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Your Strategy Needs a Strategy

Written by: Martin Reeves
Published: June 9, 2015


Today, a volatile and uncertain business environment is the new normal. Traditional business strategies are often inadequate to navigate these turbulent waters. "Your Strategy Needs a Strategy" introduces a fresh approach to strategy creation and implementation. The book presents a comprehensive framework that matches different strategies to different business environments, ensuring that organizations are equipped with the most effective approach to thrive.

The key insight offered is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, depending on the predictability and malleability of the market, companies need to deploy one of five distinct approaches. Imagine you're a gamer. Just as you wouldn't use the same strategy for every game you play, businesses shouldn't use the same strategy for every environment they encounter.

The first environment is "Classical," where predictability is high, and malleability is low. Think of industries like manufacturing. Here, planning and analysis take precedence. A clear, deliberate strategy based on deep industry knowledge is required. Like chess, where players plan several moves ahead, businesses in classical environments need to predict competitors' moves and plan their counteractions.

The second is the "Adaptive" environment, characterized by low predictability and low malleability. Industries undergoing rapid technological shifts often fit this bill. In this setting, it's futile to make long-term predictions. Instead, a trial-and-error approach, much like playing poker, is necessary. Organizations should experiment, adapt, and evolve based on the feedback they receive.

The "Visionary" environment comes next. Here, predictability is low, but malleability is high. Innovative tech startups often operate in this realm. The key is to envision and create a new market or product category, much like inventing a new game entirely. Once the vision is set, rapid scaling is essential to seize the first-mover advantage.

The "Shaping" environment is marked by high malleability but low predictability. This is often seen in platform-based industries like software. Organizations aim to shape the industry to their advantage by collaborating and creating ecosystems. It's akin to setting rules in a multiplayer game where everyone contributes.

Lastly, there's the "Renewal" environment, which emerges when resources are scarce. Turnaround situations or near-bankruptcy scenarios epitomize this. The strategy here is akin to surviving in a game. Organizations must conserve resources, revitalize, and then pivot to growth once stability is re-established.

While the framework is straightforward, execution can be challenging. Leaders must be adept at recognizing which environment they're in and possess the flexibility to shift strategies when conditions change. Additionally, in large conglomerates, different business units might be in different environments, necessitating a portfolio of strategies.

Another vital takeaway is that the pace and nature of change are accelerating. Leaders must anticipate and prepare for shifts, and sometimes, a combination of strategies is necessary. As the saying goes, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." This requires not just foresight but also agility, resilience, and a continuous learning mindset.

Final Thoughts

In a world where the only constant is change, "Your Strategy Needs a Strategy" serves as a beacon, guiding leaders through the tumultuous seas of business. By understanding and implementing the right strategy for the right environment, organizations can not only survive but thrive, turning challenges into opportunities and uncertainties into advantages. For anyone leading a business or aspiring to, this framework is invaluable, offering a nuanced, holistic perspective on strategy in the modern age.

10 Big Ideas

1. Distinct Environments Demand Distinct Strategies

It's a misconception that one strategy fits all scenarios. Depending on the business environment's predictability and malleability, companies should employ one of five distinct strategies. It's much like adapting your tactics based on the game you're playing.

2. Classical Approach: Strategy as Chess

In highly predictable yet non-malleable markets, long-term planning and foresight are paramount. Much like chess players anticipate and plan several moves in advance, companies must forecast market movements and develop a clear, deliberate strategy.

3. Adaptive Approach: Strategy as Poker

In unpredictable and hard-to-change markets, the adaptive approach shines. Organizations should be flexible, ready to pivot based on real-time feedback, and continuously evolve their strategy, much like poker players change tactics based on the cards they're dealt.

4. Visionary Approach: Crafting a New Game

For markets that are unpredictable but can be shaped, visionary strategy is key. Here, organizations have the chance to define a new market or product category. It's about having a bold vision and rapidly scaling to capitalize on it.

5. Shaping Approach: Setting the Rules of the Game

In industries that can be easily molded but whose future is uncertain, the shaping strategy comes into play. Organizations collaborate, form ecosystems, and together define the trajectory of the industry.

6. Renewal Strategy: Playing the Survival Game

In crisis situations or when resources are constrained, organizations need a renewal strategy. It's about conserving resources, revitalizing the business, and then transitioning to growth once stability is achieved.

7. Recognizing and Adapting to Environmental Shifts

While understanding different strategies is crucial, leaders must also develop the acumen to recognize when market conditions shift and possess the agility to adapt their strategy accordingly.

8. Diverse Business Units, Diverse Strategies

For conglomerates or businesses with diverse units, it's essential to realize that different parts might operate in different environments. This calls for a portfolio of strategies, each tailored to its specific business unit.

9. Embrace the Accelerating Pace of Change

Change is not only constant but also accelerating. In such an environment, organizations must be proactive, anticipating shifts and being ready with a strategy that can capitalize on them.

10. A Combination of Strategies is Often the Best Approach

At times, a single strategy might not suffice. Markets are complex, and blending different strategies, or transitioning between them fluidly, can often be the key to sustained success.

5 Exercises

1. Strategy Mapping

Objective: To visually identify and categorize the various elements of your business strategy.

  • Start by drawing a grid on a sheet of paper or a digital drawing tool. Label the x-axis as "Predictability" and the y-axis as "Malleability".
  • Plot out the various aspects of your current business strategy based on how predictable and malleable they are. For example, a well-established product line might be high in predictability but low in malleability.
  • Once plotted, identify which of the five strategies (Classical, Adaptive, Visionary, Shaping, Renewal) each aspect falls into.
  • Reflect on areas where you might need to shift strategies. Are there opportunities to employ a visionary approach? Or perhaps a shaping strategy?
  • Commit to revisiting this map quarterly to ensure your strategies remain aligned with the changing business landscape.
2. Future-Proofing Brainstorm

Objective: To anticipate future challenges and strategize accordingly.

  • Gather a team or work solo to list down potential future challenges or changes in your industry.
  • For each challenge, brainstorm potential solutions or strategies you might employ.
  • Consider how each solution aligns with the five strategy types. Which is most applicable?
  • Rank each solution based on feasibility and potential impact.
  • Choose at least one solution to start implementing or further researching.
3. Strategy Role Play

Objective: To understand each strategy type deeply through experiential learning.

  • Form groups of 4-5 people. Assign each group one of the five strategy types.
  • Provide each group with a hypothetical business scenario. Ask them to strategize using their assigned strategy type.
  • Allow each group to present their strategy. Discuss the pros and cons.
  • Reflect on real-life applications of each strategy type.
  • Consider how these role-play sessions might inform your actual business strategy.
4. Adaptability Assessment

Objective: To gauge how agile and adaptable your current strategies are.

  • Review your current business strategies and identify which type they predominantly fall into.
  • Ask: How quickly can we shift from one strategy to another? What barriers exist?
  • Identify areas of improvement in terms of adaptability.
  • Formulate an action plan to increase strategic agility.
  • Periodically reassess and adjust as necessary.
5. Vision Casting

Objective: To develop a visionary strategy for a potential product or market.

  • Identify a gap in the market or an emerging trend that aligns with your business.
  • Visualize a product or service that addresses this gap or capitalizes on the trend.
  • Develop a visionary strategy: How will you introduce this to the market? How will you scale?
  • Consider potential challenges and how you might address them.
  • Share your vision with a trusted colleague or mentor and gather feedback.

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