Sunday, May 28, 2017

Your Strategy Needs a Strategy: Failure to Adapt Leads to Failure

Reeves, Love, and Tillmanns article “Your Strategy Needs a Strategy” was particularly interesting for me this week.  They outline a framework of four so-called "strategic styles": classical, adaptive, shaping, and visionary in which the best suited style to your particular situation depends on your ability to assess the impact of two critical factors of predictability and malleability[i].
All too often, senior/executive leadership develops strategic myopia or becomes complacent and does not adjust strategy to fit circumstance.  The opening paragraph of “The Real Value of Strategic Planning” treats us to an anonymous manager’s statement that “[n]o one is exactly sure why we do it, but there is an almost mystical hope that something good will come out of it.”[ii] while Reeves, Love, and Tillmanns state that “[w]e believe they lack a systematic way to go about it—a strategy for making strategy”[iii]. 
One of the most illustrative examples of a failure to adjust, or wisely choose, strategic style is that of Borders Group, Inc.  In 2001, an era of businesses rapidly moving towards establishing an online presence, Borders made the curious decision to outsource it’s e-commerce activity to Amazon[iv], only regaining control of it in 2008[v].  Further, Borders failed to capitalize on the burgeoning e-book market.  Seemingly thinking “better late than never”, Borders partnered with Kobo Inc. in 2009[vi] and didn’t launch an e-reader until 2010 – three years after Amazon’s Kindle, and one year after Barnes & Noble’s Nook.  Being late to the game, and featuring lackluster hardware, the Kobo venture was met with indifference by consumers and critics[vii]. 
Clearly, Borders had failed to properly recognize the role that the Internet was to take in re-shaping retailing and book consumption and was still operating under classical style as outlined by Reeves, Love, and Tillmanns.  By the time Borders’ executive leadership recognized that the ground was shifting underneath them, though they tried, it was too late shift to a more appropriate style; Borders found they were no longer able to predict the market, and being third to the party left them unable to mold the market.  As such, Borders declared bankruptcy and began liquidating assets in 2011.

[i] Reeves, M., Love, C., & Tillmanns, P. (2012). Your strategy needs a strategy. Harvard Business Review, 90(9).
[ii] Kaplan, S., & Beinhocker, E. D. (2003). The Real Value of Strategic Planning. MIT Sloan Management Review, 44(2), 71–76.
[iii] Reeves, M., Love, C., & Tillmanns, P. (2012). Your strategy needs a strategy. Harvard Business Review, 90(9).
[iv] Copeland, L. (2001). Borders Turns to Amazon for Outsourcing. Retrieved May 28, 2017, from
[v] Glazowski, P. (2008). Borders Relaunches Online Bookstore Sans Amazon. Retrieved May 28, 2017, from
[vi] Bilton, N. (2009). Borders Invests in Kobo, an E-Book Store. Retrieved May 28, 2017, from
[vii] Carmody, T. (2010). Why Borders’ Kobo E-Reader Still Falls Short. Retrieved May 28, 2017, from

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