A TEDx video featuring Simon Sinek, author of the book: Start with Why, came to my attention as we were scanning for engaging pre-session material for a client project. From TED.com:
Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers …
In essence, he observed that while most will tell you first WHAT they do, HOW they do it, and then WHY, great leaders reverse the order. He asserts this works because our brains evolved that way. While I’m not all the way on board with that part of his theory, Simon is a great storyteller ‚Äď upbeat, interesting and thought-provoking. Really, really thought-provoking.
After taking the video in, Ann and I set out to re-draft the story of our company, starting with Why, and were surprised at the result. We hope you enjoy the video, and then invite you to part two, where we share our latest draft message and ask you for candid feedback!
At a recent strategy update retreat with one of our clients, we introduced scenario planning as a front-end to their strategy process. The improvement was dramatic! One of the partners even queried us if we had been actively using scenario planning at the time we’d done their original strategy session. (We assured him that we hadn’t, that it was a new offering, and we had NOT been holding out on him!) He thought it added tremendous value and insight, and maintained that it should be part of their strategy process from here on out.
Much credit for the tremendous improvement between the two sessions goes to our associate, Nicole-Anne Boyer, founder of Adaptive Edge LLC. Since 2009, Ann, Charles and I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Nicole. From the start of our association, our strategic planning offering has been turbo-charged with the addition of robust scenario planning, strategic foresight and futures thinking. While I had thought I knew something of scenario planning before, I have been learning at a furious pace to come up-to-speed on the state of the art in scenario planning.
Scenario planning has been around for a very long time, but took significant strides forward, notably in the planning department at Royal Dutch Shell, and at the Global Business Network. It is now used widely in planning processes in business.
‚ÄúAccording to Bain & Company‚Äôs annual survey of management tools, fewer than 40% of companies used scenario planning in 1999. But by 2006 its usage had risen to 70%.‚ÄĚ
‚Äď The Economist, September 1st, 2008
I have been learning that there are as many forms and methods of scenario planning as there are practitioners, but there has been a clear evolution in the purpose and motive for scenario planning.
- Inform Planning: Use the output of a scenario planning exercise to inform a conventional ‚Äúout-think the future‚ÄĚ strategy session.
- Adapt to Future: Scenario planning becomes part of 1) a way of thought for leadership, and 2) an early warning system to help a company to adapt to future changes. One of the funders of modern scenario planning framed it so:
‚ÄúThe test of a good scenario is not whether it portrays the future accurately but whether it enables an organization to learn and adapt.”
‚Äď Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View
- Shape the Future: The scenario planning process might be taken beyond the walls of the organization and involve the wider system we are trying to influence. The scenario planning process is then a catalyst in a broader, generative effort to shape our desired future. Put another way:
‚ÄúThe best way to predict the future is to invent it.‚ÄĚ
‚Äď Alan Kay, Scientist and Apple Fellow
In our work at Ralston Consulting Inc., we have always focused on helping our clients develop the orientation and capacity for generative change to create their desired future. Our collaboration with Nicole has given our mission a tremendous boost!
In Profiting from Uncertainty: Strategies for Succeeding No Matter What the Future Brings, authors Paul J. H. Schoemaker and Robert E. Gunther make a point about the discrepancy between the forces shaping a sector‚Äôs future, and where management tends to focus. Their claim is that about half the forces shaping the future value of a business – developments in the industry, and in the larger global environment – ¬†are not monitored by management, and thus, ‚Äúleft to fate‚ÄĚ.
Instead, management is compiling backward-looking internal and industry trend data to forecast future conditions. This is backed up by informal surveys by Gary Hamel & C. K. Prahalad, suggesting that senior management devote less than 3 % of their time and energy to building a collective vision of the future. (Competing for the Future, Harvard Business Press, April 1, 1996, p 4)
We need a working understanding of our external environment and the many possible futures that may emerge, as making plans based on a single notion of the future can increase risk even as, paradoxically, it reduces our sense of conflict about an unknown future. The world is simply too uncertain and complex for such single-point predictions; and they give a false, sometimes dangerous, confidence that we are in control more than we really are.¬†At the other extreme, we cannot become paralyzed by what we perceive as too much uncertainty, as we become obsessed with avoiding risk.¬†We must plot a course between prediction and paralysis, thinking about the future in terms of multiple possibilities in order to better create our desired future.
Action Plan: Make a practice of ‘learning from the future’. To kick off your 2011 strategic planning cycle, take your leadership team through a facilitated scenario-planning process. In the course of co-exploring 3-4 possible futures, defining a ‘desired future’ and gleaning strategic insights, your team will develop a much deeper capacity to mine profit in areas of high uncertainty – an area your competitor is likely¬†spending 3% of their focus on!
We had drafted our pithy review of the book: DRIVE: The surprising truth about what motivates us, when Ann discovered this very effective animation based on Dan Pink’s talk at the 250-year-old (but surprisingly hip!) Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).
This 11-minute video is highly-watchable for both content that challenges conventional wisdom about motivating knowledge workers, and an innovative combination of a graphic artist and time-lapse filming. Enjoy!
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Interested in sustainability? Then call the MIT Sloan Management Review, fall 2009 issue, a page turner – it includes a special report on sustainability and competitive advantage. Even better, an expanded special report is available, online, for free, thanks to sponsorship from SAS.
This report draws from in-depth interviews with more than 50 sustainability thought leaders and corporate CEOs around the world, including General Electric, Unilever, Nike, Royal Dutch Shell, Interface and BP. Shaped by the findings from those interviews, 1500 corporate executives and managers were surveyed about their perspectives on the intersection of sustainability and business strategy. Choose summary PDF or full E-Zine report (with PDF available within report – choose “Download” from the toolbar.)
Pundits interviewed in the print issue include Amory Lovins, Henry Mintzberg, Peter Schwartz, and Interface CEO, Ray Anderson. Online, you can also hear from John R. Ehrenfeld, Peter Senge and others…
¬© 2009 Gary Ralston
People talk about a ‘living document‘ – a document constantly updated to reflect the current understanding of strategy, goal and plan. But plans do not live in documents (and certainly not in PowerPoint decks!) – they live in the minds of the leaders, managers and workers, as¬†stories.
You can intentionally help this process along by writing narratives using short forms, such as¬†mantras, parables and urban legends, or longer forms such as¬†manifestos, position papers, movies, audio presentations and graphic novels.
Here’s the test: your plan is only alive if it has replicated itself in some way in the thoughts and actions of the people executing the plan.
Finally, you need to re-think your plan more frequently than ever before, as the pace of change increases, globally. If you used to do 5-year plans, consider 3-year plans. If you reviewed annually, consider quarterly tune-ups. For some fast-growing companies in unstable markets, a month might not be too often to revisit…