Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Discontinuous Change and the Leader-Part III-Identifying Opportunities

In part I of this series on discontinuous change and leadership, I used examples to demonstrate how leaders can re-frame their business to grow and remain competitive. In part II,  I identified the central challenges of re-framing a business...bridging skill gaps, building capability and the change management required to succeed. In this third entry, I want to talk about how to identify the opportunities in the first place.

In retrospect, some of the business re-framing I've described seem simple or obvious or the result of a brilliant flash of insight.  Actually, there is always a huge element of uncertainty about the direction a business should pursue.  As Nicholas Singer writes in The Signal and the Noise, "...the big ideas don't necessarily start out that way.  It's more often with small, incremental, and sometimes even accidental steps that we make progress."

The best, most comprehensive way to think about this I've found is in the book Innovation Tournaments:  Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities by Christian Terweisch and Karl Ulrich.  I was exposed to their work while serving on the Wharton Executive Education Advisory Board.  The central idea of tournaments is that you "begin with a relatively large number of 'contestants' and apply filters in a series of rounds to identify 'winners'."  "Contestants" compete but only the fittest survive.  Some current popular television shows American Idol, Britain's Got Talent, The X factor and The Voice  all use a "tournament" format to identify the best prospects. 

Surprisingly to some, fields as diverse as new drug development, the energy business, and entertainment all use some form of a "tournament" to identify both incremental and game-changing opportunities.  To use an example from one of my most recent work experiences, no one really knows which of the renewable energy sources will be most important in the energy mix of the, hydrogen, wind, or biofuels.  Today, all the major energy companies are experimenting...conducting their own tournament if you determine the which of those technologies will be important to their future growth.

My point of this blog is that if you are a business leader and you haven't been struck by some game-changing insight for your business, not to worry.... business re-framing isn't about a blinding flash of brilliance that is the sole province of exceptionally talented leaders.  It's more often about having a deliberate process to evaluate and experiment with emerging opportunities....the kind of process any leader can employ.  


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