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Forget strategy, embrace agility

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Forget strategy, embrace agility

Re-thinking your organization in light of increasing uncertainty.

Mo Farah is an extraordinary athlete. During the course of his career, he has won double gold medals in the 5K and 10K races at the European Championships, the World Championships, and the Olympic Games. When asked about his formula for success, he has a simple answer: “Training, you just have to put in the training. In reality, of course, the success of an athlete like Mo Farah is due to a wide variety of factors, including natural ability, race strategy, preparation, and execution.

Organizations, too, must balance different priorities to compete; yet they face much more uncertainty than an athlete like Mo Farah. A race is a well-defined event. The location, starting time, distance, competitors, and design of the track are all known in advance. The “playing field” of business, however, is becoming less clear.

A more extreme form of agility is required by organizations as they move to the center of the digital vortex, an environment characterized by high market turbulence and shifting industry boundaries.Unclear playing field

This lack of clarity is having a profound impact on the effectiveness of traditional strategies. Most strategy professors (myself included) describe strategy as a cascade of choices around where to play and how to win. Good strategy is based on using solid data and analysis to build an understanding of your current position, figure out a desired future position, and then design a plan to get from here to there (see Figure 1). I firmly believe that this model works. Or, at least it worked.

Today, I am no longer so sure…for a very simple reason: the business world is changing so quickly that predicting what the marketplace will look like in the future is becoming increasingly difficult. How many taxi companies incorporated the rise of Uber into their strategic planning processes? And why is it taking VW so long to react to its emissions crisis? In a constantly changing world, a long-term strategy can easily become an anchor that locks a company onto a path that is no longer relevant.

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