Congratulations on being listed by the prestigious Thinkers50 as one of the thinkers to watch in 2022. Could you share about a bit of the work you’ve been doing that led to this recognition?
First of all, being included on the Thinkers 50 and the Radar list is really just an honor. For many years, many of the people recognized by Thinkers50 have been role models, experts, people that we have worked with, people that we have learned from and looked up to. Being included on the list is really just a big honor.
I think the key point with Thinkers50 is bringing new management ideas to the table and being able to share those management ideas. As I reflect back over the last 20 some years, it used to be the case that a lot of these management ideas were confined to academics and books. Great academics, great books. While now I think we are seeing more diversity, both in terms of the thinkers, in terms of the content, channels, distribution and networks. As the world has grown more flat, more digital and more connected, I think we’re seeing a rise of new management ideas coming from new and maybe more unexpected sources. If you look at the 2022 Radar list, you’ll see such diversity. It’s incredible. Backgrounds, gender, geographies. It is really something. And if we can continue this trend of bringing more diversity of thinking, diversity of background, diversity of experiences, grounded realities of where people live and work today, we will see an explosion of ideas around what the future of management looks like. So being added to the list is one thing, getting a chance to connect with the community and learn with the community, that is personally, to me, really the big thing here.
I do want to extend a big thanks to the team behind the facility. As I’ve gotten to know them over the years, I’ve been really impressed with the work, what they’ve built, but also especially adapting to COVID, how incredibly successful their transition was. It was a beautifully orchestrated and crafted digital event that really brought people together from all over the world. Different, more personal, more connected, more intimate, yet very professional compared to lot of other events.
Now, when it comes to our work, what’s been driving us, at least for the last decade, has really been curiosity, a deep fundamental curiosity in terms of what this future of strategy looks like. What happens when we expand our understanding of strategy from the traditional corporate executive in a conference room and really start thinking much, much more broadly about strategy and strategic thinking?
What does strategy mean for the people that are leading and building national innovation supercluster programs, whether you’re in Canada, Norway, Denmark. Malaysia, Thailand, Middle East? Shaping strategy and the thinking at the highest level of national competitiveness and national economic development? That’s also strategy, but it’s different from our traditional, maybe somewhat limited understanding of corporate strategy in its most traditional sense.
The second thing that drives our work is sharing and learning. We have over the years published and shared largely everything that we’ve done open source. And I think that’s really important and it’s going to continue. We want to share our work so more people can get their hands on it, then more people can apply it so we can all learn from it. That learning loop, if we can continue to grow it and strengthen it through networks, communities, digital channels and digital platforms, we can develop regional meet ups and community groups, we can develop connected digital learning groups. Having that feedback loop can really drive how we think and how we work on strategy, new strategy canvases and strategy tools. That’s fantastic.
Curiosity. Sharing and learning. And then finally, maybe persistency. We’ve really been trying to move things forward, whether we’re working in Middle East, Latin America, across Europe or Asia. We’ve always been trying push things forward. If those are some of the things that we are being recognized for, that’s fantastic.
So one question that we want to ask is, in your own words, what does Strategy Tools actually do?
That’s a great question. The big idea behind Strategy Tools is, we are fundamentally trying to help shape, push and transform how the world works on strategy.
But it’s better to think about what we call the 4+1 model, the 4+1 strategy. We work in four domains. Number one, corporate strategy, innovation and transformation. Number two, startups and scale ups. Number three, innovation clusters and innovation superclusters and number four, which is the latest addition – venture capital.
When you put these together, they’re really four different disciplines, four different sectors. What we’d like to do is find the connecting points and connecting the dots. How can companies continue to accelerate? Big companies, small companies alike? How can we create a deeper and more professional understanding of venture financing, both within startup companies, corporate venture teams, but also in the VC stage? And how can we connect new ideas, new thinking to accelerate national transformation, working at the country level where we’re really looking at, well, how a country like Malaysia or Singapore develops these innovation clusters and national supercluster programs to fundamentally alter the trajectory of national competitiveness?
We want to build the tools, canvases and frameworks that allow people to pick them up and put them to work, learn and internalize these things, without necessarily having to read all the content, the research and the theories. We are building the tools, the canvases. We’re building a lot of content. We’re building the strategies simulations. And then we’re pulling all of this together on a digital platform where we have a global community, a rich ecosystem of people and partners, we’re building the digital infrastructure that allows all this to come together.
What projects are you currently working on or most excited about?
I’ll give you three quite different angles. Number one, the energy transition. As you probably know, we’ve been working with companies, business schools, executives and boards of directors on the energy transition for many, many years. Five, six years ago, a lot of companies didn’t have an understanding of the energy transition. Today they do. Today, every single company, every single board within the energy space is grappling with it. They’re shaping and developing their own thinking around what the future of energy looks like to us. The work that I’m most excited about right now is how do we enable energy companies to transform at an accelerated pace? What does that look like? Because it’s not just shifting from fossil to renewable, there’s so much more in that transformation journey. If we can build the tools, the frameworks and methodologies and then train people at scale to allow them a more successful transformation, then we have achieved a lot. So that’s one project, accelerating the energy transition, and we’re working, you know, with some of the some of the leading energy companies in the world on that as we speak.
Second is really the work that we’re doing around venture capital, the brand new material around the Fund Manager series. And of course, this was developed coming off of a project with the 2X Collaborative and 2X Ignite, partially funded by the World Bank, by international finance organizations and international development finance organizations. While working on this project, we really looked at how we visualize and conceptualize how to start, grow and scale early stage venture funds. What we found was there wasn’t a lot of content easily available out there, so we said, “well, let’s start building it.” And now, of course, we’ve built more than 20 tools and canvases. We’ve developed a Fund Manager! Simulation and I really see a huge potential. The interest has been fantastic. We are currently working with angel groups in Seattle, Washington State. We’re working with various hubs and communities across Europe. We’re working with very, very professional VC firms in the UK. I think we’ve really struck something with this work around fund management.
And then finally, in terms of what am I most excited about, it’s absolutely the work that we do around the superclusters. We can talk about strategy at a company level, and that’s good. A successful and high impact company strategy can really change the trajectory of the company. And of course partially pull the industry with it and such. But if you can get national competitiveness and work on accelerating national transformation, suddenly you’re working at a whole different level, a whole different league.
You’re no longer talking about one company, you’re talking about all the companies within that domain. The more we learn, the more work we get to do, the more projects we are involved with around innovation superclusters, that is really something. We’re proud to be to be able to work with the Canadian government and the Canadian Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. And to really help shape the next iteration of Canada’s National Supercluster program, as well as you know, some of the conversations we’re having with Iceland and Finland, some of the Middle Eastern countries and Latin American countries, really getting a chance to work on those. And of course, working with our friends in the US to develop some of the leading cluster programs in the United States. Those are the things that keep us ticking.
The strategy simulations sound very interesting. Could you go a bit more into detail on that? How do they work and how do you see them changing the way we currently work and learn?
The strategy sims were really developed by accident almost about three, three and a half years ago. Today, they are a core part of our identity of what we do. We have partners all over the world. We’ve delivered nearly 250 strategy simulation sessions globally. And they are such an important part of the value that we bring into classrooms and boardrooms all around the world.
But the idea is very simple, really building on some of the earlier work by Professor Johan Roos, the original Lego Serious play research which has been so influential in shaping our thinking. Equally, the work by Swedish professor Karl Erik Sveiby, who’s now in Finland. U.S. researcher Verna Allee in her work around visualizing complex ecosystems. These things really shaped our early thinking around how we can help smart people learn faster, better. Chris Argyris is right there. And how can we visualize very complex concepts? Instead of having to talk to people and tell people, well, they will learn by doing, they’ll learn by stepping into these simulations.
Today we have five simulations – Transform! Scale Up!, Scale Up! X (developed with MIT D-Lab), Supercluster! and more recently, we have developed Fund Manager! together with Rick Rasmussen in Berkeley. I see the simulations growing fast and wide and growing globally. As an example, in the coming weeks from this conversation, we’re going to be implementing the Strategy Sims at world leading business schools like IE in Madrid, with Peter Fisk, Hult Ashridge in the UK. We’re going to be working with Tony O’Driscoll, professor of strategy at Duke University. We’re going to be teaching them at Northeastern University in San Francisco. Those are just a handful of business schools. Really, really excited to see the traction and potential emerging around the strategy sims.
You mentioned superclusters, could you share a bit more about your work in that space?
Superclusters are extremely meaningful to be working on. Because if you get it right, it really matters. Globally today, there are just around 7,000 recognized clusters. Europe and the EU has about 3,000. Norway has about 40. Denmark used to have 42, now they have 14. You go to some countries like Colombia, they have close to 120. There are a lot of clusters. If you get it right, we can have a significant outsized economic impact. That’s what we have seen over the last decade, including many of the projects that we’ve worked on around the world. If you can develop a long-term national cluster program (for example the Middle East) and you can develop these clusters over time (because they do take time), the economic return of the impact you can expect is significant. I think that as more and more countries, including Denmark, are shifting towards that and away from the traditional classroom model, we will really see more research, more documentation and more interest in this space.
If there’s one thing that I’d love to really dive into even more is definitely working with national governments, working directly with the Prime Minister’s Office, working with the ministries and helping them shape innovation cluster programs for the future.
Why are clusters so important and how are you contributing to the development of clusters and superclusters?
A lot of the work that we have done over the years, of course, has naturally been with corporate strategy, corporate management teams, corporate strategy teams, corporate innovation teams, board of directors. But they’ve also always been, you know, naturally somewhat restricting or limiting because you are working with the company level unit of analysis. Now, the company can have suppliers and customers and partners, and they can have strategic value chains and strategic ecosystems and networks around them. But for the large majority of companies, with a few exceptions, they are focused on themselves. The company is the legal unit of focus.
And the thing with innovation clusters, notably with the innovation superclusters. is that they supersede companies, they include many companies, they look at “how do we develop this industry?”, “How do we develop these key industries for the future?” And if you do this right, working at the intersection between industry and government, private and public, always putting private in the driving seat, supported actively and aggressively by government policies and funding, if you do this right, you can really build future growth industries more than just any single company in the country.
I think governments, business schools. strategy thinkers here at Thinkers50 and many more, should really get a chance to learn more about what is happening and what are the impacts of a building successful superclusters around the world. It is an area that I’m very passionate about, but it is also an area that has evolved and grown from our work on companies that are needing to transform and realizing that, you know, it makes sense for them to look beyond just their own corporate limits and engage with a much wider set of partners and collaborators in what we call innovation clusters. So, you know, you get to pull all these things together, you can’t really look at the isolated image of it.
Now finally, the last question that we have here, what’s next for you?
Always, the next is competing with the speed of learning. The more we can learn and the faster we can learn, well that will keep us on our toes, it’ll keep us sharp and keep us happy. So, the immediate next step is how can we learn more and learn faster? Absorbing knowledge from all of these wonderful Thinkers50 and Radar list, people that we’re just learning about today?
We are putting a lot of work into, as I mentioned, the energy transition, but also into the Fund Manager! simulation. I am personally really excited to see the potential of what we can build, what we can develop and how we can work with current fund managers, emerging fund managers, future fund managers all around the world. You know, it’s a new field. There’s not a lot of content. There are some, but there’s not a lot of programs. There are some, but not a lot of great books because the books tend to be quite heavy and technical and legally, structurally oriented. So if we can put some serious work into answering the question of how we build and scale thousands of new venture funds in different locations, in different sectors and different industries. And if we can help build the tools, content, concepts, training solutions and simulations for that, that’s work worth doing. But hey, first things first is really continuing every single day to build out a strategy platform, build the Strategy Tools network, and really continue to take our work and the tools and sims to the world. That’s what we are.
But again, thank you and really congratulations to everyone that was identified and listed on the Thinkers50 Radar List.
Thinkers50 is the world’s most reliable resource for identifying, ranking, and sharing the leading management ideas of our age.
When it was launched in 2001, Thinkers50 was the first-ever global ranking of management thinkers. It has been published every two years since, and remains the premier ranking of its kind.
Since 2001, the scope of Thinkers50 has broadened to include a range of activities that support our mission of providing innovative access to powerful business and management ideas – ideas that will make the world a better place.