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28
Aug

Apple’s Steve Jobs would’ve told you “never build your strategy based on low-hanging fruit”

dent-in-universe-steve-jobs-strategy

I’ve been a successful strategy consultant since 1981. I’ve worked with Apple. I can tell you Steve Jobs (postmortem) is practically idolized for creating customer-driven strategies for Apple. I can also say, Apple’s Steve Jobs would’ve told you, “never build your strategy based on low-hanging fruit.”

First of all, many so-called internal strategists “feel falsely” that strategy is all about achieving goals and/or favorable outcomes, solving problems, building on strengths, and overcoming competitive weaknesses, Too many times they say, “What’s your plan?” I’ve also heard many of them first ask me or other strategy consultants about SWOT charts (strength/weakness; opportunity/threats);SWOT-image_03-1-1024x515 or discuss a ‘problem’ by asking for a ‘program proposal’, or a plan to resolve that MAJOR problem (and/or problems like that). I hear organizational presidents explain that their “strategy” will be to ‘listen’ to what’s happening on the front lines in the field, and then respond, (react), as things change, based on what their competitors/rivals do. This was recently even copied by the President of the United States in regards to Afghanistan policies going forward. NONE OF THAT IS STRATEGY! It may be ‘tactical.’ It may work for short-term gain. It might even be a very sound field tactic. It is NOT STRATEGY. What it really deals with is usually only the most superficial low-hanging fruit, and as a matter of policy — should be being taken care of by good operational practices and governance already! It isn’t strategy.

In the last post, I discussed a concept for X-Celerator Labs™. In that post, I discussed how local venture capitalists chose the “better-branded” TechShop™ instead, for this Pittsburgh region. Whether, their supposed strategy was based on ‘branding,’ or based on ‘other things –market share? …profits? … the competition? …customers? … sales volumes? …units sold? — I don’t know. What I knew then, and will repeat, is that the health-spa-style membership sales model used by TechShop (and many other “me-too” maker facilities use) was NOT a sound business (or association, or non-profit, or start-up) model — as the primary means of revenue-building. In Pittsburgh, the TechShop membership model has failed (TechShop announced they are departing Pittsburgh in September 2017), and it was not for lack of “maker interest.” Health-spa-membership models are built upon three bad premises: 1) They are based on moderate-to-high volumes of unit sales to rapidly gain market shares and operating revenues; 2) They are based on non-committal, ‘in-the-moment,’ ‘feel-good,’ urge-buying of the membership to satisfy a desire rather than evangelizing and satisfying customers in a manner that drives a long-term, retained clientele; 3) They are based on ONLY DESIGNING for a 20-30% regular usage by the total membership to save on costs. (When more than 30% use the facility, at any one time, there is lack of access to equipment and it leaves the member dissatisfied with their experience. I should note here that hospitals, and health care providers often also fall into the traps of health-spa memberships when dealing with patients, or establishing a patient-driven medical approach.) TechShopTechShop, in my professional opinion, chose the wrong business model (a model built on quick short-term returns, and rapid/consistent membership churn). TechShop provides a valuable and needed community service (just as health care providers do); but, it cannot function if in every month it loses money. What, then, should TechShop have done? What numbers should your strategy use to determine its success? TechShop’s initial strategy assumption is that they will only grow revenues/profits if they grow market-share. Is that a good assumption? There are many companies that follow this mantra as if it is always the fact by which one should set up an organization. But is it a true assumption?

Successful strategies are not always about solving problems, or making comparisons to Samsung-VS-Appleunderstand how to attack your real or potential rivals. Sitting in MBA classes, graduate students often look at case studies. One that was presented in my school was the strategy of Samsung vs. Apple in regards to smart-phone roll-outs. Over 85% of the class came to collective agreements during discussions that Samsung was beating Apple in smart phone strategies because their profits “were almost equal with Apple’s” and Samsung and Android were “dominating in market share.” (This, by the way, is much of the rationale of how pollsters often get their studies of markets/customers wrong as well.) To those majority of students, it was only a matter of time before Apple would lose its leadership, to be replaced by Samsung. Their recommendations, as business’ future strategists were to look at this, the arguments, the SWOT analysis, and other analyses — and state unequivocably that Apple needs to rework its strategy in advance of the impending threat of Samsung. Were they right? What if they were wrong?

What made everyone think that Apple’s strategy was the same as Samsung’s? Is strategy based on the same things in every case? Is it based on market share? …profits? … the competition? …customers? … sales volumes? …units sold? …units retained? To understand strategy you have to determine what it is based upon. To understand how to correctly compare your strategy with your rivals, you have to understand what their strategy is based upon, what conditions are present, how you’ve both positioned similar resources, how you’ve positioned different resources, and how you and your competitor has protected intellectual and proprietary properties. (After reading this, you may even wonder if all of this is necessary. Harvard’s Michael J. Porter would answer your question multiple ways that would probably state its value — and through that, reply ‘yes’; I would answer your question regarding strategy as, “It depends.” — both of us would see the tremendous value of and possibilities that came from knowing your rival.) Does market share, greater profits, etc. ‘Put a Dent in the Universe?’ … then, it is probably just someone discovering solutions, strengths, opportunities, threats — based on low-hanging fruits — essential for daily operations and tactical successes — but NOT (really) a strategy.

Applying my over 36 years of strategy consulting to this, I would say that probably one of the first great acid tests (acid tests: a rigorous and conclusive test to establish worth or value): “If the perceived strategy can ONLY resolve issues, or overcome competitive positions by tackling short-term low-hanging fruit problems — then it may NOT BE a strategy.” I stated “only,” because a good/great strategy is inclusive of resolving low-hanging fruit issues WITHOUT compromising its real purpose.

 

 

25
Aug

X-Celerator Labs™

X-Celerator Labs

X-Celerator Labs™

In 2007, The Xavier Group, Ltd. conceived a concept to be built within the Greater Pittsburgh region for a new collective workspace facility called X-Celerator Labs™. X-Celerator Labs™ was to become a for-profit, do-it-yourself mixed-use laboratory, engineering and fabrication center — an Advanced Rapid Manufacturing Start-up Accelerator.

 

 

 A slideshow overview of X-Celerator Labs™ Accelrator/Incubator (Click on image to begin)

X-Celerator Labs, (as envisioned), was intended to be an exciting new hybrid concept that acted as a collective facility to provide tinkerers, makers, inventors, entrepreneurs, businesses, R&D project / innovation teams, individual artists, hobbyists, engineers, students, and others access to their own advanced rapid manufacturing operation with the intent to accelerate prototype and pilot concepts into the marketplace.

In 2010, when The Xavier Group was securing venture capital to build this facility and to also line up major Pittsburgh region manufacturers to build X-Celerator Labs, some of the Venture Capitalists we originally approached opted instead to go with a franchise operation of San Francisco’s TechShop™. That franchise was partially funded by a grant from the Veteran’s Administration of the Obama Administration, and President Obama toured and spoke from the facility when it opened. In the past few months, as the presidency and White House Administration changed, TechShop lost the VA support and so TechShop announced they were closing the Pittsburgh-based franchise.

For The Xavier Group, it was a sad concept that VCs opted to support Tech Shop rather than X-Celerator Labs, because it pulled other supporters and major corporations away from us. X-Celerator Labs was a more advanced and prominent concept than TechShop, I believe.

TechShopFor example, unlike TechShop™, which was founded by TV Reality-show Mythbusters Jim Newton and Ridge McGhee in 2006 in Menlo Park, California, the heart of Silicon Valley, X-Celerator Labs was NOT ONLY to be based on revenue streams from user memberships — who would pay (as TechShop promotes) to be able to use the collective machines to work on their personal maker projects, or to resolve the frustrations associated with lack of access to the latest specialized and commercial-grade equipment.

Rather, X-Celerator Labs was going to be designed based on three older Xavier Group models: First, for a 1987 model of a Micro-Teaching Factory, “a flexible computer-integrated manufacturing microfactory facility.” MICRO-TEACHING FACTORY LOGOMicro-Teaching Factory was designed in the late 80’s in Monroeville, Pennsylvania for Kinkade Inc., a value-added trainer and distributor associated with Anilam Electronics Corp. Micro-Teaching Factory was a certified school to train manufacturers in the axiom of motion and bring them closer to the age of CNC,CAD,CAM,CIM, as well as in production quality outputs. Second, for a 1986 model of a Virtual Technology Incubator/Accelerator also designed in the late 80’s and based in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania to VirtualTechnologyIncubatorteach and incubate start-up businesses that would use “flexible cross-platform computer-integrated engineering, virtual reality, and new media business groupware concepts” (this center was owned and operated by The Xavier Group). Third, a 1978 model of KOS Office SuitesShared Executive Office-Suites concept developed by KOS & Associates by Booz and Allen alumni Thomas Kos in Pittsburgh’s North Hills in the early 80’s (The Xavier Group used their offices.)

Like Kinkade’s Micro-Teaching Factory, The Xavier Group’s Virtual Technology Incubator/Accelerator, and KOS’s Shared Executive Office Suites, X-Celerator Labs was deisgned to draw in people with varied interests but common outcome goals.

X-Celerator Labs was to have multiple revenue streams that included memberships to hands-on use and training in the mixed-use laboratory, images-2engineering and fabrication areas; a trainer and distributor OEM VAR showcase/demonstration and training area; training and maker programs provided in conjunction with local trade schools and community colleges; special rate professional and virtual assistance services; seed and venture capital connections; business incubator and accelerator areas to expand accelerator ideas; and shared executive offices and work areas or suites (designed to operate as they do in MIT’s Media Lab) functioning separated but integrated with the X-Celerator Labs.

The idea for X-Celerator Labs came about like this: 

In talking strategy with many individuals over the past 37 years, I heard many express both hopes but also fears about where the flexibly automated economy would eventually drive their businesses. Even in the early 80’s I heard this.

So, we at Xavier, began to create a viable storyline about this …. Suppose you want to own (i.e. start-up), or do own, or manage a small entrepreneurial business, or you manage an existing fabrication or machine shop. In school, you may have taken IT courses and learned the basics of using a computers for word processing, web searches, data base and spreadsheet use, art and design, playing computer games, and communicating with other through networks and the Internet. How do those skills apply to your needs now? How should they be updated?

If you have an established business, your organization may already use a computer system for all the above uses plus accounting, cost-estimating, job-tracking, resource management, and customer relations on your own sites, or on cloud-based sites, or through social network channels. You may also be advanced and use computers at your business for computer numerical control (CNC) of your machinery, computer-aided engineering (CAE), computer-aided-drafting (CAD) computer-aided drafting and design (CADD), computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM), computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), as well as many of this century’s new uses for the digitization of our lives. How are these integrated into your enterprise? How is the managing architecture designed so you can get the most optimal approach out of them with consistency? What needs to be updated to make it happen?

You’ve also probably heard and use apps on your smart-phone, or tablet, beyond desktop computer uses — but, unless you’re in the IT Department or are a trained software programmer, if you have any problems you probably delegate those problems to others to be solved. How are these technologies adding to your operation? Should they? What needs to be updated to make it happen?

What about your fears and concerns? Do you have these fears (really) because you are not very friendly with computers, and in the past you never really needed to be. What keeps you up at night? What can you do to ease those concerns and fears?

People, by 2020, need to feel at home around computer technologies.

Today, we may be facing a world that in a few years it will be very different from what we’ve grown accustomed to. The future of manufacturing may look completely different from the way you may have been envisioning it from a time in the golden age of 20th Century mass production, when here in Pittsburgh coal and primary metals were king. Instead, we feel the new manufacturing will take place clustered around vibrant tech and education center hubs that can draw from an educated class and from world-class schools of higher learning, where creative individuals have pretty-much unrestricted access to cutting-edge technologies in fields ranging from robotics/automation to high-speed Internet and human augmentation with artificial intelligence, to advanced and additive manufacturing, to micro- even nanotechnology. A place where the creative types can freely mingle and share ideas, and where organizations can send individuals to work separately on disruptively-innovative ideas and breakthroughs.

As you immerse yourself in better undertsanding of this, you may now wonder whether or not you personally, or your company — could benefit more greatly from leaving behind things you’ve become accustomed to, and grow profitably by moving on to items that will shape the near-term future, and the 21st Century — for example, some of the newest applications that have something to do with the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and artificial intelligence advancements, big data and big data analytics, 3DPrinting/additive manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, smart factories and other new applications.

Question is, how should you judge what you need if you’ve never tried it? How much does it cost to have, lease, or own and what options do you have? How do these fit into a strategy for the 21st Century? What are the criteria you need to be most knowledgeable about?

Studies in 2007, and again in 2010 and 2014, showed people and organizations could greatly benefit from the concept of X-Celerator Labs. 

Let’s further suppose that you do a study, and results indicate that use could likely yield important and critical benefits toward your success. How do you go about implementing this relatively complex technology in the shortest possible time, in the smartest strategic way, with the least expense and pain? How much should you buy, and what are the lead times for proper installation and testing? (Wouldn’t it be easier if you could experiment with this offsite, at a collaborative facility where you could also learn from many others? Wouldn’t an offsite facility that could harness customers be able to provide a better capability to explore new concepts at much lower costs? And how do you maintain it and grow with it? How also do you keep from getting burned — either by getting resources you don’t need or want; or by having competitors use these beneficial aspects long before you do and drive you from the marketplace? This thought approach process is used to provide focus to this … and other projects — at our company, and we’ve been using it since 1981.

in beginning to formalize this, we understood that all products/services go through a lifecycle, and as I’ve stated in other blogs here, that the Product/Service Lifecycle in the 21st Century is shortening (now at just 7 weeks), because of technological advancements, global connectivity, and economic convergence. We also understood that society and jobs are becoming more mobile which are altering the roots of organizational theory, creating new open office concepts with “gig” workers, and flattening out the business models. Finally, we saw that many companies in the 21st Century are foregoing the purchase of needed machinery and equipment — and outsourcing much of the work — because research and development costs have become too expensive which has its largest impacts on start-ups and small-to-medium-sized businesses and organizations.

Further, we saw that any new concept needed to be formally created (ideation), protected (intellectual property patenting), designed and prototyped (engineering), and tested (quality assessed) —turbineNew product before it can be sent for manufacturing. Our experiences show that typically that process can run from tens-of-thousands of dollars to a few million dollars using traditional linear development methods, resources, and necessary equipment. (All these costs are accrued BEFORE the first product is sold.) We began to explore if there were cheaper ways to attain the same, or better results!

Our analyses of organizations since 1981 showed clearly that people and businesses that are inspired to make new products, are often limited by being stuck with legacy and outdated equipment and machinery; be further limited without access to the right combinations of machinery, resources, personnel, and training; or be limited without the right kind of educated staffing and support, along with the best, modern computer-integrated design and all the latest 21st Century fabrication tools. But, with the quickening changes and convergences — we examined the technologies most-often used — and found that because of disruptive innovations it is becoming less financially-sound to dedicate so much financials to machinery, equipment, and resources on items that may be obsolete in less than the time it takes to get back an ample return-on-investment from the equipment, materials, and resources provided. For those just starting-out the capitalization of the fabrication tools makes it extremely hard to begin a product company.

What we eventually came up with …

X-Celerator Labs™ initial mission was to create a duplicative clearinghouse collaborative environment — that developed and used a flexible comprehensive end-to-end facility and labs that, in turn, could be used by our customers (and members) to change and disrupt the worldview of how to best use advanced manufacturing for altering the business models of the 21st Century, to help drive innovation and creativity on the local levels in various growth regions. The Xavier Group felt that by designing a business incubator/accelerator, with multiple models for various vertical audiences, we could deploy a new micro-teaching-based business model that inexpensively brings the latest 21st Century approaches home for the rest of us.

We decided to envision a special kind of organizational incubator/accelerator as the core of our 21st Century facility

X-Celerator Labs is first and foremost a “business accelerator.”

Many are familiar with “business incubators.” They operate differently than accelerators because incubators cater primarily and only to new idea developments and early-based start-ups. Business incubators work with between 6-9 brand new ideas (concepts) for companies / products / services, providing facilities and support services so they can explore and formalize their ideas and “graduate” usually over a 90-180 day “incubation period” into an initial capitalization and growth stage. Business incubators also are designed to help the earliest stage businesses with an idea or formalized invention through the first stages of growth: conceptualization, start-up business planning, intellectual property and patent filing, prototyping, market research, pricing considerations, initial seed funding and start-up financing. But, once the incubation period ends and the start-ups are cut by graduating, most of such start-ups are left to their own devices to continue.

X-Celerator Labs will have an incubator dedicated to incubating such start-ups as a valuable component. The incubator component should also attract investors and capitalists.

On the other hand, business accelerators assist organizations who have attained the “next phase” (what’s referred to as second-stage through pre-mezzanine growth) of the product cycle. Often suited for businesses that have already attained some means of “seed” or initial financing, along with valid some term of sales and marketing results and metrics, who often have gone through intellectual property protection and often have patents pending on some intellectual properties, and finally, the organization has committed to passionate growth and therefore usually has an employed staff of at least three full-time employees, (but many times companies at this stage will have between 30-50 employees on the payroll).

Business accelerators also provide “shared and collaborative” facilities and services (like incubators), but the term to maturity often lasts for 1-5 years. A term is usually determined when the company breaks-even, becomes profitable and self-reliant. At the end of business acceleration, most businesses seek either “mezzanine” financing through traditional financial sources, crowdsourcing, or outright sale for remuneration. If they continue on their own, they are ready to move into their own facilities, or alter the usage of what they had in the accelerator, for further usage and development. The accelerator always attains a stock percentage of all businesses that go through the accelerator phase.

Business accelerators, like X-Celerator Labs, often CAN and DO provide many or all of the business incubation assistance services along with the acceleration services and environments. Incubators are specifically designed to help with taking a formalized idea, or prototyped/and test piloted (small lab and field test runs) inventions through the stages of ideation. Accelerators are specifically-designed to follow on to any ideation that’s in process, then carry the new development through the combining of process needs and industrial customization and pre-manufacturing (short production runs) to create a product or service, and also to deliver a useful design, engineering, planning, strategy, and tactics to implement and finally, to begin disruptive and innovative process production (the third stage of the product cycle) which should foster into a new money-making business.

Created like Edison’s Hyde Park, NJ Innovation Factory

X-Celerator Labs business accelerator is unique, because it will be designed to maximize the opportunities for the creation of disruptive technologies. Designed with a similar drive to that of Thomas Edison’s Innovation Factory in Hyde Park,New Jersey, X-Celerator Labs will add exploration into the newest technologies starting by harnessing the additive power of 3D Printing, sintering, and stereolithography. X-Celerator Labs will teach start-ups and organizations that use it how to effectively create a new invention every six months, and how to unleash 108 new disruptive technologies every year with at least two of them being significant.

The 21st  Century is changing the way that all organizations conduct business. Some of the shifts that are just now becoming most evident, are that concepts of ‘mass’ production and ‘mass’ consumption to create jobs and improve the economic outlook no longer works in today’s societies.

Ever since World War II ended, the overcapacities in many industries led to lower cost usage of high-grade machinery, equipment, and resources that were created for rapid mass production. This greater usage allowed the creation of a well-paid middle class. But, as those post-war advantages grew older and eventually were outmoded, the legacy machines and equipment began to become a hinderance that resulted in mass layoffs, downsizing, sell-outs to offshore interests, etc. In addition, the outmoded materiel also become a larger polluter — endangering human life and existence on the planet.

Today, we face a similar and even more perdicious threats from the continued use of the old equipment. We are also still affected by the global economic trade we created by the 80’s and 90’s downsizing. To get back on the right path in the near future, we must again address this, but in a different way. X-Celerator Labs is focused on many of these new approaches! Watch the embedded slide show to find out more, or leave a comment and I will get back to you.

17
Aug

Proper telephone etiquette when calling an organization, a business, or an individual

Phone-etiquette

For most types of organizations, the telephone plays a major part in daily operations. It is for this reason I am becoming agitated with customer service phone representatives, call center callers, salespeople, suppliers, employees, and cold call solicitors and their lack of proper phone etiquette. It seems like no one is training staffers in the proper etiquette of phone use today. It has become so burdensome, I have decided to write this blog post about it.

The phone call done properly, opens a door of communication with customers by allowing them to contact the business at any time during its hours of operation. As important as the phone is, it is just as important that organizations know the difference between what is good and what is bad phone etiquette.

How individual callers interact with prospects, clients and business associates over the phone will either portray them in a positive light or a negative one. In the hands of a poorly trained employee, manager, or business owner, telephone use can have an extreme negative effect on the business. For this reason, it is important that companies properly train their employees on good and bad phone practices. It is important to understand that phone etiquette is important, and essential, on both sides of all calls, and in this day, is also a security hole that must be plugged or at least monitored. Good call etiquette builds brand, and strengthens organizational culture. Poor call etiquette harms public reputations, creates questions, and quickly deteriorates into a bad call and experience that affects long-term branding and reputations.

So, what should you do?

RECEIVING

On the receiving end, a call should always be answered within four rings. If you’ve set up an automated call system, it should be set to four rings and (human) personnel that are supposed to be personally answering the phone should be instructed to always pick it up on the third ring. For small organizations that need to convey a more solid reputation, a manager should be the one answering the phone as this suggests better customer-driven values, and urgency.

All phone calls should be answered as follows: organizations — “Hello. (or “Good morning.” or “Good afternoon.”) This is [name of organization], how may I direct your call?”; businesses — “Hello. This is [name of business] – optional tagline – how may I direct your call?” individuals — “Hello.” (NOTE: Because of social phone phishing for identity theft and cyber attacks police authorities have recommended not to provide names at the onset of the call.)

CALLING

On the calling side of the call: All callers should call as follows: “Hello. This is [personal first name] of [name of company, organization] may I please speak with [ name of person?” … you are trying to contact, or title of area to which call is intended]? ONE SHOULD NEVER BEGIN ANY CALLS WITH: “Hello, or worse “Hey” is “first name of person trying to be reached” — NEVER: Hello is John there? (Yet 96% of calls our business receive begin exactly this way — SAD.) ONE SHOULD NEVER HAVE IN ANY SEGMENT OF THE CALL MESSAGE: “How are you today?” … but if you actually know the person on the other end as a ‘regular’ acquaintance you may have some flexibility — BUT, NEVER ON A FIRST CALL OR COLD CALL.

Providing your first name AND the specific company from which you are calling or representing — is essential in this marketplace. Phishers for social identity theft, or shady solicitors (including credit and collection agencies) have a record of trying to provide as little information on themselves as possible.

Phone call security

On the receiving side, police authorities explain that you should never answer “yes” to anything (as in, “Is John there?”) until you’ve found out who is calling, from where, and what is the intention of the call. It turns out that an affirmative response is now being used heavily to illegally access financial, health, and personal records for scamming and identity theft purposes. It is for this reason that callers must always provide name, name of company, and reason for call to create a transactional and successful call.

For those companies who for whatever reason are afraid to provide their company name because they can be hung up on — shortened names can suffice — as long as the caller is also ready to describe in detail, if questioned, what is the real purpose of the call.

Once the essential information has been provided (and if necessary, confirmed on the receiving end) — then the conversation can begin. Try to smile when you talk as that emotion does project through your verbal words. For clarity, the phone receiver should be at a distance of two fingers from the mouth, and one should always speak in a clear voice with full enunciation.

If during the conversation, someone must be placed on hold, be polite and always ask permission first and take time to hear their answer. If someone they are trying to reach is not there, or the incoming call is a priority, ask the caller if they can leave a message in voicemail and ensue them that the intended party WILL receive that message, and get back to them. When taking them off of hold, ALWAYS thank the caller — to show that their time is respected.

Always return phone calls if a return call has been promised. If a time frame was given the caller must make every attempt to return the phone call as quickly as possible within that frame. If it is necessary to transfer a call, inform the person on the other end before doing so. It is also important to explain the need for the transfer. Before transferring a call, confirm that the person to whom the call is being transferred is available. This person’s name should be given to the party who is being transferred.

When ending a phone call, do not hang up the phone without a positive closure such as “Thank you for calling,” or “Have a Good Day.”

The method that you choose to communicate within a call should be appropriate to the audience, situation and nature of the message that needs to be communicated. It should also be concise and to the point — a minimalist approach — recognizing that if the other side asks for additional information, and you provide it, it adds to the call. Always begin the meat of the phone conversation as a caller by asking the person you are discussing things with, “Is this the best time we should go over this? … and suggest that to make it brief, you can follow-up with instant messaging or email. (Sometime the person in receipt of the call may actually prefer that method of contact.)

7
Aug

Earliest Life Lessons

“Always keep your nose to the grindstone.”

My dad was an interesting, though busy man. A Mercury-Apollo and Viking-Mars rocket scientist, heat-transfer, nuclear and boiler expert (later nuclear power and cooling IMG_0038systems), hypersonic aircraft researcher, advanced gyrostat design for space attitude control systems, inventor, mechanical/aeronautical engineer, naval aviator, F4U Corsair

F4U-Corsair Espiritu Santo

F4U-1 Corsair Espiritu Santo

nightfighter section leader, golfer, distance runner (captain of the cross-country team), farmer, church leader, little-league coach, 4H leader, catechism teacher, and colonel in the US Marine Corps, he still found quality famiy-time for extensive vacation travel, tractor-rides, sledding, ice-skating, bonfires, and multi-family cookouts. My dad was the son, one of four sons, of two immigrants who after travelling to Ellis Island to avoid the wars in Europe, settled in the Detroit area. They spoke no English when they arrived, and took unskilled labor jobs at the local chemical factory where they met each other and married. His favorite line to me from a very early age was, “Always keep your nose to the grindstone … stay passionately focused, and remain out-of-trouble.”

My mom, was no less interesting. She was one of the first women in the US to study law IMG_0040at Buchtel College, an education that landed her as an executive secretary for the Coast Guard and for Goodyear. During WWII

BuchtelCollege_740

Buchtel College

she served as a Navy WAVE and Army WAC, she also worked on riveting Corsair fuselages in Akron. Working on aircraft made her join the Ninety-Nines (Organization of Women Pilots) after she saw the first record-setting flights of Amelia Earhart. Mom met Eleanor Roosevelt at the Biltmore Estate (when she was managing a food service for Marshall Fields there– she loved to bake and can fruit and vegetables) and they wrote each other when Roosevelt was in the White House, when she was not coaching girls softball, flying, selling real estate, gardening, or cooking and baking. Mom still had the time to spend with her two sons, dogs, farm animals, vacationing, ice-skating, dancing, playing music, singing, and entertaining. My mom encouraged me into entrepreneurship, to read and practice cursive writing and art, to garden, partake in cub and boy scouts, join the boys choir, act in school plays and work for extra money (for the next Depression-of course). Mom was one of three daughters of immigrants who travelled from Europe to avoid the wars landing on Ellis Island and settling in the Akron area. They spoke little/no English when they arrived and my grandfather (who had owned a lumber company in Europe) eventually ran a general store in Akron until he died at an early age, while my grandmother ran a boarding house. They also found initial jobs at the rubber factory where they met each other and married. Her favorite lines to me from a very early age were, “Don’t EVER be afraid to explore or create. If you ever get too self-centered, take a reflective walk in the woods or on the beach. If you ever feel overwhelmed, or too self-important/proud — go outside at night and ponder how small you are when you look toward the stars.”

 

I eventually moved away, went to college, and studied to be a scientist, but also double-majored in English (with aspirations to be a science-writer). I remained okay through my early career life — having been nurtured in strong family-life, religious beliefs and morals, and a strong-sense that I would eventually succeed. I NEVER forgot the life lessons of my parents and what those words meant to me. I even passed them on to my son, so that future generations can grow in that same wisdom.

It wasn’t always that way. During grade school and high school I was chastised as a loner who didn’t fit in exactly right with my peers — and who was picked on for my height. Later, in career life, I fell upon some very harsh times. But, through it all … like a beacon from my past, my parents lessons for me kept me on the right path.

The point of this blogpost was NOT to just profess a little about myself. Human Resource Executive Magazine now says that one of the top six questions asked of interviewees 0001_iobfigwhen they are applying for a job is to “tell the interviewer the most important lessons they learned from their parents, and why.” For me, the lessons are so much in the forefront of my brain, it’d be no problem to provide an answer.

Keeping your nose to the grindstone means that you probably have a good work ethic. My dad would’ve agreed — and I do think that was the point he was making.

Never being afraid to explore and create is a must in 21st Century society, and my resume appears to back that up quite well. The other comments my mom made were to do three other important things: 1) Find a way to be humble (even if you are proud). 2) Don’t let life go by without taking some personal time to smell the roses and re-engage with nature. 3) Always stand in awe at the size of the universe, and think about how small and meaningless everything we do is in relation to it. (Time is short — Carpe Diem!)

And, with that … I hope you also have a good day.

2
Aug

What is a Professional and Why Does Being One Matter?

On Becoming a Professional

When I took a Directorship job at Cleveland’s Arthur G. McKee & Company  in 1979 (soon to be Davy McKee — International Engineers and Constructors – 14,000 employees in 32 countries worldwide – A Fortune Service 300) at 22, I was told in the first week to come up to the Executive Suite by one of the Senior Vice Presidents of the Company. When I arrived at the top of the stairs, he invited me into his office, sat me down, and told me I had personally been selected for “fast-tracking” into their “professional development” program. He explained that the program was intense and that I’d be studying strategy, business, finance, management, analysis, research, development, communications, marketing and sales. (To my knowledge, they don’t have such extensive professional development programs these days in organizations,)

As part of this pre-professional-development-program interview, he handed me two items and told me to study them closely, because in his mind they were the essentials to “becoming a professional executive within the company.”

The two items were: 1) An essay written in 1967 of: “What is a professional.” … and (2) the following 1958 McGraw Hill Advertisement that he said appeared in Business Week magazine:

Fishman-Marketing.-McGraw-Hill-ad-man-in-chair-

He told me as he handed it to me that McKee wanted me to write Sales Proposals for multi-billion dollar processing plant projects — sold around the world. But, he also said, “Selling is much more than ‘just sales and marketing.’ Selling starts by being able to sell yourself and your ideas to your customers/clients, your superiors, to your staff and peers, to your suppliers, to the board, the officers, the executive suite, and to your subordinates. NEVER FORGET THAT, BECAUSE BASICALLY YOU CAN’T ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING HERE, OR ANYWHERE ELSE WITHOUT BEING ONE!” (It stuck with me since.)

The ad also stuck with me all this time because it drives home a special sentiment that is meant to humble and fact-check who you really are. I mean, if you cannot answer all those questions about your organization — or for that matter — yourself — every day of your life — then you really do have NO REASON to ever consider yourself a “PROFESSIONAL!”

As the Sr. VP concluded, he explained that in building an organization’s strategy, the process INTERNALLY must begin by having solid — BUT ALSO PASSIONATE (from the heart, as well as the head) answers to EVERY ONE of those comments. He said this was also the basis of a “Situation Analysis,” which I’d learn more about when I delved into strategy as a part of the PD program.

The short 1967 Essay on “What is a Professional?” which the senior vice-president said he had picked up at a training program when he worked in New York City, was even more helpful. (Since 1983 Davy LeightonlI had searched for a similar discussion of “What is a Professional” so I could hand it out to staff at The Xavier Group — but was never able to find one that was as clear and appropriate as that one.) Finally, in 1986, I wrote a new “What is a Professional” paper to hand out to The Xavier Group staff. I am providing it to you here so that your generations may pass it on if you’d like to your staffs:

TXGoldLOGOWhat is a Professional and Why Does Being One Matter?

Welcome to The Xavier Group, Ltd. As our literature which plays upon all of the bridges in the Pittsburgh region says, we were founded in 1981 to “Bridge the Gap between Creativity and Communications” to derive better strategies than our rivals, so that our customers don’t get broadsided by something they didn’t expect. To do that passionately, enthusiastically, and correctly, I expect EVERYONE who works for, or with, Xavier to at all times conduct their behavior as consummate professionals, highly-skilled perfection-seeking, trustworthy, honest, ethical members of an exceptional team. That TEAM … or company, will only succeed if we meet, or EXCEED, all customer expectations.

Now, I understand you come from varied backgrounds and educations. Many of you may not know exactly “What a professional really is, or why being one matters.” That’s okay. As a part of your interning, or your probationary, period — you will all partake in our proprietary professional development training where we will provide you the means to hopefully carry on the traditions of being a professional by yourselves — so that when you graduate you will conduct yourselves with dignity, honor, integrity and passion.

“Being a true professional is much more than ‘just doing things to make your company and your customers happy.’ Becoming a professional starts by being able to sell yourself and your ideas to your customers/clients, your superiors, to your staff and peers, to your suppliers, to the board, the officers, the executive suite, and to your subordinates. NEVER FORGET THAT, BECAUSE BASICALLY YOU CAN’T ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING HERE, OR ANYWHERE ELSE WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO ALWAYS DO THAT THE RIGHT WAY, AT THE RIGHT TIME, FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE! In other words, your reputation –integrity — and the only way you’ll ever earn the respect you cherish rides on how well you become a professional, and understanding that, ‘It does really matter!'”

A professional takes pride in continuously cumulating specialized skills and knowledge that generally allow for better decisions, make the professional a recognized expert, and specifically allow for better performance in his/her job. He/she makes it a daily required practice to gain useful knowledge by independently and extensively acquiring it, chiefly from books. But professionals don’t hoard that unique knowledge — they share it. Professionals understand that their own reputation grows tenfold when they place others first, and share what they know. They also understand that coming to deeply understand and satisfy your customers and all organizational stakeholders (including peers, superiors, officers, suppliers, etc.) are the very cornerstones of a successful career as well as for the business you work for. Without them, there’d be no need for professionals.

Professionals engage in a process of constant and continuous self-, team-, operational-, and organizational-evaluation and improvement. A professional makes decisions, findings, and recommendations based on their consummate dedication to the craft; the science and technology behind the scenes; the systems, policies, processes, and instructions at play; and not the current circumstances that brought it to someone’s attention. The characteristic that separates the professional from the dilettante is an uncompromising continuous commitment to excellence – doing what is required to  attain completion of a project or portfolio at its highest level, even when it becomes personally inconvenient. Professionals understand the concepts of the value of time yet they are never bound by a time-clock. Because of this, professionals are given wide latitude in their daily self- management and the chance to be self-empowered individuals. They are expected to manage their time and work habits on their own. A professional doesn’t abuse this privilege (it’d be against his/her nature). An unskilled laborer does a job as instructed, but little else. An amateur is capable of doing some things well under the right conditions, but rarely has the perseverance that is seen in a professional to attain excellence in his/her livelihood (this is true in work, sports, life, etc.). But a professional, as a matter of course, does it well regardless of the situation, and always meets or exceeds all expectations.

A professional is passionate, motivated, and punctual. A professional respects the respectable, but admires the inspirational. A professional is a seeker of knowledge but also a teacher and mentor. A professional is disciplined, religiously maintains the highest standards, and is engaged in the constant pursuit of un-attainable perfection. A professional is restless and never satisfied, always evaluating and re-evaluating where they’ve come and finding ways to do what they are doing better now, today, moment to moment. A professional is someone who masters an art or science, has the ability to deeply discuss and perform it at the highest levels with original creativity that often challenges the best of the best. A professional invents for the purpose of achieving solutions (material gain comes into play only if someone sees that as a valued add-on). Professionals are expected to produce results. They strive to complete deliverables before their due dates and under budget.

Professionals are committed to carrying out what they said they would. Because of that, unlike many sales amateurs, they ALWAYS clarify exactly what it is that they CAN DO. Professionals understand they should “engage their brain” before speaking — can you really do what you are about to say? If you can’t, professionals will never lie as that approach will catch up with them. When professionals are faced with something they can’t handle, they first see if there is time to both better assess the request AND to explore and discover if there are experts that can be drawn into the task that CAN do what is needed. Professionals will deliver on promises made (so NEVER make false promises).

Professionals always communicate effectively, taking time to explain the available options and clarifying each of them until other parties understand what is really being said. They take time to carry out sufficient research, in advance of promising anything, so that they’re able to convey crisply their findings and make their suggestions and recommendations. They compile clear and accurate proposals that state itemized costs (when needed) and always state and clarify total costs. They research and clarify through PERT or GANTT charting how a project will proceed under what timetable and point out specific key decision-points and turnover points — reviewing all aspects of the project before anything begins — and then again and again at the key decision points as the project evolves. They then (after all of this and ONLY then) promise a date when the work can be completed and agree among everyone on that conclusion. If, and when they do this — the professional feels empowered that everyone involved will make the right decisions, and do it the right way to satisfy everyone. But, a professional also recognizes that there will be times when it is better to walk away.

Professionals always appreciate, respect, acknowledge, and support those they work with, even when they’re rivals, or unable to act in the same manner. Professionals try to set principles that are not self-serving being humble and generous in praise of their peers. Professionals show good manners and proper etiquette. They have high ethical and moral standards that force honesty, fairness, and trustworthiness in all of their dealings with others. They don’t try to get around policies, governance or laws. They obey them (If they feel they are wrong, they bring objective evidence to support their reasons, and ask for corrections– usually because they’ll improve the organizations). Professionals always adhere to high values and principles.

Working with professionals is a pleasure. If you don’t feel that’s the case i your life, or in others — then you need to examine why — that’s what a professional would do.

Good luck in your professional development studies.

 

Sincerely,

Frank X. Sowa, Chairman/CEO, The Xavier Group, Ltd.

1
Aug

What is Strategy?

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Napoleon Bonaparte preparing strategy

Napoleon Bonaparte and Strategy

Napoleon Bonaparte’s commanders reported, that Napoleon was a genius of war strategy who had a unique ability to size up a situation with a “glance,” . Now you might think hearing that, like so many current organizational strategists and businesspeople (who rose to high-places as a result of the 20th Century Industrial Age), that “Napoleon” was so quick at coming up with strategy that either he was just egocentric and smarter than all of the military personnel around him — or that he came up with audacious strategies that won wars — merely on instinct, “flying by the seat of his pants.”

But, that was just NOT the truth.

Napoleon, it was stated many times — listened diligently and intensively to his field marsalls and commanders as they provided him with situation reports (sitreps). About these meetings Napoleon said, “I am never angry when contradicted; I seek to be enlightened.” After these sitrep meetings, he retired to a closed tent or room and spent further hours meticulously examining maps and other information, making mental notes and checking a small collection of books he carried with him (as seen in the picture t054740a-tmabove). When he arrived ready to partake in battle — it was only THEN that he quickly sized-up the situation with a “glance.” As for the remote possibiities that he operated “by the seat of his pants and/or was extremely lucky,” Napoleon’s drive for military expansion had won major campaigns for France in nearly every country that made up Europe, parts of Northern Africa, and in the Middle East. That could not have been sporadic luck. He was so successful, the French made him the first Emperor of France.Grandes_Armes_Impériales_(1804-1815)2.svg

Napoleon understood at a very early age that good strategy in battle and in life required intensive and meticulous study of the strategic situation—the landscape, the rivals, available technology, the positioning of resources, the usage of battlefield plans/tactics/execution from maneuvering to mislead the rivals, similar situations from the past. Napoleon trained himself on this so that he could understand and respond quickly to ever- changing circumstances. Modern organizational strategists should find a lesson in that regarding, “What is Strategy?”

As for Napoleon, he was born on August 15, 1769, to Carlo Maria di Buonaparte and Maria Letizia Ramlino on the former city-state Genoan island of Corsica (off the coast of Italy). Corsica was turned over to France one year before Napoleon was born. His father, Carlo was a Tuscan-Genoan lawyer and diplomat who eventually rose to become Corsica’s representative to the court of Louis XVI.  The Corsican Buonapartes were descended from minor Italian nobilty of Tuscan origin, and continued to hold that nobility status when the French took over.

As such, Napoleon’s moderately affluent background afforded him greater opportunities to study than were available to a typical Corsican of the time. In January 1779, at age 10, he was enrolled at a religious school in the cloistered, communal Roman-Catholic 270px-Autun_rempartsmonastery in Autun. The monastery was a repurposed Roman Fort from Caesar’s Roman Empire in Eastern France. His studies were focused on religion and the ancient societies and philosophies of Greece and Rome. Young Napoleaon took a liking of the readings of the glories and conquests of the first Roman Emperors.

Six months later, at the request of the Louis XVI court, Napoleon was admitted to a Napoleon_à_Toulon_par_Edouard_Detaillemilitary academy at Brienne, France, where he began to hone his military training. He moved to the elite Parisian École Royale Militaire in 1784 where he trained to become an artillery officer. When his father’s died a year later from stomach cancer, it reduced Napoleon’s tuition stipend, so he was forced to complete the two-year course in one year. He did so successfully and graduated as a second lieutenant in the artillery at age 16. 

Napoleon was so knowledgeable about his strategic situation that he was able to understand his opponent’s field positioning, and respond quickly to ever-changing circumstances, defending his flanks and center, alluring enemy into repositioning by making parts along the line appear weakened, and thrusting forward with strong attacks at the front, when the timing was exactly right!

It was said, Napoleon sought always “To proceed with at least two options.” He believed that in the dynamics of war, or life, a good strategy must always improvise, adapt, and overcome based on the circumstances at hand. He believed his best strategy would evolve “like a tree, extending out branches only when it was most prudent and optimum to do so.”

“What is Strategy?”

Which leads us back to the topic of this blog: “What is Strategy?”

519893952.jpgWhat’s sad, is that if you research this subject matter, you’ll find thousands of opinions — and many of them will NOT be right. In my over 30-years as a strategy consultant —

I have found this definition to come closest to defining the practice of strategy:

Strategy is the envisioned direction that is specific enough to your situation that it can effectively guide and drive the scope of activities (tactics/plans/operation/execution) of an organization over the long term. Strategy achieves the advantage for the organization over potential rivals through the positioning and adjustments of resources within an ever-changing dynamic environment, so as to always to meet the needs of the markets and fulfill all stakeholders‘ expectations. 

You’ll know when you’ve arrived at a good strategy if you can explain it in three sentences or less, down to a few words.

To assist your thinking, here are some characteristics of strategy:

  1. Concerned with, and its affect of/on the long term direction
  2. Designed to achieve competitive advantage, through selective positioning of resources
  3. Always concerned with stability/sustainability, expansion, and/or retrenchment
  4. Matches positioning of activities/resources/supplies/people within the scape(s) in which it is operating or will be operating; and sets in motion approaches to shift positioning as needed in real-time
  5. Builds on, stretches, or identifies innovatively disruptive resources and competencies to create new opportunities and capitalize on them
  6. Analyzes and Asseses when major resources need to be changed in direction or purpose
  7. Drives operational decisions, governance, and enterprise/business/unit models
  8. Assesses social responsibilities, ethics and moral decisions and sets corrective action in play as needed
  9. Provides the impetus for a set of commitments for a given situation

Strategy should be seen as the “ultimate decision to be made” — for yourself, your organization or your business. And, just as you do NOT make all decisions in the same way for every situation, a strategist will make different decisions in different ways … AND will make the same, or similar, decisions in diferent ways at different places and at different points in time.

So, how does one then derive a strategy? To make a decision and formulate a strategy, strategy treeit is critical, first, to truly understand the determinants and their interplay with you and themselves as you focus your attention on making the ‘ultimate decision’ — historically these are what establish your particular “Situation.”

Situation Analyses are critical not just to the intial decisions, but also critical to the space, time and other variations on the follow-up choices. This is why it s so important that you understand and comprehend the ramifications of yourmagnifying situation at the onset of all strategy formulation activities. This is also why all great generals from Sun Tzu, to Napoleon, to Mattis today, always instruct their marshalls, commanders, and strategists to only take tactical actions AFTER it has been determined by meticulous study that the situation suggests that the victory has alrady been won. Ponder that for a minute, and below I’ll help you dive into that concept further.

Second, strategists and other people/stakeholders in your organizaions, can and usually do bring multiple and potentially conflicting processing goals (desired outcomes) to the strategy formulation decision. This can come from internal/external biases, feedback from the operations, or intelligence that has been gathered, for example. Historically, in the military, this is known as “the fog of war.” It is specifically also why “plans and goal setting” (except in their “passive” input — at this point, should have no place in “strategy.”

Strategy by design is NOT a plan, or an “execution”

The root cause of the problem, is often in this case, that leaders and managers have dismally failed to carefully distinguish between improving operations, planning, execution, attaining desired goals. PLANS, GOALS, EXECUTION are TACTICS — NOT STRATEGY! In the end — this difference is extremely significant to the success of strategy.

Strategy is often confused with other leadership and management activities, as well — probably because the tools used for gathering data for both “Strategy” and these “other activities” can often be used for both types of data collection and performance measuring criteria.

Some of these various management tools include: total quality management, agile management, lean six sigma, ISO 9000, management by standards, benchmarking, re-engineering, time-based competition, outsourcing, virtual prototyping, “no child left behind” standards testing, efficiency management, and partnering or strategic partnering. Strategies also have an open-ended “scope” — unlike projects or financial portfolio programs. Strategies DO go through a lifecycle of their own — similar to a product/service lifecycle … but, a GOOD strategy remains in place drive business and operational models, R&D, M&A, and multiple portfolio priorities before the Strategy Lifecycle reaches end-of-life.

Strategies are most often confused with these more temporally-driven tools (ALL TACTICS) — because the strategist and/or leadership NEVER really clearly established a strategy. So while tactics can and do often enhance and dramatically improve the operational effectiveness (OE) of the organization — often providing quick turnaround results; they fail to provide the organization with sustainable profitable and lasting results, that driving everything with a good strategy would.

Although both operational effectiveness and strategy are necessary for the survival and superior performance of an organization … they operate in different ways!

Operational Effectiveness (OE): Performing similar activities better than rivals perform them through better productivity, better throughput, better quality, and better efficiencies.  

So, how does this relate in business and organizations?

Often when I’m making (or was making) my first free introductory visit to an organization who had wanted/wants to consider using The Xavier Group’s solutions; I’d

hear the executive say something like, “We’ve got this problem, and we need a solution from a consulting firm like yours.”

They then would either go into great subjective detail on what they consider “the problem” and I’d get some idea of their perspective in a “touchy-feely” way; or, they’d proceed to call in the hardcore analysts who provided feedback loop reductionist data at best — human reource polling/survey results at worst; and give me great metric details that attempted to isolate “the problem” from a managerial perspective. Few of the analysts ever were given the capacity to see over their particular silos, and/or units, and when questioned, few had ongoing deep-dive engaging relationships with floor personnel/automation/IT or much else (that I found was half of the cause of the real problem). On the other end of the “false perspective” the Executive Suite, leadership, and senior managers did everything they could to make their positions insulated from both the analysts AND everyone else in the organization — as is usually taught in te best business school curriculum today. The executives (also using MBA-business school techniques) had often delegated the development of “a strategy” to the “Strategic Planning Team” who then went about everything deriving an “organizational plan” based weakly on SWOT analyses, a mission statement, vision statement, goals/objectives (from which to manage the strategy by), and a descriptive “touchy-feely” plan that restates many of the executive staffs biased ideas — but in words so as to not offend. 

They then follow that planning time with a statement, “Our strategy is to … increase market share …” or, “… internationalize.” or …”rebuild our profitability in this (new) strategyarea.” or, “eliminate waste, improve on variation, and attain six sigma results.” or “… have more meaningful and professional training to build consensus throughout our company.” or, “…set up an independent business unit to either spin off some of our assets, or to build a new area in which we can go.” or, “…become the largest innovation company in the United States.” or, from a military perspective, “…to win the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan by 2011.” … And the organizational executives and leaders feel they have done what was expected of them in terms of “Strategy.”

What they really did was restated the management / operational “objectives or goals.” They restated TACTICS!

These are major missteps away from “Strategy” and toward only “Managing by Operation Effectiveness Programs.” (I’m reminded of the “Show Me the Money” satirical skit in the movie “Jerry McGuire.”) Hey, I’m all for an entertaining MBO ‘flavor Tacticsof the month’ approach (slurp) … but, really — if you’re not careful, you’re signing your organization’s death certificate. Some of these operational effectiveness approaches, depending on the traits of the industry in which they operate may actually be superb ideas or steps to move their companies forward — good management by objectives and performance practices if in the proper environment. BUT THESE ARE NOT STRATEGY — THESE ARE TACTICS.

As long as company executives are educated improperly in business schools about strategy and strategic management — they will continue to make this mistake.

And, don’t just take my word for it. Look at the U.S. profitability figures over the past 23 years — for most, they were flat or falling — a “lost couple of decades.” Look at the lack of non-profit accomplishments — we now rank 24th against other students in STEM areas from the rest of the world. Why is that do you suppose? Look at the 83% failure rate among entrepreneurial start-ups. Finally, realize that China is surpassing the U.S. as the number one manufacturing nation since 2011 — a position held by the U.S. since 1895. This is a serious issue!

So, let’s find out how an organization creates for itself a “real Strategy”… 

There are 3thingsactually three parts that make a strategy:

  1. A real Strategy is always based on “positioning advantage” — that is an executive should say, “Our strategy is to position (company, industry, product, service, department, etc.) in (such a manner) so that it provides competitive advantage (or advantageous conditions, etc.) If military planners would have approached their COIN initiatives in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan — they may have come up with better ways (objectives) of how to best accomplish subsystem missions.
  2. A real Strategy always requires “systems thinking.” Executives need to ask, “What ‘system’ are we operating in?” There are two macro areas and four micro areas that help answer this question. (I’ll get into that in a later post.) They also need to ask, “What sort of problem is this? Is it Simple? Complicated? Complex? or Chaotic??” Answering these questions will provide the key to unlocking the formless side of setting the right Strategy! The Xavier Group further tries to separate ‘systems’ thinking from ‘strategic’ thinking and/or ‘process’ thinking. Strategic thinking is a method by which to understand and implement a strategy. Process thinking is an understanding that systems move through a time-sequence of events. The events are managed by the ‘objectives.’ The changes occurring during the time-sequence between events is the ‘process.’ Both ‘objectives’ and ‘processes’ are tactical considerations. Systems thinking allows executives to understand how things ‘influence’ one another within the whole. To formulate any strategy and manage it you have to first understand the ‘influences that are affecting the system.’
  3. A real strategy always requires “ ‘futures thinking’ or ‘forward-looking prognosis’ and forecasts.“ — Just as if you are a ship captain steering a ship through a coral reef, an executive has to have his own “lookouts” to observe the environment for hazards, the competitors, rivals, the short-term and long-term changes in the terrain, and report back anything they see and hear — including attack and distress signals. With this forward-looking ‘intelligence’ in hand, an executive can proactively make decisions based on his ‘strategy’ to safely and smartly steer his organization to sustainable and secure waters.

An organization can outperform its competitors ONLY if it can establish a difference that it can preserve under ever-changing, complex, and often chaotic circumstances. It is for that survivalistic reason, that organizations MUST go through the process of developing, planning, deploying, and managing a sound strategy.

Managing an organization based solely on operational effectiveness is almost always ‘mutually destructive’ as its leads to wars of attrition, a reduction of assets (human, facilities, proprietary materials, capital, profits, sales) that can only be arrested by limiting competition!

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