Innovator: Are You Agile?

By Shlomo Maital  


  Yves Doz & Mikko Kosonen

   I recently had the privilege of moderating an event featuring two of the world’s top experts on strategy, Prof. Yves Doz (INSEAD) and Mikko Kosonen (formerly head of strategy at Nokia, now head of Finland’s Sitra innovation fund).  Together they authored the recent book Fast Strategy *

  * Fast Strategy:    How strategic agility will help you stay ahead of the game.  Pearson Prentice Hall: 2008. 

   The book’s key point, in one short sentence:  In a world of rapid unpredictable change, organizations must be able to change and adapt their strategies, to turn on a dime.  In two words: Strategic agility!  The core dilemma is:  How do you at the same time build dogged persistence in pursuing a clear strategic goal, while at the same time fostering the ability to dump it when the business environment requires it? 

    Doz and Kosonen bring wisdom and experience to this tough core issue.

    I believe their work applies to individuals, not just to organizations.  So here is a kind of checklist for innovators, to see if you too as an individual have the required strategic agility.  Note:  Agility does NOT mean opportunism, which for entrepreneurs can be disastrous. (“Yes, I can supply THAT too, and THAT..and THAT….”). 

  1.  Are you strategically sensitive?  Do you spend time reading widely, tracking trends, and trying to identify trends that not everyone is talking about? Have you missed key trends?  (Facebook missed the shift of social networking to smartphones, for instance).
  2. Do you agree with yourself?  Organizations need a leadership team that is on the same page. But as an individual – are you internally conflicted, or do you know  exactly who you are, and where you want to go?  You can learn a lot about yourself while innovating – but it may be very expensive.
  3. Do you have fluid resources?  By that, Doz and Kosonen mean:  Strategic agility is worthless unless you have the ability to back your shift in strategy with adequate resources.  Do you have liquid reserves? Do you keep such reserves, in the event that a major opportunity arises?  If, like Mellanox, you need to do a major project and finish it in only weeks to enable the company to survive – as an individual, do you have the reserves of energy and drive to make this happen? 

These are the three key elements of fast strategy:  sensitivity, fluidity, consensus.

And now, here are Doz and Kosonen’s 13 “toxicities” – things that keep you from being strategically agile. Score yourself on each.  ‘3’ for bad,  ‘1’ for good.  If you score over 20, you’re in trouble:

– Tunnel vision – you just don’t see things you should.

– Tyranny of core business – you are hopelessly stuck on what you know and what you do and always have known and done.

– Strategic myopia –  you fail to look beyond next week.

– Dominance mindset – controlling others is more important to you than the truth.

– Snap judgment and intellectual laziness – you fail to do due diligence on your decisions.

– Imprisoned resources – you sunk your resources so deep it takes forever to dig them up and employ them.

– Business system rigidity – you do business one way, the “right” way, and never change.

– Ties that bind – you are stuck with bad people and are unable to dump them.

– Management mediocrity and competence gaps – there are things you need to learn and know, key things, you don’t know them, maybe you don’t even know you don’t know them.

– Management divergence – you are internally conflicted.

– Heady charm of fame and power –    you drink your own Kool-Aid.

– Expert management (making operational decisions instead of strategic) – you focus on day-to-day instead of on vision and long-term direction, for which you have no time.

– Emotional apathy – you’ve lost your passion, your fire, and those around you know it, and so lose theirs too.

Look deep inside, tell the truth, ask if you have what it takes to achieve strategic flexibility, as an innovator and entrepreneur.  Once you are aware of shortcomings, they can be fixed. But the first step, as with the 12-step method for curing addiction or alcoholism, is to admit that you are   rigid and inflexible.  From there, it’s all uphill.