Strategy : Designing Your Future

Daniel Burrus is a leading technology forecaster and business strategist, and is the author of six books, including the highly acclaimed Technotrends, which has been translated into over a dozen languages. The New York Times has referred to him as one of America's top three business "gurus" in the highest demand as a speaker.He produces a number of audio and video learning systems and is the publisher of the TechnotrendsĀ® Newsletter.

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Strategy creation provides a key to unlock future potential. In today's frantic business environment, strategy creation is often pushed off into the future. Business leaders would all agree on the high value of strategic planning. The planning problem we face, other than finding the time to do it, is that strategic planning -- today's 20th century model -- is really just a form of financial planning with objectives and behavior focused on financial goals.

True strategic planning requires strategic thinking, focusing on the future opportunities of your products, services, markets, and customers. Strategic planning should yield strategies to create a sustainable competitive advantage. A true business strategy provides many benefits, including support for decision making, a vehicle for coordination and communication, and a way to determine resource allocation, targets and focus.

Implementing a true business strategy will help your organization define what it does better than its competition and create a sustainable competitive advantage. It will enable you to own the market not just sell the product.

The following check list can help you with your strategic thinking process.

1. Identify strengths and weaknesses of both your organization and the competition.
2. Identify opportunities for and threats to both your organization and the competition.
3. Evaluate past and current strategies in relation to where you ideally want the organization to go.
4. Identify strategic problems you face both now and in the visible future.
5. List organizational capabilities and constraints.
6. Describe and assess financial resources and constraints.

It's been surprising to me to see how few businesses know what their true advantages are in the market place. They can usually list one or two, but it is very helpful to look beneath the surface. This is where you will often find the seeds for future competitive advantage. To find your advantage, try the following:

a) Identify the strongest element of your organization and its operation; and,
b) Determine the one thing that your organization does better than its competitors.

Unfortunately, most managers and executives enter a strategic planning session with a tactical mindset and never truly shift from a focus on today. A focus on financial goals only reinforces status quo -- the use of existing strategies that have worked well in the past.

Instead of focusing on financial planning, focus on strategy creation. At the very minimum, this requires:

1. A vision of who your future customers will be.
2. A vision of what your future customers will need based on the direction they are heading.
3. A vision of who your future competition will be.
4. Strategies to differentiate your products and services from both your present and future competition.

For the past few years, I have been recommending to my executive audiences that they do a little personal strategic planning at least once a week. The resulting feedback I have received has been overwhelmingly positive.Try spending one hour per week unplugged. Unplug from technology -- your phone, fax, pager, e-mail, voice mail -- in other words, unplug from the present. Instead, plug into your future. During that hour, look into what I call your visible future, the part you can see. You will be surprised at how much you really can see. Ask yourself, "What are the new future problems I'm about to have?" and then develop a strategy that will solve the problems so you don't have them in the first place.

Shift Your Focus From Information to Knowledge Sharing

Business leaders must realize that information is now a commodity because of today's widespread use of the Internet. Our employees can no longer be information dispensers. The majority of economic value creation over the next five years and beyond will come, to a large extent, from converting data and information into knowledge, and high-margin knowledge-based products and services. That is done not through information access but through knowledge sharing networks. The Internet, and its newer siblings called Intranets, are perfect technologies to create a knowledge-sharing network. It's a revolution in publishing.

Organizations of all sizes tend to be knowledge hoarding, not knowledge sharing. That's the 20th century model. We reward people for hoarding knowledge. They advance their careers by keeping knowledge to themselves so they can get a promotion. The new mantra for the 21st century -- which by the way is already here -- is sharing knowledge. Why? Because knowledge increases in value exponentially when it's shared.

Start by using the following definition for knowledge. Knowledge is information that is actionable and generates value. I purposely use the word "generates" instead of "adds" value. You add value to products. You generate value by sharing ideas with other people.

Several years ago, I was talking to an executive from the Xerox Corp. I asked him the following question: "In 1993, you laid off 10,000 middle managers; how much knowledge did you lose?" He responded by saying he didn't know. I then asked, "How much knowledge did you keep before letting them all go?" He said that it would be hard to tell, but probably not much. I asked where Xerox keeps its collective wisdom and how could employees access it? He said, "I'm not sure, I guess you could give the senior executives a call."

Where do you keep your organizations' knowledge? Where do you keep your industry wisdom?
These are the kinds of questions we should now be asking as we try to define new ways to create value and differentiate our products and services.

Capturing Employees' Knowledge

Let's say, for example, that you're talking to a 100 person sales force. To introduce the concept of capturing knowledge, you might say, "Today we will begin a knowledge sharing program that will allow us to help each other out in a new and powerful way. We'll use a special location on our Intranet labeled 'Sales Knowledge Base,' and my role is to be your knowledge stimulator. My job will be to pull the knowledge and wisdom from all of the employees at all levels and ensure that we have knowledge sharing communities established within our organization.

To pull knowledge from your sales force, you might say, "Write two paragraphs. Keep them short and make them actionable so they have value. In the first paragraph, tell me about the biggest mistake you made with a customer in the last 12 months, and in the second paragraph tell me what you learned from it." I don't know about you, but I've learned the most from my biggest mistakes. Yet we seldom share our mistakes, much less what we learned from them, even though they represent amazing knowledge. When you help prevent people from repeating the same mistake, you're saving time and time is the new currency.

Take the process a step further and say, "Post me two more paragraphs, both short and actionable. In the first, tell me about the most important personal strategy you implemented in sales this year. In the second, tell me what it did for you and your customer." Now you're starting to pull the knowledge out of all of the sales people and put it in a place where it can be categorized by subject, so they can have access to it. Consider it a Global Best Sales Practices Knowledge Base that can be used internally. As people come and go, you won't lose all of their knowledge. Your sales force may even want to give your best clients access to it as a way of "generating" value.

Maximizing The Impact of Technology

If we spend our time doing what we have always done, we will not have enough time to learn about or maximize the use of new technology. Since the number of hours in a day will not change, what we are doing during those hours becomes more critical.

The toolbox of the twenty-first century is already invented. The World Wide Web, on-line services, Intranets, multimedia computers and desktop videoconferencing are just a few of the tools allowing us to do what was previously impossible. But just as technology is undergoing a revolution, the rules that govern those who use it in their business are also being redefined. You have to look for opportunities in how you will use these tools to anticipate your customers' needs. You don't have to understand the physics of a telephone to use it. It's the same principle at work with the new technology tools. You have to be aware of the existence of the tools and creatively apply them to what you would ideally want to do.

Keep in mind that technology often allows us do what was before impossible.We need to shift from being tactical, putting out fires, to being strategic, managing tomorrow's opportunities today. We need to budget time for learning and time for thinking about how we are going to apply new technology to create a better tomorrow for both ourselves and others. If we don't, then we are in jeopardy of becoming a professional dinosaur.

Too often we fail to take action because we are focused on the rapid obsolescence of technology. Rapid obsolescence isn't the real issue. Let's face it, in today's world, if it works, it's obsolete! The company that just sold you the "latest and greatest" is already working on a new improved version that will replace the one you just purchased. Rapid obsolescence is a non-issue for the executive or manager who is focusing on the creative use of technology to gain a competitive advantage. This is important to keep in mind when making corporate decisions about the technologies intended to support and foster growth. It's not so much an issue of new technology replacing old, but rather how the chosen technology can fit current and long-term strategies for success.

A 21st Century Question To Ask About The Net

One of the things that's holding technology ROI back right now is that we all tend to use a 21 st century tool in a 20th century way. Today's 20th century question being asked is, "How can I sell my products and services on the net?" People are having trouble coming up with profitable answers to that. A 21st century question would be, "How can I add amazing new value to my customers on the net?"

The answer may have nothing to do with your current products and services, but might have everything to do with your future profitability.

Ā©1995-2002, Burrus Research Associates, Inc.

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