In a previous post, Milo argued that strategic thinking should begin at the level of Geostrategy (See Start with Geostrategy or call it tactics). Geostrategy looks at how geopolitical factors inform, constrain, and affect business over the long term. For convenience, you can place these geopolitical drivers into four categories that interact, evolve and change over time: Demographics, Geography, Technology, and Culture. It is “climate change” at the level of these geopolitical drivers– and especially the interaction among them – that create the economic and political “weather” of your firm. These are often same forces that fund managers harness to generate “alpha” for their funds. It is at their level that true strategy begins. In this post, we’ll look at the first one, Demographics.
The Foundations of Lasting Strategy
Despite formidable developments in business strategy over the last fifty years, organizations keep being disrupted by events they should have seen coming, but didn’t, or by events they saw coming but were unable to avoid or take advantage of. In 1971, NCR was surprised by the rapid rise of electronic cash registers and lost its leadership of the market. In 2007, Nokia was unable to react to the launch of the iPhone, an event the Finnish firm dismissed as minor, and is now struggling to survive. In 2011, the Arab uprising came as a complete surprise to everybody, not just business and governments but the people involved as well. And the list goes on: if strategy is about addressing the key challenges an organization face, then the general lack of preparedness (if not prevention of) the economic and political crises that the world has been facing since 2008 is a massive failure of strategy. Hence it’s no surprise that in a survey conducted in 2011 by consulting firm Booz, fully 53% of senior executives did not think their company’s strategy would be successful. Houston, we have a problem…with strategy. Continue reading
I’m not supposed to be blogging. Philippe and I have a book deadline at SUP this week. We have a Forbes piece due soon, too. And I have a speech to prepare for an Institutional Investor Forum in mid-September. So I’m going to make this quick…
Tonight I went out for dinner with a stack of reading to catch up on. Over indifferent Italian, I read two articles that I have to share. One I want to share because it’s so smart, and the other I want to share because it’s the opposite, but it parrots several popular misconceptions.
Posted in Theory
Tagged Anne Korin, China, commodities, dystopia, economics, energy, extrapolation, forecasting, Gal Luft, geopolitical alpha, Geopolitics, GMO Quarterly Letter, Grantham, jeremy grantham, malthusianism, Minxin Pei, oil, Peter H. Diamandis, prediction, price mechanism, Simon and Ehrlich, SocGen, Steven Kotler, whale oil
As Milo and I have argued before, the environments and issues businesses deal with are more complex than traditional strategy models admit. Business issues today display high levels of uncertainty, they can behave non-linearly, and they can be vulnerable to “Black swans”, i.e. low-probability but high impact events that disrupt even the best formulated strategies. The added difficulty for strategists and managers is that nonlinear environments often appear linear for an extended time period (think US house prices). As a result, some conclude that what seems to be an essentially linear pattern (prices fluctuate a bit around a ‘long term trend’ but always rise), are linear in reality – before a radical change occurs that completely disrupts previously assumed patterns (e.g. prices fall dramatically). In short, people often assume an environment is linear and predictable when in fact the continuity we observe is only a particular case of limited duration. To make matters worse, with many nonlinear systems change is not nicely spread over the years: most of the cumulative change occurs in one, single – often dramatic – occurrence. In the language of engineering, some things don’t “fail gracefully” (e.g. a bridge that breaks suddenly instead of bending slowly).
Not a “graceful failure”.
Milo and I organize a workshop on Tuesday, May 29 on ACH (Analysis of Competing Hypotheses). ACH is a tool originally developed by Richards Heuer at the CIA to analyze complex and uncertain situations. It is widely used in intelligence and international politics, but Milo and I think it applies equally well to business for strategic decision making. ACH uses a deceptively simple framework to use ideas from the scientific method, cognitive psychology and decision analysis to overcome a common but immensely important bias: the fact that we tend to perceive what we expect to perceive rather than what actually exists.