I've heard from a number of folks that they enjoyed this dialogue between my borther Kurt and me, but that they felt it was too long, and the font was too small. So I'm dividing it in half: the second half will be on November 3.
My brother Kurt and I have both had books published in the past few months. His book, Reset, focuses on this unique time in our evolution as a nation, and how we need to think and act differently going forward. As you know, my book, Being Strategic, offers a mindset and a process for thinking constructively about your future, professionally or personally, at any time. He and I had an email dialogue over the past several days, discussing the intersection of our two books: our perspectives on how to take best advantage of the circumstance we all find ourselves in at this particular point in history.
EA: Kurt, you talk about this being a great time for the “seeds and saplings” – smaller, newer companies that might have a better chance to grow in this environment where some giant trees have toppled. What can these seeds and saplings do – approaches, assumptions, relationships, anything else you’ve thought about — in order to have the best chance to thrive?
KA: Well, of the districts of the economic forest where big old trees are most obviously falling, I don't have any idea what to tell startups in the automobile or retail or real estate or financial industries, but I do know the media businesses fairly well. And my major advice to seedlings/saplings there would be: 1) don't just have "a vision" for the product, which everyone thinks they do, but make sure the leader or leaders of the or enterprise are actually visionaries, with distinct, instinctive, thoroughly thought-through understandings of and commitment to the Big Idea, 2) create a thing that you personally want or need and can love, and 3) know and really understand all the flavors of conventional wisdom in your world, and then reject the correct majority (but probably not all) of that conventional wisdom. Now that I look at them, maybe those pieces of advice are pretty generally applicable, and I suppose not so different than I would give in more normal economic times. What this Reset moment does is make my #3 in particular more difficult, crucial and exciting to do.
EA: If we move toward a buy-what-you-need mentality, and away from buy-everything-you-want, how can companies continue to grow and prosper while serving this new, more discerning consumer?
KA: See #2 above. Creating excellent things becomes more important, I think. In rich countries like ours, a plurality of the stuff that most people consume is somewhere in the gray middle zone — not quite needs, strictly speaking, but not utterly and plainly superfluous. And of course, as I say in the book, we're not, happily, going to turn into a nation of Puritan goody-goodies. But right now I'd rather be in the businesss of selling the New York Times and Ford Fusion hybrids than, say, network TV news programs and Hummers.
How about you? How do you think the sky-is-falling moment changes the nature of strategic thinking? I think for a lot of businesses, in industries that have really gone off the cliff, conceiving and executing "strategy" in any meaningful sense becomes impossible beyond triage.
EA: I’m with you about vision being at the core of what’s needed. From my point of view, being truly strategic implies both vision and strategy; having, in your words “distinct, instinctive, thoroughly thought-through understandings of and commitment to the Big Idea” is essential to the creation of good strategy. In fact, one of my pet peeves about what most people call strategy – even people like Michael Porter – is that it’s quite reactive: Look at the marketplace, look at your competition, look at your assets, then figure out how to best use your assets to capture the market in a more cost-effective way than your competition.
I think that analyzing your current state in that way is only the beginning (and certainly won’t serve for businesses that really need to re-conceive themselves in this environment). The critical step — and I think this is what you’re saying, too — is to then envision that 3-dimensional future. If you have a visionary leader who can do that and communicate it in a compelling and inclusive way, that’s great. In my experience, it’s even better if you have a whole senior team who come to that vision together (often with the visionary leader as catalyst). And once you’ve fully envisioned and committed to that future, then strategy (and tactics) are the path to get there.
Now I’ve GOT to go back to something else you said — you’d rather be in the business of selling the New York Times? Help me understand that.
Continued on November 3….