Tag Archives: clayton christensen

Crafting Non-Predictive Strategy, Part II: Start with who you are

In the first part of this series, Milo and I examined the complexity of nonlinear environments and tried to show how, when confronted with such an environment, energy spent on a deep understanding of the present beats attempts at predicting the future.  Hence our call for a non-predictive approach to strategy.

Nonlinear systems can be found in nature, but they are particularly common and problematic when they involve human issues.  While such human nonlinear systems can display regularities over long time periods, most major political, economic and business issues are essentially nonlinear and permeated by social facts.  What such human-centered, nonlinear systems have in common but which is often overlooked is that one cannot deal with them as if they were natural science problems.  For one thing, and as we have argued in a recent Forbes article with the example of Usama bin Ladin, how you define the issue you’re dealing with depends on who you are.  This is also the reason that “genius” fails.

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Our Latest Forbes Piece: What a Caveman Can Teach You About Strategy

I have a strategy lesson for you

Read our latest piece on Forbes here.

In it, we argue that how an organization perceives competition or reacts to a disruption in its environment depends on its identity. Hence, before you start trying to understand them, try to understand yourself first.

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Why theory matters. Even to business and yes, even to you as well

It’s become commonplace to hear, including from my fellow academic colleagues, that we academics write articles in journals that nobody reads. Students and participants in executive programs, we are often told, want practical tools that they can apply immediately in their job, and they have no patience for theory. It often goes to the point where we are asked not so much to teach as to get participants to talk about their favorite topic, ie themselves, and lead a class discussion on this anecdotal basis supported by some multimedia slides while students are transfixed by their twitter account. Some schools have even acknowledged this and claim that they don’t teach, but develop what’s already inside participants. Put otherwise, bring your own food: we repackage what you know already and you pick up the bill. The idea that we as teachers may, at some point, introduce some theoretical content increasingly seems suspect and the sure sign of out of touch academia trying to influence a world they are said not to understand. What do eggheads know about business? The idea of teaching, that we could impart some knowledge, but also exert our professional judgment on what we should teach to whom seems preposterous and a sure sign of academic arrogance. I disagree. I teach, and I make no apologies for it.

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The loss of creative capacity as a source of organizational decline

An interesting way to think about how organizations deal with disruptions in their environment, and what ultimately causes their demise, is to consider the thesis of Arnold J Toynbee on the decline of civilizations and apply it to the world of organizations.

Toynbee is the author of “A study in history“, the landmark book on the history of civilizations. The book comprises 6,000 pages, no less. Fortunately, a professor decided to write an abridged version, which allows normal people like you and me to grasp the virtuosity and knowledge of Toynbee in only… 1,200 pages in two volumes. What does Toynbee write? According to him, a civilization grows when its elite is creative enough to attract inside and outside constituents. The civilization breaks down when the elite loses this creative capacity and gives way to, or transforms itself into, a dominant minority. When this happens, the driver of the civilization becomes control, not attraction, and its unity ends.

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