his follow-up Fifth Discipline Fieldbook set out practical answers to the questions he received about ‘how’ to implement these ideas.

The five means of development, that create a Learning Organization, are:

  1. Personal Mastery
    Individual, continuous, life-long learning. Senge also emphasises the importance of spiritual development. This, he argues, allows us to understand the tension between reality and vision. He suggests this is the source of creativity.
  2. Mental Models
    Senge suggests that we carry implicit mental models of our world and our organizations. We need to understand and challenge them. In the Fieldbook, he offers the tool of a ladder of inference, that climbs up from observation of data, to selection of the data, to applying meanings to them, to making assumptions, from which we draw conclusions, from which we adopt beliefs, that drive our choices of actions. This process helps us to analyse our values, beliefs and actions.
  3. Shared Vision
    When team members create a vision that they share and jointly own, this brings them together, serves as a basis for creativity, and readies them for change.
  4. Team Learning
    Senge believes that group development will outpace individual development in driving team performance. He also distinguishes between dialogue (an exploratory process) and discussion (a process for narrowing and selecting from options).
  5. Systems Thinking
    This is the ‘fifth discipline’. It requires us to see an organization as an inter-connected whole, with a complex set of inter-relationships. Processes do not work as simple chains of cause and effect, but as complex interacting feedback loops that reinforce or counteract each other.

Two Videos of Dr Senge Describing his Central Ideas

Introduction to Organizational Learning

Introduction to Systems Thinking