The New Game Of Strategy: Applied Design Thinking In Business Innovation And Transformation

Just when I thought I can have 2 days in an office then I realized I have to be In NYC tomorrow for a few days. I am writing this post on a flight after missing my connection in Houston, and just finished teaching a three days Strategy graduate course with a focus on strategic innovation and design thinking. What I did was bringing the Harvard Business School case study method of teaching and apply it to design thinking and innovation, it is really interesting and probably an innovation itself because innovation means going against the conventional analytical thinking.

The shift from teaching competitive strategy to strategic innovation changes how the case studies were originally written for. I am using the same teaching material but instead applying atotally different pedagogical focus – which is how to avoid the very obvious and how to develop and apply ‘New Game’ in strategy making. It was intense for the students but they were liking it. I theorize, practice and teach these concepts and so for me, it is not academic, it is real.

Strategy is never that simple as picking the right competitive positioning, segments or competing on different dimensions. It is often complicated because it involves changing of mindset and mental models – mindsets that inspire individuals and teams to think imaginatively, to take risks, to seek out, and to expand the boundaries of a business or redefining customer value. It is hard.

Then there are structural, systems and processes for sharing of ideas, sense-making of data and working together. This includes developing new perspectives and collaborate on ‘white space mapping’ which was never taught at business schools. The very nature of competitive advantaged has changed and I challenged anyone who tell me if they really have a real and relevant competitive advantage that they thought they have.

The information revolution continues and is enabling companies to easily (and sometimes cheaply) match current competitive differentiators and rapidly create new ones. The result is that competitive advantage is evolving from simply focusing on differentiation, low cost or focus. The idea is to do all, the stuck in the middle can be a desirable position if you understand the underlying economic forces. Most business school students and even professors hardly understand how to apply the Five-Forces properly and let alone adapting it to a very different business environment where speed, empathy and community become key strategic elements in addition to bargaining powers and competitive dynamics. We need a new framework that takes into consideration the use of community in business strategy development. I’ve used cases including Method, Microsoft X-Box, Loco Motor and a few others to illustrate the concepts.

I think I should start developing teaching notes based on the original case study but with a different teaching emphasis. Classic views on strategy include Joseph Schumpeter focuses attention on innovation and entrepreneurialism. He suggested that bigger the company the more resources and diversification one can bring to R&D and as a result get better return on innovation. Michael Porter, following Alfred Chandler, focuses attention on business organization and competitive strategy and introduces the concept of cluster to explain competitiveness.

Today’s the nature of strategy and competitive advantage is drastically shaped by strategic innovation — powered by customer co-creation; desire of consumer to change the status quo and powerful social innovation networks; integrates customer deep into business organization; demand chain into supply chain and contrasts inter-firm relations in terms of market, and closed or semi-closed and open-networks.

The attempt to develop competitive advantage is only the first step. It is sustaining the advantage that is far more challenging. How often companies invested millions and millions of dollars to create barriers for entry only to find out they lasted only for a short a few months. Waking up one morning seeing that your industry value chain was being reconfigured and the expiry date of your business model was last week is not exactly a fun thing. If you find that every six months you have to innovate on something the market will embrace is too exhausting, it is time to embrace design thinking.