Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Creative Strategy and the Art of Problem Framing

If I’m completely honest, reading Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy felt like a breath of fresh air for me in an otherwise unfamiliar space. While I’ve found much of what we’ve covered over the past few weeks interesting and informative, many of the processes and approaches have felt both unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I’m much more confident in the realm of exploration than execution, and the “possibilities-based approach” to strategic planning feels like a process I can really get behind.

One of its most exciting facets is that it is inherently generative. It requires teams to push beyond their first ideas and explore widely. It also necessitates a certain amount of suspended disbelief, which can be uncomfortable and intimidating but yields interesting and innovative ideas. As the authors explain, strategists have succeeded in this approach when “at least one possibility makes most of the group uncomfortable [because] it is sufficiently far from the status quo that the group questions whether it would be at all doable or safe” (7). This is where I like to work, on the border of reality and possibility, and I am excited to see this point of view represented in this creative approach to strategy.

Another unique benefit of this approach is its interdisciplinarity. As the authors suggest, the act of imagining possibilities spans business verticals and breaks down siloes. Teams “tasked with dreaming up strategic possibilities should represent a diversity of specialities, backgrounds, and experience [so that they can] generate creative possibilities and...flesh [them out] in sufficient detail” (6). Beyond challenging siloed disciplines, this approach bucks traditional notions of hierarchy. For example, the authors note that the most effective teams are led by someone who is “not emotionally bound to, the status quo...usually [a] promising junior executive” (6). This flat team structure, removed from operational realities and business loyalties, encourages wild ideas and I believe offers the best chance for successful strategic solutions.

Most significantly, I appreciate the “possibilities-based approach” to strategic thinking because it highlights the need to focus on asking questions rather than just finding answers. While many of our previous readings have offered best practices in solving strategic problems, what I feel has been missing, and am pleased to see represented here, is an emphasis on the art of problem finding and framing. The latter, I believe is all too often ignored at the peril of strategy, and the “possibilities-based approach” represents a significant shift in this way of thinking.

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