Strategy experts typically think about strategy problems assessing the five forces, drawing a value net, plotting competitive positions.
These tools are essential, but they are better suited to understanding an existing business context than to dreaming up ways to reshape it. We need them to be rigorous, but we need to be creative and at the same time. Game-changing strategies are born of creative thinking: a spark of intuition, a connection between different ways of thinking, a leap into the unexpected. If we want to help executive to generate groundbreaking strategies, we must give them tools explicitly designed to foster creativity.
Adam Brandenburger, professor at the Stern School of Business, explores four approaches to building a breakthrough strategy: Contrast, Combination, Constraint, Context.
- Contrast. The strategist should identify—and challenge—the assumptions implicit in the company’s or the industry’s status quo. This is the most direct and often the most powerful way to reinvent a business.
Key question: What pieces of conventional wisdom are ripe for contradiction?
Tip: Deliberately disturb an aspect of your normal work pattern to break up ingrained assumptions.
- Combination. Steve Jobs famously said that creativity is “just connecting things”; many smart business moves come from linking products or services that seem independent from or even in tension with one another.
Key question: How can you connect products or services that have traditionally been separate?
Tip: Look for ways to coordinate with providers of complementary products (who may even be competitors).
- Constraint. A good strategist looks at an organization’s limitations and considers how they might actually become strengths.
Key question: How can you turn limitations or liabilities into opportunities?
Tip: Consider deliberately imposing some constraints to encourage people to find new ways of thinking and acting.
- Context. If you reflect on how a problem similar to yours was solved in an entirely different context, surprising insights may emerge.
Key question: How can far-flung industries, ideas, or disciplines shed light on your most pressing problems?
Tip: Engage with lead users, extreme users, and innovation hotspots.
Strategy and innovation have started to converge and we need to think carefully about the role of creativity in the strategy-making process. At its core, strategy is about finding ways to create and claim value through differentiation. That’s a complicated, difficult job. It requires tools that can help identify surprising, creative breaks from conventional thinking.
Reference: Adam Brandenburger, Strategy Needs Creativity. An analytic framework alone won’t reinvent your business – HBR March-April 2019