Review: Fast Strategy–How strategic agility will help you stay ahead of the game

4 Star, Change & Innovation, Strategy

Fsst StrategySuperb, Needed by the 90% of Leaders Who Don't Read, August 26, 2008

Yves Doz

Minus one star for publisher being lazy about using Amazon tools to help readers see the table of contents and otherwise “look inside the book,” and for lack of deeper reference to externalities that deeply impact on emerging business models, including natural capitalism, moral capitalism, and transcendent capitalism.

I found the content engrossing, while on every page I realized that with every word, the authors are describing precisely what 90% of the “successful” leaders refuse to do–and especially those in the secret intelligence community that I know so well.

The authors blend deep strategic experience with Nokia and at INSEAD among many other qualifications, and I recommend this book be read together with two others that I recently reviewed:

The New Age of Innovation: Driving Cocreated Value Through Global Networks
Execution Premium

Book's bottom line: leaders must create and nurture counterintuitive blending–sustained constant blending, of the following:
+ Strategic sensitivity
+ Collective commitment
+ Resource fluidity
+ Management depoliticization

They summarize the challenge early on: “interdependent opportunities in the world of convergence and fuzzy enterprise boundaries and of rapid emergent systemic change in environment.”

Before summarizing the really compelling points made by the authors, I want to skip ahead to their appendices and list the thirteen toxicities that define most successful businesses today, as well as government agencies and most especially secret government agencies that are, in the words of one Defense Intelligence Senior Leader (DISL) cited in Still Broken: A Recruit's Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon: “institutionalized lunacy.”

The thirteen toxicities (buy the book for these pages alone):
– Tunnel vision
– Tyranny of core business
– Strategic myopia
– Dominance mindset
– Snap judgment and intellectual laziness
– Imprisoned resources
– Business system rigidity
– Ties that bind
– Management mediocrity and competence gaps
– Management divergence
– Heady charm of fame and power (or in secret world, lack of accountability for failing to deliver anything truly valuable)
– Expert management (making operational decisions instead of strategic)
– Emotional apathy

In the book in you are looking at it in a bookstore, pages 124-126 are a priceless inventory of the drivers, consequences, and toxicities that undermine strategic sensibility, collective commitment, and resource flexibility. Any CEO or Board of Directors can use these three pages alone to fail just about any company, right now, across the board.

Now here are the gems I pulled from this worthy offering:

+ Casting a wide net (as I suggested to AGSI in 1994)
+ Multiple levels of analysis (see image–threat and opportunity change depending on the level of analysis)
+ Including understanding of one's creeping and binding “lock ins”

+ Keep the top level meetings focused on strategy
+ Create culture of holistic accountability instead of silos
+ Make time for full information sharing and interaction
+ Treat personal objectives and concerns as critical inputs
+ Have a FAIR process that allows for needed UNEQUAL resource allocation

+ Some resources are more fluid (money, brand) than others (key people, fixed inputs, special relationships with clients)
+ Challenge is cognitive and political rather than procedural or financial
+ Generative growth (on the edges) is key–one reason I hate tethered devices like the X-Box or the iPhone
+ Must MAXIMIZE knowledge SHARING with OUTSIDE parties
+ Experiment

+ “Most top teams are, for natural reasons, collections of independent individuals with strong opinions rather than inspiring and innovative teams.” Page 79 citing Teams At the Top. In my own experience and that of Ben Gilad, author of Business Blindspots (order from UK Infonortics), the INFORMATION reaching most managers is biased, late, incomplete, filtered, and poorly focused–thus making opinions even more dangerous.
+ Authors feel strongly that teams need to be organized for mutual interdependencies, with incentives to match.
+ “Cognitive diversity is a key precondition to high-quality internal dialogs.”
+ Use young rising leaders as a shadow management team focused on the future
+ Have an OPEN strategy process
+ Leaders must learn to ASK and ADAPT rather than to DECIDE and TELL.

Other key points that grabbed me and are memorable:
+ Strategy now is continuous
+ Strategy now is less about foresight (still important), more about insight across every domain
+ Agility is the key ingredient, means being able to think and act differently (so much for most leadership teams)
+ Emotions matter–people not products innovate, learn to use this

I put the book down (at the beach, in Rohoboth) with three ideas bringing this encounter to a close:

1) Mature *successful* businesses die of strategic paralysis and the thirteen toxins

2) Three core values the authors use to conclude are

+ Dedication to EVERY client

+ Innovation that matters to both the company and the world

+ Trust and personal responsibility in ALL relationships.

3) Strike three for the US Intelligence Community and the US Government.

Here are some other books I consider to be, as with this one and the ones cited above, worthy of top minds seriously interested in doing the right thing for country, company, and customers:
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace Battle for the Soul of Capitalism]]
One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Wharton School Publishing Paperbacks)
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
THE SMART NATION ACT: Public Intelligence in the Public Interest

I had something to do with the last two and hope I can be forgiven for including them–it is not possible to perform as a smart company in the context of a dumb nation, nor is it possible to co-create value without recognizing that the gold standard now consists of meeting individual needs without social or environmental costs being externalized.

Excellent book. Buy it–this review is a taste, not the meal.

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