The converging forces of digital technology, artificial intelligence, Brexit, wider geo-political uncertainty, the economic shift to ‘The East’ and the general unpredictability presents the strategist with a unique challenge. Navigating this for companies so that they develop and maintain a competitive advantage will require a special kind of strategist.
Below are the key traits that people leading future strategy will need to have to best position their businesses in the future:
Communicating complexity – with the pace and complexity of change in markets increasing, companies need to identify the change, assess the impact and make decisions. Throughout this the art of the strategist is to have the ability to translate this complexity into a simple rationale that the company and its value chain understands. Maybe you don’t have the Rock and Roll credentials of Brian Cox or the experience of David Attenborough, but their ability to make the complex intelligible shows it can be done.
Ambidextrous – the company needs to be able to do two things at the same time, look to the future and take care of the day-to-day. In practice for the strategist this means having confidence that the current plan is being executed whilst developing the next. Easy to say, but the dexterity of a Masterchef is required. It needs meticulous preparation in people, systems and structure to perform especially when the heat in the kitchen is ever increasing!
Agility – it could be that the 5-year planning timescales are fast disappearing for most businesses. Shorter industry and product lifecycles generally mean that whether you are a Mega-Corp or SME, your approach to planning and execution will need to be more entrepreneurial. This means a healthy dose of traditional and new thinking. Keep the long-term vision, mission, purpose but widen the number of strategic options considered and trust (indeed expect) that the ones you don’t choose could be activated quickly, if needed, through your agility. This could mean a very different business in the long term, but Dyson shows the journey can be exciting and rewarding.
Challenge first principles – Elton Musk is renown for refusing to accept that the problem is how it is described and that the solutions are creative enough. Strategists need to have the capability to challenge conventional ways of analysing customer needs and solutions development. Competitors will most likely focus on the latter, which you also may have a competitive advantage, but being able to creatively interpret needs will be a game-changer.
Open not closed – starting with your organisation, there needs to be an encouragement to listen to new ideas to shape future direction, but also a willingness to collaborate externally to find, develop and execute a competitive advantage. This is not just confined to joint ventures for product development but more systematic ways of working with suppliers, distributors and retailers to achieve a shared vision. A mind like Socrates would certainly help you develop more of an open approach to recognising the new opportunities available. This begins with accepting your companies doesn’t have all the answers indeed it may not know some of the right questions. Collaboration can help and is a sign of strength not weakness.
Technophile – technology in all its forms has provided multiple ways of delivering better accuracy, efficiency and convenience in every industry while creating new ones. This can be disorientating and intimidating, but rather than seeing this as a threat, treating digital as your service or an enabler of price, convenience and accuracy advantage is a critical mindset to navigate the future market uncertainty. You don’t necessarily have to be half machine-half human, but as Sheryl Sandberg has shown having growth up in and with tech, it can be your business as well as an enabler.