You stepped into the future…but has it felt more like you stepped off a cliff? Some of the most spectacular strategic failures have been due to poor execution. Unfortunately, the momentum of vision is often short-lived as the reality of the complexity of execution begins to set in. Since 1955, only 57 companies have maintained a position in the Fortune 500 while nearly 2,000 companies have come and gone during that same time period.
If someone handed you a sledgehammer and told you to start smashing your company’s products, would you do it? That’s exactly what Haier CEO Zhang Ruimin did to prove a point to his employees. That was the first in a long line of radical decisions that have transformed the company from a fledgling refrigerator maker to the world’s number one appliance manufacturer – and kept it there.
In a dimly lit wine cellar, we turn to our meal. I am at a corporate dinner filled with executives from fascinating backgrounds. But there is one particular conversation, being led by a fascinating gentleman, that is entirely reframing for me what it means to be a leader.
My wife is from New Orleans, so when we recently got a chance to see the original, we had to stop.
We were driving through France with our kids, on a four-day tour from my family reunion in Germany to our AirBNB in Barcelona, when we realized we’d pass through the “original New Orleans”: Orleans. This is the first town that Joan of Arc helped free from an English siege during the Hundred Years’ War, when England was taking over large swaths of France.
The DMV completely disrupted my plans today. I walked in, notebook and laptop under arm, expecting to spend an hour writing while waiting. But after just 15 minutes I was done!
For over a decade now, corporations have been seeking to understand how to better prepare themselves against the onslaught of technology firms spreading their way into nearly every sector, from banking to real estate to retail. They created incubation groups, acquired startups, sought to create a “culture of innovation.”
Strategy lasts. Derived from the title of ancient Greek government officials charged with rallying resources to fuel military campaigns, refined in China, then ported back to the West by Napoleon, the science or art of coming together to agree on a goal, and the method to achieve it, is an activity that like farming or governing or writing poetry distinguishes human from animal.
Why do big companies change so slowly and die? They dramatically underestimate innovation velocity.
Innovation velocity is the speed and direction of growth that an innovation creates. Small disruptive organisations have very high innovation velocity and this is why they kill big slow incumbents.
I can do it in my sleep. Four years at Wharton, two at Columbia Business School, and a few more in investment banking have drilled into me the most broadly used tool that guides corporate decision-making: the financial projection.
Last Wednesday, in a suburban New Jersey warehouse converted into conference space and a cooking show set, I joined 80 managers assembled to discuss their company’s strategy. We had helped design the two-day experience and were at the point in the flow of the off-site when we hoped we would hear some new, breakthrough insights.