April 29, 2015

Strategy at the Brink: Standing on the precipice of the Third Wave Industrial Revolution

It’s easy to imagine Apple announcing the launch of its new market offering: a mobile car/office that is printed to a specific design and is driverless, energy efficient, safe. It is also city savvy: drop off, take itself to its parking spot, change shape, recharge then set off to pick up its next passengers via an SMS signal. It will also be connected directly to its passengers office and home appliance management system enabling it interact with their air conditioning, lights, entertainment, hot desk and meeting room set ups. You probably won’t buy the car, more likely you’ll rent it on an as needs basis; pre-ordered online via the Apple store. The reality is that this possibility could become a reality within the next five years.

Against this backdrop it is extremely worrisome to see how many business leaders are seemingly unaware of the enormity of change that advanced technology will engender.  While issues related to today and yesterday dominate the business press (interest rates, taxation, structuring of Financial Institutions) the emergence and commercialisation of technologies based on intelligent machines, internet of things, robotics, biotechnology, 5G mobile networks and renewable energy sources barely get a mention. When something is written, the content tends to address one element of advanced technology only. The fact is that we are on the precipice of the next industrial revolution.

From a business perspective, the third wave industrial revolution offers an unprecedented opportunity to create new industries and wealth. Realisation of this promise though will not come without a capacity to face some seriously complex challenges. First wave strategic thinking won’t help. First to go is the static 1960’s annual strategic planning regime (first revolution thinking) as well as the associated Strength, Weakness, Threat and Opportunity (SWOT) models, along with equally moribund gap analysis. Template driven strategy plans will be replaced by automated, analytics empowered dashboard monitoring mechanisms enacted within a context of the continual renewal of various components of the replacement for the ‘strategic plan’; the strategic change agenda. In particular this will entail the monitoring of assumptions that went into the strategic decisions made in the past, a focus on trends leaning towards the future and the capture of competitive and industry intelligence, driven in turn by a capacity for highly focused organisational learning.

Such methods of advanced strategy practices though are still limited; second wave strategising capabilities at best. Rather than system and process oriented strategy tools alone, third wave strategising will require individuals to possess capabilities that will be cerebral in context and cognitive in application; the ultimate domain of foresight and insight – together (albeit assisted by artificial intelligence, automated search and data driven analytics to name a few). The primary element of this third wave capability is speed in decision making. This will be informed by an individual’s capacity to reframe and envision new futures, address constraints and rapidly deploy new plans into action. Skill sets required will include a capacity to reconstrue mental models and to apply integrative, design and even transcendent thinking methodologies. The need for speed will require leadership teams to learn together and to practice the art of agile strategy, elements of which are described by Doz (1997) as strategic sensitivity (early recognition of opportunities), collective commitment (a capacity to adapt (respond) and invent (prospond)), and; resource fluidity (rapid resource deployment and redeployment).

The professional strategy practitioner must take the initiative in the adoption of the imperative to transform to this new era in business. Some organisations will flourish, many will not. The Strategic Management Institute is continually developing new insight and new perspectives into strategy. Our objective is to contribute to the enhanced effectiveness of the strategy practitioner – at the level of a profession.