The Art of Strategy
Written by Skye Phillips – Senior Manager Consulting
“Strategy”— it’s a word that resonates in the boardrooms of corporations, the halls of academia, and the minds of entrepreneurs. We know it’s essential, a compass guiding us toward our goals. But as the world evolves, is it time to challenge the very essence of strategy itself?
Gone are the days when strategy could be neatly defined within the confines of a traditional framework. The rules of the game are no longer fixed, and what worked yesterday may be irrelevant today. It’s time to break free from the shackles of conventional thinking and unleash the true power of strategy—a power that lies in its ability to adapt, innovate and create new possibilities.
Strategy must shed its cloak of scientific rigidity and predictable formulas for success. Enter the concept of strategy as a form of art.
Redefining the Blue Oceans
The concept of blue oceans, introduced by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, has captivated the minds of strategists for years. At its core, it asks organisations to create uncontested market spaces and render their competition irrelevant. By shifting focus from battling rivals to carving out new territories, businesses can unlock unprecedented growth and innovation.
However, the journey towards blue oceans is not a purely rational process. It demands that we think beyond the boundaries of existing industries, challenge our assumptions, and envision uncharted possibilities. We can only do this by embracing the artistic dimensions of strategy: the audacity to reimagine the very nature of markets, to explore new niches, and to redefine the rules of the game.
Creative Destruction – Rise of the Phoenix
To truly seize the potential of blue oceans, we must go beyond the mere creation of new market spaces. We must embrace creative destruction, a concept bestowed on us by 20th Century economist Joseph Schumpeter. Our new approach to strategy on lessons from yesteryear might seem odd, but finding solutions in unexpected places is precisely what this is all about.
Somewhat counterintuitive to our familiar notions of order, creative destruction refers to the process of dismantling existing structures, paradigms and systems to make way for innovation and progress. Picture the phoenix, a mythical bird that rises from the ashes of its own destruction. It symbolises the rebirth that occurs when old ideas, institutions and practices are challenged and replaced with new, more vibrant ones.
But with destruction in our wake, what do we do with the fragments? How do we put ourselves back together to form new advantages?
Let’s dive a little deeper into Schumpterian principles to see what modern-day strategists can glean. At the heart of innovation lies the notion of combination and exchange. It involves bringing together ideas, information, products, services, or markets that were previously separate entities.
This view challenges the notion that innovation is solely about scientific discoveries or creating something completely new. Instead, he highlights the role of entrepreneurial spirit and the creative recombination of existing elements in fresh and ground-breaking ways. This approach renders us all capable of unlocking new possibilities, disrupting established norms and creating significant value.
Entrepreneurs who revolutionised entire industries:
When we think of modern-day entrepreneurs who have revolutionised entire industries, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are two examples often cited. But there are plenty of others who have embodied strategic artistry and creative thinking equally well.
Uber – Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp
Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, the co-founders of Uber, combined smartphone technology, GPS navigation and ride-hailing services to disrupt the transportation industry. By creating a platform that seamlessly connected riders with drivers, they revolutionised the way people commute. Uber’s combination of technology, convenience and flexible employment opportunities created a new model for transportation, challenging traditional taxi services and transforming urban mobility.
Airbnb – Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk
Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk, the founders of Airbnb, combined the sharing economy, online marketplace and hospitality industry to create a global platform for short-term accommodation rentals. By enabling individuals to rent out their homes to travellers, they unlocked a new form of accommodation that provided unique and personalised experiences. Airbnb’s combination of trust-building mechanisms, user reviews and a seamless booking process disrupted the hotel industry and empowered individuals to become hosts.
Spotify – Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon
Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, the co-founders of Spotify, combined music streaming technology, personalised recommendations and licensing agreements with record labels to transform the way people listen to music. By offering a vast library of songs that could be accessed on-demand and customised playlists tailored to individual preferences, Spotify revolutionised the music industry. Their combination of convenience, personalisation and a fair revenue-sharing model disrupted traditional distribution methods and empowered artists and listeners alike.
These luminaries embody the spirit of creative destruction and innovation. Their journeys remind us that strategy is not a mere science, but rather an art form – an expression of human ingenuity, passion and creativity.
If strategy is no longer an act of bounded rationality, then what are the essential leadership qualities that will help us shape our blue oceans, again and again?
There are many, but here are a few thought starters to get your creative juices flowing:
1. Visionary Thinking and Audacity
At the heart of creative destruction lies visionary thinking – a capacity to see beyond the limitations of the present and imagine a different future. This requires an audacious mindset that challenges the status quo and defies conventional wisdom, alongside the courage to embrace risks that bring visions to life. Leaders’ audacity drives them to venture into uncharted territory that others may perceive as impossible.
2. Unconventional Problem-Solving
Innovative thinkers are known for their unconventional problem-solving approaches. They possess the ability to navigate complexity, embrace ambiguity, and find elegant solutions to intricate challenges. To see problems as opportunities, and constraints as catalysts for innovation.
3. Tolerance for Failure and Adaptability
For disruptive entrepreneurs, failure is not setback, it’s a valuable learning experience and a stepping-stone towards success. They possess the resilience to bounce back, adapt to changing circumstances, and iterate their strategies until they achieve breakthrough results.
4. Curiosity and Continuous Learning
Pioneering leaders possess insatiable curiosity and an unyielding thirst for knowledge. To constantly seek new information, explore different disciplines, and connect seemingly unrelated concepts to uncover novel insights. They view learning as a lifelong journey and actively cultivate a growth mindset within themselves and their teams.
5. Collaboration and Networking
Creative disruption and innovation thrive in environments that foster collaboration and embrace diverse perspectives. Leaders who understand the power of collaboration actively cultivate networks of individuals with complementary skills and diverse backgrounds. They recognise that great ideas often emerge through the exchange of perspectives and the synthesis of different views.
So how prepared are you to deviate from the guardrails of traditional strategy to embrace ambiguity, creativity and artistry?
The words of Leonardo da Vinci come to mind: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Similarly, strategy is an ongoing masterpiece, forever evolving and adapting to the rhythm of change. So let us become artists of strategy, embracing the journey, unleashing our human ingenuity, and painting a future that goes beyond the confines of what we know is possible, today.