Wisdom From Above The Clouds
Have you ever been on a flight where as you’re taking off all you can see out the window is hazy, overcast weather – only to at some time later have your flight break through and emerge above the clouds, where all of sudden the sun is shining bright and clear?
If so, then you’ll know how this gives one a sense of achieving clarity after having spent a long time dealing with uncertainty and doubt.
Businesses are very much like this. As business leaders, we spend so much of our time and energy living life “beneath the clouds”… trying desperately day-in and day-out to lead our everyday operations in a way that ensures, executionally, everything goes “according to plan”. Never in all of this do we rise up above the clouds to seek – and to find – real clarity about the long term future of our business, not to mention the types of strategies we’ll need for our business to thrive in this future and remain resilient in the face of the many new challenges and changes it will inevitably bring.
This is problematic, as we now live in what has been called “the age of earthquakes”… a period in the history of businesses where radical market shifts – metaphorically speaking, “earthquakes” and “tsunamis” – are happening at an unprecedented rate.
New Ways of Engaging Stakeholders
In the face of this, the challenge for businesses is not simply pursuing more of the same… more of what has always been done. Businesses cannot afford to just keep adding more “noise”, with yet another motivational speech, yet another business presentation, yet another board meeting, yet another how-to book, or yet another best-practices conference. All of these are almost for certain to be long forgotten and dissipated just as quickly as they reenter the workplace. Just more of this same won’t cut it. It ends up being meaningless… a chasing after the wind.
Instead, the real challenge for businesses is to constantly strive to find compelling new ways of engaging their customers, their markets, their workers, and their investors – all of their stakeholders – and of leading them to new places where together they can explore, adapt, and reshape their collective understanding of how their mutual worlds should operate – including the vibrant new lifestyles and work-styles this can afford, as well as the sometimes-radical new business models it will require in the exchange of value.
Why is this the overriding challenge of our day?
This is our challenge because fundamentally it is no longer enough to just be a “market leader” in the traditional sense of the word, let alone a market follower.
Traditionally, market leaders read the tea leaves so that they could understand where their markets were heading and then strove to stay at the forefront of that movement. But this was still a passive and reactive approach… an approach that is increasingly less relevant to where our world sits today.
Instead of trying to be a “market leader” in this sense, businesses must now rise up to become a market driver. Being a market driver means taking a far more proactive approach to one’s strategies – rather than trying to discern the tea leaves for guidance, they instead strive to become the ones who are writing the tea leaves… the ones defining and shaping where their markets – and to some degree the world – are all going.
This is the wisdom that comes from rising above the clouds.
Consider Amazon for example. This is precisely the approach that Amazon has taken in the world of retail. They are not simply leading from where their markets are going; rather they are actually defining where those markets are going through aggressive and proactive actions that are very much in harmony with what these markets are now valuing. As this clearly demonstrates, such an approach dramatically accelerates the growth and leadership of such businesses, putting them clearly in the driver’s seat for defining where their markets are going – with all of the attendant revenue and profit rewards that come with it, albeit each on a given timeline of maturation (which requires a certain level of patience and perseverance).
So how does a business achieve this level of clarity and wisdom for its own sake?
The answer to that lies in developing – and executing – a well-informed multi-tier (Horizon 1, 2, & 3) Innovation Strategy. This is a strategy that lays out specific actions for:
- Horizon 1 – our current business: life beneath the clouds… allowing us to capture and extract as much value as possible from this business.
- Horizon 2 – adjacencies to our current business: life at the level of the clouds… enabling us to further extend our current foundations of value so that tomorrow we can capture even more value from them.
- Horizon 3 – completely new lines of business and/or business models: life above the clouds… empowering us to transform and redefine our businesses into new things that will reengage our markets – and sometimes create entirely new markets – so that we can keep on keeping on well into the future.
Concurrent with this, we must devise organizational operations and resources that are capable of executing each of these strategies – independent of one another. This is where a properly designed Corporate Innovation program and structure come into play. And we have to accept the fact that a byproduct of our pursuing lean, agile, capital-efficient experimentation like this in our Horizon 2 and 3 work will be a certain amount of technical and organizational debt that we’ll have to work out later on, just as with any other new endeavor. This is simply a part of moving fast and shaping markets.
The unfortunate reality is that most organizations lack the leadership capacity to envision clear new strategies in this way, as well as the organizational capacity to operate in this way.
The fortunate news however is that help is available to help organizations develop both this leadership capacity and organizational capacity. Your organization can transform into one that sees and thinks above the clouds… one that drives and shapes its markets… one that writes its own tea leaves, rather than one that is constantly trying to react. This requires commitment and discipline however, but with these, organizations can become this kind of market driver. With the right training, coaching, and assistance, they can unlock, shape, and harness these capacities and release this power in the business – and reap the rewards thereof.
I’m part of a tribe that’s in deep thought about the organizational and leadership capacities needed to be a market driver. We believe in living life simultaneously beneath the clouds, at the clouds, and above the clouds. Contact me to learn more.
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Anthony Mills is a foremost thought leader on business innovation. As the Founder & Chief Executive Officer of innovation agency Legacy Innovation Group, he has advised business executives from all over the world and has led countless innovation efforts. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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