• Strategy

Is Disruption Really the New Norm?

Don’t let fear of disruption divert you from the essential job of reviewing and renewing strategy

Thursday 17 May 2018


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There is a tendency to believe that we are living in a time of unprecedented change, and even that strategy itself is inherently obsolete because the speed of change renders any forward thinking redundant even before it’s published.

But Jeff Callander, Director on Henley’s Strategy Programme, takes a more constructive view. “The tools needed for strategy are the same as they’ve ever been,” argues Jeff, “but what’s really changing is the fragmentation of the way we are currently approaching the strategic development process.”

Jeff maintains that progress has always created change, and therefore innovation, and cites the example of Pony Express. “It’s a legendary brand, even today, but the reality is that within 19 months of launch, it was superseded by the telegraph, never to be used again. So it’s been happening for a long time.”

So how do we change our thinking to create strategies that have more longevity and relevance?

According to Jeff, we need to broaden the way we view the business and assess the possibilities more frequently. “We accept that the world is dynamic, and change is a constant. But we mustn’t forget that 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, machine learning and drones have all been evolving over decades, so even if it feels as if they’ve just exploded into our consciousness, they’ve taken quite a while to come to fruition. Therefore, having the insight to what is being developed is vital, and we need to invest more time, energy and money into it, if we are to gain any sustainable competitive advantage.”

“We need to constantly strive for cheaper, faster, easier ways to deliver our products and services, and leave behind those who say that it’s impossible to keep up. Many others look to diversification to try to protect themselves against the impact of change but unless we are ourselves able to adapt, we’ll be irrelevant, no matter how broad our portfolio.”

Jeff cites two examples of organizations that became at risk or he sees as being at risk, due to their dependency on fixed business models. “One very well-known insurance company was perceived as highly innovative when it first introduced its capability to deal direct with the public. However, it didn’t move with the times while competitors moved to use open systems and its proprietary system, upon which it had become successful, was consequently unable to deal with the increasingly-popular multi-car insurance products. Similarly, Uber comes to mind. It’s been lauded as the new revolutionary, yet it is not hard to copy and now has challengers even including car manufacturers. What is its next move to create value?”

So what steps can we take to ensure that disruption doesn’t mean destruction?

As well as reviewing more often, and broadening the scope, Jeff recommends four shifts in attitude:

• embrace the concept of strategy

• recognise that it’s a learned area of expertise

• view strategy as a leadership tool

• acknowledge that all employees can add value and are a source of insight.

This article was originally published in Henley's Focus magazine.


The Strategy Programme at Henley Business School

This intense three-day programme kick-starts a process of strategic review, helping organizations leverage new market insights to maintain competitive advantage. A fourth day is dedicated to checking implementation with a view to overcoming internal barriers and bottlenecks.

Aimed at senior-level executives charged with driving value for their organizations, the programme challenges particpants to critique their own strategies against latest academic theory and market analysis and to deliver immediate practical outputs to drive their business on.

Set in the heart of the Thames Valley and conveniently located for London, Henley is one of the oldest and most respected business schools in Europe. Number 20 in the world for the combined ranking of open and custom programmes (FT 2019), it is part of an elite group of business schools to be triple-accredited for the quality and capability of faculty and output.

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