Time: A Resource to Manage or A Source of Opportunity?

Most of the people who attend my seminars are project and program managers. Their work (and probably their personal life too) is oriented by the urgency of due dates. For them, time is a resource, a precious and scarce resource.  Due dates create a useful urgency, but also create stress.  The result is the frequent complaint of being “lost in the weeds,” a topic that I addressed in this article.

We expect strategic thinkers to be future oriented and have a broader “big picture” view of their organization and its environment.  That’s good in theory, but difficult in practice.  I’d like to suggest that part of the solution is to create different thinking habits about time. More specifically,

We need to create some mindspace for the idea that time is a source of opportunity. We have to create a balance between the managerial mindset of time is a resource and the entrepreneurial mindset of time is an opportunity.

Here are a few tips:

  • If you are concerned about due dates for your project, ask about time in a more subtle way. Examples: “What’s your sense of urgency?” or “Tell me about your timing preferences for delivery.”
  • Use the mAPPpeS model described in this article. The acronym stands for mentality of abundance, plausibility not perfection, and expect to be surprised.
  • Spend some time thinking about the famous William Gibson quote, “The future is already here, it’s just distributed unevenly.” That means that there are – in the present movement – small indicators of what the future holds. Some examples are wearable technology, increased prevalence of non-English texts in USA classrooms, changing weather patterns, etc. Things that are rare or less common now with be much more common in the future.
  • Mentally practice (imagine) the four responses to opportunities: sharing, enhancing, exploiting, and accept. Here is a way: imagine you have won a large cash lottery. What would you do with that money: keep and squander it, invest it, donate it, bequeath it?
  • For those involved in product development, what is the balance in investment in incremental innovation versus more disruptive innovation? The too-common model is that firms under-invest in those products that change the basis of competition, and established firms end up getting disrupted by entrepreneurial upstarts.

Scaling Up to Enterprise Strategy Making

As I’ve shared in earlier articles, it makes sense to develop individual strategic thinking competency, then blend that competency into strategy making.  Too often, executives are unpreparedly thrown into strategic planning sessions where they are expected to talk about trends and disruption.  Their minds have not been prepared to think about time as a source of opportunity.

Scenario TemplateExperience shows that this practice of looking for smaller changes is helpful when using more sophisticated futures techniques like scenario development. If you are not familiar with scenarios, it involves first identifying the top two uncertainties that would be causes of future turbulence. Those two uncertainties become the X and Y axis of a 2×2 grid, as shown in the nearby graphic.  The four resulting scenarios become a topic for further study and response of contingencies.

Another use is with responding to the question, What is our core challenge as an organization? Keeping in mind that the future is a source of opportunity, we let our imagination explore possible futures rather than getting mired in today’s operational issues.

Acknowledgement: this article is influenced by the thinking of Bill Sharpe and his book, Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope. The 1-hour webinar (you can find it on YouTube) is an excellent introduction.

Today’s decisions affect our success in the future. Do you agree?



Reconfiguration and Reframing

reconfiguration reframingDomino’s Pizza Turnaround Strategy is an interesting case study in strategic initiatives, which I have described in detail in this article. Its core competitive challenge involved shrinking market share, declining revenues, and public relations problems.  It decided to reinvent the pizza by changing most of the ingredients.

As part of its strategy, the company also changed parts of its communications program with consumers, franchisees, and others. It embarked on a novel advertising campaign that took advantage of social media. Just like changing the ingredients was a reconfiguration, the new actions reconfigured business processes.

Why did Domino’s choose to invest significant resources undertake the makeover of its core product, with the risk of disrupting traditional consumers? The company’s advertising highlighted customer complaints. “Instead of ignoring them, we choose to use them to motivate us to do better,” said CEO Patrick Doyle. Domino’s product development team reframed the complaints into focused inspiration to make some difficult changes. It reframed its story away from its heritage (we deliver pizzas) to one of a heroic story (we’re a team that is unafraid of challenges).

Strategy Involves Reconfiguration

I propose that the process of strategy development is the reconfiguration of assets to meet a core challenge.

Let’s unpack that statement: Organizations (and individuals) have tangible and intangible assets. When they practice strategy, identify gaps. They search out assets from within and without and start moving those assets to create power. Often, they remove assets that are not contributing to the organization’s competitive power.

As an analogy, picture two homeowners who are selling their house. They want to “stage” the house so that it shows well. They de-clutter and discard things. They arrange furniture so that it highlights the home’s charm. They repaint. These homeowners are reconfiguring their home to achieve the important end of a fast and good offer from a buyer.

The second part of the statement says that the target of reconfiguration is that of meeting a core challenge. All organizations face numerous challenges. Sometimes they are the challenges of keeping up with growth and demand.  Sometimes the challenges are in maintaining a competitive advantage. Which one is the “core challenge?”

I’ve met many senior managers over the years. All of them are concerned about their success and are actively thinking about it. Although it might be tough for them to come up with a single “core challenge” most can easily list a handful of things that deserve attention.

These same managers generally have a difficult time when examining their challenges in light of the inevitable changes that will take place in the future. None admit to having a crystal ball, and few make the time for describing scenarios.

The practice of thinking strategically can help with identifying this core challenge and with making the right choices for reconfiguration.

Don’t Plunge into Strategic Planning without Some Individual Strategic Thinking Practice

Most good strategy work involves pondering questions. These questions are open and ambiguous.

On the other hand, a strategic-planning session typically is focused on creating a deliverable: a strategy and a document to describe that strategy.

It’s best to ask people to work on the strategic thinking before engaging them in strategic planning. Give them homework in the way of data, historical analysis, and so forth.

Also, encourage their imagination: what might the future look like? The goal is not prediction, but rather to create some open-mindedness and flexibility.

Strategic Thinking Involves Reframing

Strategic thinking is an individual competency. Its greatest value to organizations is that it contributes reframed explanations of the current and future situation. That means that we are taking current assumptions and reframing them into a novel, hopefully-interesting explanation of reality.

The simplest kind of reframing is that of refocusing.  To refocus is to shift the attention from one thing to another, much the way that Domino’s shifted the attention from “crust tastes like cardboard” to “best-tasting pizza.” I think of it as analogous to cropping a picture: you’re selecting the part of the picture that you want to emphasize.

A second, more-powerful type of reframing is one that questions and challenges the validity of the current paradigm.  Is Domino’s Pizza a food delivery company. I think the answer is no: it is a restaurant that happens to deliver food. The question “Who are we?” tends to stimulate this kind of reframing.

Strategic thinking is a habit involving awareness of the current situation and the openness to new frames that explain the situation. To improve your strategic thinking competency, look closer at the concept of reframing.

Tips for Reframing

  • Identify anchors in your thinking. Do you always go to the same explanations about why things happen in your industry or to your organization? What are your biases and prejudices?
  • Be playful with ideas. How could a new competitor disrupt your industry?
  • Get to know people who hold different ideas and philosophies. Yeah, this is standard creative thinking advice; however, seriously considering the validity of other points of view can show you new ways of looking at things.
  • Practice with historical thinking. What were the key events that resulted in the current situation? How much has the organization culture affected the retelling of the story? Take a look a turning point in the past, and look for analogies: how is it similar and how is it different from the current situation?
  • Play with scenarios. No one knows what will happen in the future, but a few minutes of considering best and worst cases can give you a new perspective.

A competent strategic thinker is continually aware of mental frames and continually practices reframing. It’s part of the playful thinking style. At some point in time, your intuition will tell you when the core challenge has appeared. That’s your signal to start considering the options for reconfiguring.

With this model of reconfiguration and reframing, I suggest that organizations don’t need to be constantly making strategy. It’s too distracting from the running of the business. Instead, I believe that every organization should ask its employees to make strategic thinking a habit.

To “think about” strategy is to imagine the reconfiguration of assets and actions into a new system.  To “think strategically” is to mentally reframe the assumptions associated with personal perspective.  This gives us a more nuanced way to describe strategic thinking as an individual competency. Do you agree?