Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Visualizing strategic decisions

The notion that formal strategic planning is an exercise to produce “prepared minds”, as Kaplan and Beinhocker assert in The Real Value of Strategic Planning, is fascinating to me (3). Cultivating a strategic mindset in business leaders before having to make important, game-changing decisions seems so obvious—yet I would wager that few organizations actually foster this type of progressive, forward-thinking strategy. To wit, the majority of strategic planning processes that I have been involved in have focused on making key business decisions that, while taking the organization forward for the next several years, would ultimately result in a strategic plan that found a home on a shelf in the CEO’s office.

While Kaplan and Beinhocker's article recommended creating “prepared minds” to enhance strategy, it did not offer particularly concrete tools to achieve this state of preparedness. I was particularly curious to research ways of visualizing the data that so often confronts business leaders and is key to determining their market position and future strategic direction in a global marketplace.

Enter rooted maps.

A “rooted map”, as detailed in Pankaj’s Ghemawat’s “Remapping your strategic mindset” article in the August 2011 edition of McKinsey Quarterly, is a fairly simple—yet powerful—way of depicting global trends by adjusting the sizes or positions of countries based on a particular dimension. Below is an example of a rooted map that shows that Libya exports the majority of its oil to European nations.

While the above example is a fairly simple finding that could be relayed in a table easily, I believe that the potential of rooted maps is great for more complex marketplace interactions.

Imagine a health food company that is determining whether there is a market for organic, gluten-free foods. What customer segments are the competitors already targeting? Is there demand in certain segments that has not been exploited? Where are these customers? Taken together, a visual display of the answers to these questions can enable a company to determine 1) whether to enter a market and 2) how this company can differentiate itself from its competitors.

I am curious to see whether rooted maps gain traction in the strategic planning world. There are already similar data visualization tools, such as Hans Rosling’s Gapminder, but it does not appear that they have been incorporated fully into strategic planning initiatives.

Will a form of visual, data-based strategic planning ever take hold? At a more basic level, will companies embrace the idea of creating “prepared minds” and adapt their strategies accordingly?


Ghemawat, P. (2011). Remapping Your Strategic Mindset. McKinsey Quarterly.

Kaplan, S. & Beinhocker, E. (2003). The Real Value of Strategic Planning. MIT Sloan Management Review.

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