How did the idea for the Strategy Intro come about?
The basic idea is very simple. It’s called the ambidextrous organization, a concept which has been around for decades. It’s a very simple idea that companies need to do both its existing core business while also thinking about new businesses and new business opportunities for the future. This duality has been really important. Of course, that’s an old idea. Going back to 2014, we developed the first iteration of the Strategy Intro tool. It’s really simple, because we realize that being ambidextrous isn’t enough. Doing today’s core business and tomorrow’s business is not enough. It’s not helpful or sharp enough.
What we realized while working with large and small companies, was that we actually needed to develop a basic strategy framework that would allow them to both think about today’s businesses, think about tomorrow’s businesses, and then also be able to think about new opportunities that were far off into the future. So this is why we developed the idea – not two (ambidextrous), but three categories, three boxes.
Core – that is your present core business. For the majority of companies, that’s where they focus all of their energy.
Growth – that’s where you put your close-to-heart, and close-to-core near-term growth opportunities.
Explore – that’s where you want to put your swing-for-the-fences, that’s where you put your far-out future development business opportunities.
Back to the question, where did the idea come from? It basically came from working with companies, researching best practices and thinking in terms of being more agile, flexible approach to strategy. It’s rooted in the original research about ambidextrous organizations, but it’s developed based on insight and working very closely with leading companies. And out of that framework came the Strategy Intro. Today, it serves as one of the most important tools, one of the most foundational tools that we have in the entire Strategy Tools toolkit.
How do you use Strategy Intro in your work with clients?
In my work and the work that my team does with clients around the world, from big energy companies to utility companies, aviation companies, professional services firms, we really use it as the entry-level foundational tool for strategy.
It shapes every single conversation we have with CEOs. It shapes every single engagement we have with the board. I will walk into every single meeting armed with that tool.
I’ve used it with first-time CEOs, I’ve used it with very complex large companies, with big transformational processes. The Strategy Intro really lays the framework and it draws up the boundaries and differences, if you will, between focusing on your core, growth and explore.
So, to give you a specific example, I recently engaged with a rapidly growing energy company and was working with the CEO. From our very first conversation, our very first meeting, the very first time we sat down together, we started on the Strategy Intro.
We sketched out – what is your current core business? What are your emerging growth, highly likely opportunities? And what are your future or Explore businesses?
One thing that always happens – and that always happens – the clients that I’ll be working with will often think of Explore as sort of a radical, far, far into the future setup. But in fact, as soon as they put it on paper, they will start looking at this and say, you know, “wow, these ideas, these business opportunities, these Explore business models, they’re not that far-fetched. They’re not that unreasonable. They’re not that unlikely. This is something that we can totally develop.” Simply by doing the exercise of the Core, Growth, Explore. Those Explore opportunities are just pulled much, much closer into the present.
Why is the Strategy Intro so powerful?
Well, I think a big part of why it’s so powerful lies in the simplicity. A lot of times people will take a look, they get introduced and they’ll say, “wow, that’s really simple.” And that’s really where the magic lies. If we can develop foundational strategy tools with a clear visual design with a very simple UX or user experience, we know it’s a powerful concept.
Once you introduce that to a group, you will get the group onto the same page, so to speak, in just a few minutes.
It also gives you a framework to discuss things that people haven’t had an easy way to discuss and interact with in the past. A lot of companies and teams will completely mix up what is a Core business model, what is a Growth business model and what is an Explore business model. Using the Strategy Intro, you can clean that up really quickly.
Another reason for why it’s so powerful – once you understand the differences between your cash-generating, profit-generation and your value-creating activities, it takes on a whole new level. A lot of companies would typically focus on cash flow and profits, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that is not necessarily what creates value.
Understanding what are the value creation drivers for your company? What is the value equation drivers for your different business models? And how do you shift your investment strategy from the short term cash maximization to the medium and longer term value maximization? That is a whole different conversation. And that’s why the Strategy Intro can be so powerful, because it gives you a framework to quickly and easily understand that.
Could you share a couple of examples of cases in action and the impact it has brought?
I’ll take a generic example. I mentioned I use this with every single client and every single engagement we have had. One of the one of the best cases I’ve seen is when we work with big companies, big energy companies. So big energy companies, they will have a lot of value embedded in their core business. I mean, they have sunk costs and they have maybe hundreds of millions, if not billions invested into into oil and gas fields, into utilities, grids and so on. So they have a very dominant core business that pulls in a lot of attention and energy.
Whenever we introduce the Strategy Intro, something just snaps. There’s light bulb that goes off because now they suddenly have a strategic framework for sorting out what is actually investment into our existing core business in the energy space. And now we finally have a framework for how can we engage differently with our growth opportunities and how can we engage very differently with our explore opportunities.
Another example that I frequently use is the work that we’ve done within the train industry. The first step in the Strategy Intro is defining your ambition, your identity. Who are you? Who are you as a company? What is the Big Company Idea? And the train company that we’ve worked with, they shifted their ambition from being a train company to being a leading mobility company. Now there’s a fine nuance, the difference isn’t that big, but in terms of implications down into the strategy framework, huge difference.
So the success that we have seen overall is that it leads companies into three things. Number one, shifting focus from core business to future growth businesses. Providing a framework for aligning the team, the board and the investments and resources into more future thinking and more Explore category.
And finally, very importantly, it almost always reveals that we don’t have the the business development capacity and the innovation capacity and the business model innovation capacity around our future growth opportunities. So again and again, I’ve seen companies basically turn around and say, “we need to hire a VP in business development, that we need to hire a Chief Strategy Officer for the Explore part, or in different ways, “we need to build out our organizational capacity to actually invest into the Growth and Explore categories.
It is a super powerful tool. It is visually simple, it’s easy to grasp, it’s easy to get started. But once you get into it, wow, there’s a lot of power there.
How do I get started using the Strategy Intro?
The tool itself is open source. You can go online, go to Strategy Tools and just download it as you please. But if you really want to learn it, I recommend the Strategy Tools Global Coaches program. It is a great introduction-level program. It gets you started on the tools and several case studies.
I think the best thing you could do is actually to just start using it with your clients, start using it internally and start putting it to work. Get experience, build experience. And one thing that we do say, especially to consultants that really want to get good at using it, you’ve got to build your own case studies. So you have to learn the tool and how to use it. You’ve got to go out and build your own case studies. You should have your own repertoire, if you will, of different cases on the tool.
I would like to learn more about strategy tools like the Strategy Intro that I can bring into my consulting company, where should I go?
Our mission at Strategy Tools is really to help shape how the world works on strategy. And we are in a paradigm shift.
Rita McGrath of Columbia University has been saying this for years. The old ways of doing strategy doesn’t work. We need a new lens. We need a new paradigm. And we need new tools. And that’s why we have created Strategy Tools as a global community.
A lot of it is open source. We have thousands of people who are downloading tools and putting them to use. Just off the bat. But for people who really want to put strategy tools to use, we recommend three things. Number one, sign up for the Strategy Tools Global Courses program. It is a very good introduction. It’s completely self-paced. You can go through it as quickly as you want or you can join one of the instructor-led programs that runs over four weeks. I hope I get a chance to work with you there, because this is by far one of the most impactful strategy tools I’ve seen anywhere in the world. I hope it can support your career, your client development and of course, that of your clients and your company.