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Why make time now for strategy exploration? (Part 2)

“The best way to predict the future is to create it,” said Abraham Lincoln. If you are a C-level executive, business unit leader, or an entrepreneur, the start of a new, disruptive decade is an ideal point in time to look at the big picture of your business and to explore the evolving strategic market environment. At Thinkergy, we guide management teams through such a Strategic Xploration-exercise with the help of the strategy toolkit in our X-IDEA toolbox.

In part 1 of this two-article-series, I first shared with you what happens at the beginning of a Strategy Xploration Project. Then, we discussed at length what happens in the intensive Xploration phase. Here, we direct you to check out facts and assumptions, ask you lots of thought-provoking questions, help you to look at your business from many different perspectives, and map out trends and strategic risks, among others. In today’s final part 2 of this article, I’ll walk you through what happens in the subsequent immersion and extraction steps of a Strategy Xploration Project.

3. Immerse yourself with fresh information to close your knowledge gaps

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge,” noted the American educator Daniel J. Boorstin. By the end of the Xploration step of Strategy Xploration, you have compiled a long Un-Knowledge List. These are things you don’t know yet about your business and the emerging market space but would want to know. After all, as Aldous Huxley said: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

In the subsequent Xploration Immersion-step, you attempt to close these identified knowledge gaps. You aim to turn un-knowledge into knowledge and —in some cases— into novel insights into your business. How?

  • First, in an Infostorming-exercise, we discuss how to best source a particular piece of missing information and who in your team will be doing it.
  • Then, with Infosourcing, you begin to close all identified knowledge gaps.
    • Typically, you do this by engaging in secondary research (e.g., by mining statistical data on the Internet).
    • However, in important cases, and if time permits, you may even engage in primary research. For example, you may survey critical stakeholders to validate your points listed in an earlier Walk A Mile-exercise. Or you may interview “extreme customers” to learn more about your value offerings. These Friends And Foes either fervently love or hate your company and your products.

For critical projects, we may suggest you analyze essential company- and customer-related big data. Big data analytics allows for checking out key assumptions that you listed earlier in the tool Assumptions Check. You can also use this to test business hypotheses related to identified points on our Unknowledge List. Often, big data analytics brings out surprising and, at times, even game-changing new insights that alter management’s views on the business.

For example, such an analysis may reveal that the most profitable customer segment to target going forward is one that you’ve somewhat neglected so far. My company Thinkergy partners with a German data-science-based strategic consulting agency (ScienceWorcs) that, for a fee, can analyze your essential company- and customer-related data.

4. Xtract your learnings and your outputs

Xtraction is the final phase in a Strategy Xploration project. By now, you and your teammates have compiled a long list of novel insights into your evolving market environment. For example, you’re likely to have identified relevant emerging trends and shifting market boundaries. You may have spotted potential new market opportunities. And you’ve recognized strategic risks that might threaten or even sink your business.

Visualize all insights in your Insights List in an Insights Map, which allows you to identify true “ahas” quickly. These are novel and important insights that really deepen and often fundamentally shift your understanding of your business and the evolving strategic market space.

Then, step back and ask: Is your vision still in line with those novel and important “ahas” you discovered? In case you’ve uncovered some genuinely game-changing novel insights, you may need to revisit your corporate vision. An excellent way to do this is to create Vision Scenarios, where you develop a new preferred vision of your future as well as three alternative scenarios (including a “disowned” one).

Alternatively, we may ask each team to come up with a BHAG. Thereby, you suggest a “big hairy audacious goal” for your company to pursue that can take the business to a higher level by the end of this decade. An effective BHAG may propose to strive for an ambitious target, to take on a common foe, to emulate an inspiring role model, or to achieve an internal transformation.

By the end of a Strategy Xploration project, you have gained clarity on what trends and market drivers are likely to affect your business in the coming years, and how to take your business forward towards success in a disruptive new decade. In some cases, you may have already gained a clear understanding on the next steps and strategic actions you need to take in the coming years. In other cases, you may realize a need to disrupt your current business before the market does so. If you realize you need to shift your business to realize new market opportunities and to develop new value propositions, then follow Strategy Xploration with a follow-up project. 

So you’ve completed Strategy Xploration, what’s next?

In a Strategy Innovation project, we take the teams through the remaining four stages of X-IDEA (Ideation, Development, Evaluation, Action). How would we guide you through such a workshop?

  • In the Ideation stage, we help each team to come up with 700-1000 raw ideas catering to your strategic focus challenge.
  • In the second creative stage, Development, the teams then take time to design and develop 25-40 concepts of meaningful strategic action initiatives for your business.
  • During Evaluation, the teams evaluate all developed concepts. First, they separate the wheat from the chaff by identifying promising concepts, then enhance those, and finally elect their top five strategic action ideas.
  • In the final Action-stage of X-IDEA, the teams pitch their top ideas to a panel of jurors. We add all strategic action concepts that gain initial executive approval to a Strategic Road Map. This visual tool captures all strategic project initiatives that will be rolled out over the next 3-5 years and move you closer to your preferred vision.

As such, the main output of a Strategy Innovation Workshop is a Strategic Road Map with meaningful strategic actions. For example, a strategic action concept on Thinkergy’s Strategy Road Map 2020-2023 is, “Set-up an Affiliate Program for our innovator profiling test TIPS.” 

While a Strategy Road Map gives your efforts strategic focus and sets-out a clear pathway of strategic development and innovation projects, it is not cast in stone. The tool allows you to flexibly accommodate new initiatives that you may come up with later in response to discontinuities or disruptions in the market.

  • Would you like to learn more about X-IDEA? Our award-winning innovation method and toolbox that produces innovation results not only for strategy innovation projects but also for all other modern innovation types (such as product innovation or solution design).
  • Would you be interested to do a Strategy Xploration Project with us (either as ongoing consulting or in workshop formats)?
  • Contact us to tell us more about your innovation agenda 2020 and find out how we may help you deliver on it. 

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2020. The article is published in the Thinkergy Blog on February 13, 2020. It will be re-printed in the Bangkok Post on February 20, 2020.