Back in the 1920s, Harvard Business School(HBS) professors decided to develop and experiment with innovative and unique business instruction methods. As the first school in the world to design a signature, distinctive program in business, later to be called the MBA, there was a need for a teaching method that would benefit this novel approach.
Central to the case method is the idea that students are not provided the “answer” or resolution to the problem at hand. Instead, just like a board member, CEO, or manager, the student is forced to analyze a situation and find solutions without full knowledge of all methods and facts. Without excluding more traditional aspects, such as interaction with professors and textbooks, the case method provides the student with the opportunity to think and act like managers.
HBS professors selected and took a few pages to summarize recent events, momentous challenges, strategic planning, and important decisions undertaken by major companies and organizations. The idea was, and remains to this day, that through direct contact with a real-world case, students will think independently about those facts, discuss and compare their perspectives and findings with their peers, and eventually discover a new concept on their own.
So far, so good.
In lecture courses, claimed a Harvard professor, students ” are waiting for you to give the ‘answer ‘ “. There is a built-in bias against action. What we say with the case method is : ” Look, I know you don’t have enough information, but given the information you do have, what are you going to do? “.
Consider a typical scenario. James is the CEO of MegaCorp Inc. What should the company do now? The professor and almost 90 of James’ classmates anxiously await his response to the totally ‘ cold call ‘- designed to ensure that students have prepared the case. James did give it a long thought. After all, he was told that the case study method is intended to ” challenge conventional thinking “. He has also been reminded that good managers are decisive, good MBA students must take a stand. So James swallows hard and answers the question.
” How can I answer the question? “- James begins. ” I barely heard about MegaCorp Inc before yesterday. Yet today, you want me to pronounce on its strategy. As is typical at Harvard, James was working on two other case studies the previous night, so he barely had a couple of hours to prepare on the MegaCorp Inc case. He had never knowingly used any of the MegaCorp products. Until the previous day he did not even know that the rat poison that he used on his basement was made by the same MegaCorp Inc. He had never visited any of its factories nor has been anywhere close to ‘ You Never Know Where, Newfoundland ‘, where MegaCorp is headquartered. He has never spoken to any of the company’s customers(except of course himself). James says ” My previous experience(the little there was) took place in a furniture company. MegaCorp is a high-tech company and I am a very low tech guy. All I have to go by are these few pages. This is a superficial exercise. I refuse to answer your question “.
What happens to James? At the business school, I will let you hazard(?) a guess. But from there James moves back to the furniture business, where he immerses himself in the products, the process, the people. And with his courage to be decisive and with an appetite to challenge conventional thinking, James rises to the position of the CEO. There with hardly any ‘ industry analysts ‘ at all, James and his colleagues learn their way to a strategy that transforms the furniture business.
Meanwhile, John, who is sitting next to James in class jumps in. He too has never been to ‘ You Never Know Where, Newfoundland ‘. But that doesn’t stop him.He makes a clever point or two and gets that coveted Harvard MBA. This gets him into a ‘ prestigious consulting firm ‘, where as in those case study classes, he leaps from one situation to another, each time making a clever point or two, concerning issues he recently knew nothing about, always leaving the firm before implementation (action) begins.
As this kind of experience rolls in, John doesn’t take far too long in becoming the CEO of a major appliance company.(He never consulted for one but it does remind him of that MegaCorp case study). There, after downsizing( it’s fashionable you see) a few thousand unsuspecting Human Resources, he formulates a glitzy high-tech strategy, which is implemented, so to speak, through a dramatic program of acquisitions. What happens to that?? Guess again!
Readers (of the book ‘ What they Really Teach You At Harvard Business School ‘by Philip Delves Broughton) are probably asking , ‘ Read the case and do that analysis in two to four hours?’ Harvard’s answer is YES. Students need to prepare two to three cases each day..so (they) must work toward getting their analysis done fast as well done well.
Some years back, HBS ran an ad in The Economist for it’s executive education programs. It had a dapper, uber smart looking executive-woman saying, ” We studied four companies a day. This isn’t theory. This is experience.”
Sorry. This is nonsense.
There was a book released in 1990 called ‘ Inside the Harvard Business School ‘ by David Ewing, for long, an insider. The first line of the book makes a sweeping statement ” The Harvard Business School is probably the most powerful private institution in the world “.The book listed 19 Harvard alumni who had made it to the very top, the school’s superstars as of 1990. If you took a look at the post 1990 records of all 19, to see how they fared, there was only one word to describe it- BADLY. 10 of them clearly seem to have failed(meaning their company went bankrupt), they were forced out of the CEO chair or a major merger backfired, or the like. Performance of another four appeared to be very questionable. The other five seem to have done fine.
To conclude, most MBA students enter the prestigious HBS or similarly profiled hallowed Ivy Leagues smart, determined, aggressive. There, case studies teach them how to pronounce clearly on situations they know little about , while analytic techniques give them the impression that they can tackle any problem- no in-depth experience required. With graduation comes the confidence of having been to a proper business school, not to mention the ‘ old boys ‘ network that can boost them to the top. Then what??
Begs the question!! Case Study or Case Unsteady?
Ready. (Case) Study. Go!!
The future happens slowly..and then all of a sudden. In his fabulous 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway famously wrote that bankruptcy happens in two ways: “gradually and then suddenly”.
Some years back Andy Grove( ex-CEO, Intel) had introduced the concept of strategic inflection points in his seminal book Only the Paranoid Survive where he explained that a strategic inflection point is ” a time in the life of a business when it’s fundamentals are about to change “.
A change in the business environment that dramatically shifts some elements of your activities, throwing certain taken-for-granted assumptions into question is an inflection point. Someone, somewhere, sees the implications, but all too often they are not heard. That someone might be you!
Whether you are a powerful CEO or someone far lower down in the pecking order, not seeing the unfolding inflection points(or blind spots ) are dangerous.
What is the case we are making here? Too many managers develop strategy while focusing on problems in the present and that is especially true in the times of a crisis(like the Covid 19 pandemic that we are presently pulverised by). Lets call it ‘ missing the wood for the trees ‘. What I am trying to argue here is that leaders instead should imagine the future and work backward so that they build their organisations and brands for the new(emerging) reality.
Even during a crisis, developing a ” future-back ” mindset can spur innovation and growth.
So, in order to build strategy, start with the future.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of brands and organisations that have used the ” future-back ” approach to stunning effect.
Back in the late 90’s and the turn of the millennium, Intel was ruling the roost. With a market share well over 70%, the brand was well and truly in the driver’s seat(apart from being inside millions of computers) with the Pentium Processor going from strength to strength. At the height of that market dominance, Andy Grove took a visionary punt and launched a brand to compete against its very own Pentium– that was the Celeron range of Processors. What he did was to see the future being dominated by cheaper, faster processors( Moore’s Law ) and he did not want Intel to lose out on the potential opportunity that lay ahead of them. That saying Andy Grove was visionary would be an understatement and how prescient the observation in his book ” When spring comes, snow melts first at the periphery, because that is where it is most exposed “, bears testimony. Intel Inside. Meets Intelligence and Insight!
Take another example of the ” future-back ” approach that Reed Hastings, Founder/CEO of Netflix adopted to reach where it is today. At the height of their DVD rental business success, they ventured into streaming(encouraging both cannibalisation and migration of their existing subscriber base) anticipating that the medium to long term future of in home entertainment will hinge on that. Not just that, look at their understanding of the competitive landscape- it went well beyond the typical television broadcast networks and cable TV of the day. They distilled the big picture into getting their prospect’s time and attention. Broadened the eco system significantly. Rather made it a category by itself. So, in effect, the competition included time their viewer/s spent going to movie houses, eating out, entertaining friends and family, travel and holidays etc etc. By wearing a different lens and examining a hitherto unseen/untried approach, helped them immensely in becoming the brand they are today.
No conversation about a ” future-back ” model and a vision preceding strategy would be complete without talking about Steve Jobs and Apple. Back in the day, the way they disrupted music consumption and music distribution through iTunes and iPod is now part of folklore. They did not wait for either the market or the customer to tell them what is needed. They took moonshots( it’s in the culture), created highly desirable products that the customer never knew they wanted or would need and generated unprecedented gravitas, and the rest they say is history. Apple as a brand and Steve Jobs as a leader was always seeing around corners, anticipating trends and operated at the intersection of a new future and non articulated consumer need and desire.
Let me add here. ‘ Customer knows best ‘ is a whole load of balderdash. If organisations were to depend on customers to know what is needed, there would not have been any Post It Notes(3M), Fax Machines(Xerox) and many of today’s incredibly successful brands like Amazon, Tesla, Netflix, Airbnb, Uber, Zomato etc. The onus and responsibility of drawing the future and working backward from there is fully on you, your brand, your organisation. So, don’t run away from it. Take it head on.
While we debate the vision vis a vis strategy and the “ future-back ” model to a ” present-forward ” one, do be aware that a vision is like an ‘ impressionist painting ‘ and NOT a ‘ photograph ‘. A photograph captures what there is already, there is NO speculation, hedging, punting and imagining the non existent. A vision on the other hand is similar to an impressionist painting in the sense that it is visualising what could/should be, what will/can be or what may/may not be. It is taking a shot at the future and setting the road to travel back from there.
To be blunt, getting through this tricky process of envisioning the future begins with confusion, experimentation and a touch of chaos followed by a single minded determination to make progress against an overarching goal. And an approach that futurist Paul Saffo recommends as creating as many forecasts as possible, fail as quickly as possible and vitally ” to hold strong opinions weakly “.
Another valuable perspective on this chaotic period of thinking is offered by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. Anything that has more upside than downside from random events(or certain shocks) is anti fragile.
Rita McGrath, Columbia Business School professor and business consultant recommends a ‘ discovery driven approach ‘ to anticipating the future and you can dive deeper into her thinking and recommendations in BrandKnew on these links https://www.brandknewmag.com/thinking-innovation-driving-growth/ and https://www.brandknewmag.com/discovery-driven-digital-transformation/ .
It was the 4th of February, 2014. Satya Nadella was announced as the new CEO of Microsoft, the third chief executive in the company’s history, following Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. Recognising that most of Microsoft’s woes at the time were a function of an approach that was ” present forward “, the first thing he did was to tell everyone in the organisation ” We are going to be moving away from a know it all organisation to a learn it all one “. Looking back on how well Microsoft is doing now compared to 2014, bears testimony to the potential for organisations in adopting a ” future-back ” model.
Brands that didn’t heed the ” future-back ” model and met their fate inspite of being market leaders once upon a time include the likes of Blockbuster, Kodak, Nokia, Toys ‘R’ Us.
There are other industries very ripe for the picking to drive home further the point of vision preceding strategy. The pharmaceutical sector for instance. Based on empirical evidence, learnings from past epidemics like SARS, Ebola, Swine Flu, emerging lifestyle patterns and the accompanying chronic diseases that it helps manifest(diabetes for one), a pharma company can seize opportunities and address customer pain points that will occur in the future. An example that is worth looking at is the pharma giant Roche. Which saw huge potential in the ” future-back ” approach. That helped revive it’s struggling diabetes unit. The company ingeniously paired the mySugr app (which it had acquired in 2017) with Roche’s Accu-Chek Guide glucose meter, thereby allowing diabetics to have a different, gamified experience to managing their condition. By logging in their blood glucose levels, completing tasks and challenges, users can “tame their diabetes monster”. It’s a totally different approach(at least for the pharma sector) which forecasts that “the way forward will mean selling a total experience, not just a product.”
Rather than look at Fall of 2020 or Spring of 2021, Universities/Colleges will be best served to go further down the road and see how do we cope, prepare and anticipate learning and training needs in the near distant future and move backward from there. With the current Covid-19 crisis having caught a lot of educational institutions severely under prepared and like a deer in the headlights with no werewithal (and mindset) for virtual/online delivery, the time is now, to graduate, to look into the future.
So, ‘ where do you go from here ‘? Or, rather, I should be asking ‘ where are you coming back from ‘ ?
PS: For leaders and organisations wanting to undertake ‘A back to the future voyage ‘, the video on this link https://www.groupisd.com/phewturecast/ can be a starting point.
A legacy approach might be stifling you, without you even realising it.Best practices may not be that best(or better) at all. In fact there is scope to abandon best practice as the ‘ practice ‘ as it used to exist has changed altogether.
Your current marketing and customer strategies may unknowingly be rooted in old patterns. It may be time for a change.
The purpose of business—creating a customer—and your customers—at a human level—aren’t changing. That, irrespective of all the tectonic shifts happening around them.
But for many businesses, it’s time to make a change toward having a deep understanding of their true purpose and their customers.
The terms consumer and customer are often used interchangeably but they signify very different relationships. Etymologically, consumer stems from a word that means “one who squanders or wastes,” whereas customer stems from a word meaning “a person with whom one has dealings,” with the implication that it is an ongoing relationship.
As Stanley Marcus, of Neiman Marcus, wrote, “Customers are people; consumers are statistics.”
Marketing isn’t about selling to the customer; that’s a byproduct. As the legendary Peter Drucker observed, “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself. Ideally, marketing should result in a customer who is ready to buy.”
It’s the time to break old tendencies. Its the time to be aware, to rebel, to kill old habits and to seek change.
Not changing is a default tendency. Change the default settings!
It’s amazing how a single tap on the space bar can make such a difference.
“Another” is one of those odd English words that have multiple and contradictory meanings. One definition is “being one more in addition to one or more of the same kind,” like having another car payment or eating another piece of pizza (two more things none of us likely need).
But “another” also means “different or distinct from the one first considered.” That puts an entirely different spin on things, and putting a space between the letters underscores the point.
The world rarely needs “another,” but it will always welcome “an other” — particularly in the most mature, crowded and commoditized industries, where sameness leads to staleness.
Time after time, another product or service gets superseded by an other product or service, making our lives more pleasant, more efficient, more productive, or better in a host of additional ways.
Seeking “an other” is a good strategy to keep pace with the inexorable march of creative destruction. In the marketplace, what is, will not always be, and what is to come, has not always been. The task of strategists is to be agents of creation rather than victims of destruction. Our challenge is to pursue the new and unproven even as we preserve the existing and profitable.
Unless you can ensure your company, brand or service is continually and legitimately “an other,” it’ll end up becoming just “another.”
We are tribal by nature. Human beings have evolved in that fashion. Therefore the ‘ herd mentality ‘. Yes, we have heard that before. And this as well. Birds of the same feather. Flocking together. Which leads to the SOS factor: Sea of Sameness. What makes you distinct? What makes you unique? There is comfort in fellowship. There is comfort in companionship. But, the real magic happens outside the comfort zone.
Are you up to the challenge/opportunity? We at ISD Global(https://bit.ly/2riIk7l) are and looking forward to it.
A lot of us are now on the drawing board mapping out ways to get better in 2018. The fundamentals are not going to change- reach, connect,engage, influence, transact and all of that- but what could we do to better stimulate the landscape as we get set to welcome and take on the New Year. Here’s a partial(and ever evolving list):-
a) A new BHAG of tricks: Nothing brings together a team like a BHAG — a Big Hairy Aggressive Goal —without enough time to deliver it. Backs to the wall brings out the best in us!
b) Am not alluding to the fact of disrespecting the organisation chart but don’t obsess over it on paper.Instead, get the right people, the right goals and vitally, the right trust in place.
c) And for all the HeRoines and HeRoes in HR, recruit with an immersion, not just an interview. Align passion with goals.Basic, yes! Hire marketing leaders with general management skills to ensure results exceed individual contribution.
d) When things are working well, that is the best time to deconstruct your strategy and try new things.
e) If you are in a new category where your customers need a lot of education and support, your organisation needs to be built around education first and products second.
f) Extend your approach to marketing beyond “getting a message out there”; focus on building trust.
g) Don’t overcomplicate marketing. At the end of the day, it’s still marketing: Market Research, Content, Sales enablement, Awareness, Demand generation, Partnerships, Customer retention.Customer advocacy.
h) When you’re the underdog in your industry, hire people with the DNA to creatively leapfrog the competition, not follow the industry norms. You need to have your Purple Cow(fantastic book by Seth Godin).
i) Own marketing across the organisation. Don’t be afraid to integrate marketers into other parts of the organisation, but always have at least a dotted line back to marketing.
j) Don’t be afraid of data and machine learning. The time is now to put all that data to use to solve the problems humans simply can’t and further the industry. The key is to leverage them as part of your team, not external resources. Data is the (K)new oil as they say! The transition even amongst large enterprises hitherto involved ion B 2 B marketing is happening towards a B to I space(Business to Individual).
k) The best marketing combines data and storytelling. It gives you a way to appeal to the emotional side of people. The Unique Feelings Proposition is what brands need to go after!
l) The future of marketing is in the CeX(Customer Experience). Success comes from knowing your consumers’ passions, being innovative in the way you engage them and having a team that collaborates across all aspects of the customer experience delivery. For consumers, the thrill and purpose of experience has replaced the earlier compulsion for ownership. So ride the opportunity.
m) Marketers will know that The Future of Advertising will be a thing of the past. So, re invent, re engineer, re boot and re calibrate! There is a new customer segment: the Customer Segment of 1. Get ready to reach out to them. Address mindsets, not demographics!
n) As we are all agreeing these days, digital is just as much marketing as marketing is digital. So the two roles have combined, and how! It’s a tell, tell, tell, digitell world.
o) Brands and marketers will recognise the immense power of Transparency and how consumers warm up to brands who are not afraid to stand in their own truth. In a Post Truth world, The Future is Transparency!
Marketing has the power, and responsibility, to inspire the whole company, not just customers. Marketing also has the power to be so much more than the “make it pretty” department.It has the imperative to inspire everyone in the company, not just the people who touch the product.So, let us know our rockets from our launch pads.
For inspiring quotes and actionable intelligence from brand owners and marketing champions, please check this link http://groupisd.com/isd-brochure/
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