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5 Key Lessons From the Strategy and Innovation World Forum

The Strategy & Innovation World Forum held in Sydney last week saw the old breed and the new breed come together to swap ideas and inspiration.

Strategists telling stories of growth in uncertain times.

Innovators telling stories about creating new futures.

As an innovation consultancy called The Strategy Group, and as a key sponsor of the Forum, here are our top take-outs from the event – from both points of view (maybe a few more from innovation because we like it just that little bit more).

1. Think of strategy as a game of golf, not rugby

Much corporate language comes from the military – ‘strategy’, ‘company’, ‘targets’, ‘chief anything officer’ and ‘killing the competition’. These linguistic roots and many contemporary strategy models (think ‘threat’ and ‘power’ in Porter’s Five Forces) have encouraged us to approach competitive strategy like a full-force game of rugby. Resource heavily up the middle. Move quickly on the flanks. Tackle the competition head-on.

Ron Arnold, Lead of IAG Ventures, recalled some sagely advice from an early mentor that told him to ‘think of strategy as a game of golf, not rugby’.

Play the field (not the competition). Choose the right club. Practice your stroke. Avoid the sand traps. Shoot for the green.

It’s a smart approach that keeps you as mindful of your operating environment as the competition and encourages you to focus on playing your game.

2. Set the right strategy for the right place at the right time

Modern managers would agree with the catch-cry ‘change is the only constant’. So why do most continue to set and follow 12 month, 3 year and 5 year strategies, while the world is changing rapidly and unpredictably around them?

Anuj Phull, Head of Strategy at Groupon, has had a challenging 5 years. Groupon launched in Australia back in 2011, when the ‘daily-deals’ frenzy was at its peak, offered consumers deeply discounted experiences if purchased within 24 hours.

If Anuj had stuck to a 5-year strategy, the company would be in serious trouble, as demand for the ‘daily-deals’ value proposition has contracted rapidly.Instead, he took a dynamic, portfolio approach to setting Groupon’s strategy, drawing on four distinct strategic types:

Classic strategy – set a linear plan and deliver against it

Adaptive strategy – test possible strategies in uncertain markets, learn from the results and iterate towards the best

Visionary strategy – imagine new offerings, design market-fit value propositions and exploit your competitive advantages

Shaping strategy – influence, collaborate and co-evolve with others in your business models (think of the ecosystems created by Uber and Airbnb)

Over time, Anuj has transformed Groupon into one of Australia’s largest online retailers with a diverse portfolio of product, service and experience offerings.

Anuj’s advice? Don’t lock yourself in during uncertain times – choose the right strategy, for the right place, at the right time.

3. Be ready for business model renewal

The forum was organised by conference group World Forum Disrupt and, indeed, ‘disruption’ was the word on everyone’s lips.

‘Disruption’ refers to an interruption of any traditional business model, usually through the use of new technologies and smarter ways of doing things.

Tim Buckett, Executive General Manager of Group Strategy at Suncorp, spoke on their responsive framework for dealing with disruptive threats specifically, preparedness for business model renewal.

Even in the face of disruptive threats, most established companies find it extremely difficult to let go of old business models that have served them well over the years.

Two things that Tim says you can do to prepare for business model renewal are: 1) get employees’ buy-in to the likelihood of uncertain futures and 2) foster a culture of testing and learning, adapting and change.

We would also recommend business look at tweaking their existing business model, using a simple tool like the business model canvas. Starting small helps people to get comfortable with the possibility of bigger business model change in the future.

4. Seek to create FOMO and contagion

If you are going to do something truly innovative, you should make lots and lots of noise about it.

This comms advice comes from Erica Hughes, Founder of Westpac Garage, an innovation team that uses Lean Start-up techniques to fast track new products.

Innovation is not easy to do well. It takes intense focus, clever resourcing, cultural change, grit and determination to see things through. But it is really, really fun. In our experience, most employees jump at the chance to drop business-as-usual to join an exciting, new innovation project.

So to Erica’s advice, you should make a splash about your small team’s innovation efforts in order to impact a much greater number of employees.She says you should seek to create two things: 1) FOMO and 2) contagion.

FOMO stands for ‘fear of missing out’. It refers to the psychological state of being forced to choose one amazing experience over another.

Contagion refers to any situation in which feelings, ideas or problems spread virally from one place to another.

Your innovation communications should create a burning and contagious desire with employees to get onto the next innovation project – or indeed to start innovating on their own. If done well, the potent combination of FOMO and contagion can multiply the effects of concentrated innovation efforts across the organisation.

5. Innovation is the new strategy

At The Strategy Group, we attend many strategy and innovation conferences locally and abroad and it is clear from our conversations that innovation is taking over.

Strategists are beginning to sound a lot like innovators. They are seeking inspiration in the world of startups and adopting tools like Design Thinking to get the customer-centric perspective they have always talked about.

And innovators are really picking up pace and delivering hard outcomes from their efforts. One standout example was global food giant Mondelez’s Food Innovation Centre, which transformed from Open Innovation cost-centre into a for-profit business model supporting innovation in the Australian food industry.

We believe that strategy and innovation are complimentary in big businesses, delivering better results in the short term and simultaneously reinventing longer term futures. It’s just that changing consumer preferences, the advent of new technologies and smarter ways of doing things are driving a greater need for innovation.

And, to be honest, innovation is simply a lot more fun.

World Forum Disrupt runs the Strategy and Innovation Forum every year.

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