Friday, April 04, 2014

Strategic Evolution

Looking back, being among the first of its type to bet on the Internet as a paradigm shift in marketing wasn’t the most emergent strategy giving Durham’s nascent marketing organization an edge.

Before two-thirds of Americans had heard of it and fewer than 14% were using it, the most emergent strategy was seizing on the website as the platform or repository for any and all information where not only staff had access.

From there it was also accessible or pushed out via content marketing to internal stakeholders such Durham residents, organizations and officials, but also to external stakeholders such as potential visitors, sports and meeting event organizers, real estate agents and developers, project feasibility consultants and financiers.

Somehow DCVB stumbled on to the realization way back then that not only was data and information the most sure-fire way to drive decision making, but holding it back as proprietary and then parceling out on demand was suddenly an extremely obsolete business strategy.

Of course, as Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote a few years later in his book entitled, The Road Ahead:

"We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.

Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction."

Today, we rarely overestimate the change that occurs every two years but many still fail to heed the caution at the end of what Gates wrote.

Two years after he penned that caution in 1995, Phillip Evans, now managing director of the Boston Consulting Group and former Harvard professor, co-wrote an award-winning article in Harvard Business Review entitled Strategy and the New Economics of Information.

He signaled a transformation that we now know dropped communications costs much faster than transaction costs, collapsed and fragmented economies of scale and changed the strategic value of data proprietary to curation and sharing.  If you missed it, click here for his TED overview last month.

A related paper was published a few weeks ago by McKinsey & Company entitled Are You Ready for the Resource Revolution.  Written by Stefan Heck and Matt Rogers, it explores what they call the “biggest business opportunity in a century,” dramatically improving the use of resources such as water.

The future, according to Evans, is about cooperation and collaboration as much as competition, something community destination marketing organizations have long practiced and coined as “coopetition.”  It is now the business strategy of the future.

Although specific to Durham metrics, many communities have always borrowed data from the DCVB site just as a few here and there in Durham have attempted to pull the organization back into the past.

Strategy-making, though, can’t be copied, at least not without the vision to drive its execution.  It has been known for many decades that strategy is not about planning or analysis, it is about perpetual and real time synthesis.

It must be embedded in an organization’s culture.

Many communities settle for being “fast followers,” a term coined by Dr. Henry Mintzberg in the same paper and a subsequent book from which I learned the idea of “emergent strategy” nearly three decades ago.

Mintzberg was also an early adopter of data as curation and put links to his papers and books online including a new one entitled, Rebalancing Society – Radical Renewal, Beyond Left, Right, and Center.

It is a rant, but don’t expect to skim it for understanding.  He envisions ideology not as a spectrum with extremes but as a circle including the public sector, the private sector and the plural sector or what he calls “communityship,” and what DeTocqueville, at the dawn of this nation, called a uniquely American innovation.

Each, according to Mintzberg, has a “potentially fatal flaw.”  He notes, “Governments can be crude.  Markets can be crass.  And communities can be closed, at the limit xenophobic…Crudeness, crassness and closed-ness are countered when each sector takes its appropriate place in society with the other two while helping to keep them and their institutions in balance.”

Now re-read this with your organization in mind and balance as strategy-making.  Balance, Curation, Cooperation and Resource Optimization – it is a whole new world.

Sound too “out there?”  So was embracing the Internet in the early 1990s.

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