Companies & Aspirations

The road ahead

Friends,

Over the last few months, we have covered a variety of topics ranging from the everyday usable to the occasionally abstract. The point of the exercise, if one can call it such, has been to lay the foundation for the ABCDE framework by introducing some of its underlying concepts.

For any new subscribers not yet up to speed, the framework is my (ambitious/foolish/arrogant/doomed) attempt at updating traditional strategic methodology with the complexity scientific insights that it sorely lacks. While the ways of the old by no means are useless – on the contrary, many of them remain as relevant as ever – none is universally applicable. As we know, in complex adaptive systems such as markets and firms, everything is contextual, and context is ever changing. By design, one of the strengths of ABCDE is to allow for what one might call conditional flexibility; as long as an approach is relevant (to the situation), coherent (to boundaries, direction and facts) and improves the odds of success (while ideally being safe to fail), it is fair game.

Needless to say, I am still fully expecting my efforts to be met by scorn from every angle; proposed change always does, particularly from those whose livelihood is dependent on upholding the status quo. But it is important to stress that I am genuinely uninterested in change in and of itself. Just as speed for its own sake has no virtue but the ability to move fast when needed does, change is pointless unless it leads to improvement. And that, in a nutshell, is what I am working towards; a continuous improvement of my understanding of practical strategy in complex adaptive systems and, thereby, my contributions to industry discourse and client success, yours and mine alike.

One might even go so far as to call it my aspiration.

On a quick reading, it may appear too grandiose a word, but there is a point to its selection. The etymological root is the Latin aspirationem (nominative aspiratio), which can be translated to "a breathing on, a blowing upon; rough breathing; influence". In the early 1600s, it came to mean "a steadfast longing for a higher goal, earnest desire for something above one" (sometimes collectively, as aspirations).

Put differently, aspirations reflect one’s overarching ambition; what one is trying to achieve in either pragmatic or abstract terms. It is, almost literally, the oxygen that fuels behavior. Although life has a funny way of not working out according to plan, most of us still have some idea of what we are working towards; it may change over time, but rarely over night.

The same is undeniably true for companies. All businesses must have a strategic aspiration of some form in order to come into being in the first place. That is not to say that all are properly outlined or remain the same for the entirety of the corporate lifespan, of course, but every organization regardless of size is built on a founding idea (what Peter Drucker would have called its concept of business). It provides the starting point that not only defines the company but also informs future measurements of direction; any action taken, regardless of nature, should move the company towards its shared understanding of success. The importance of a thought through definition, in other words, is paramount.

It is for this reason, as you probably have already surmised, that aspiration represents the first letter in ABCDE - and the topic for the next couple of months.

Starting Friday a week from now, we will be looking at a number of the most popular concept and methods for establishing, either directly or indirectly, the strategic point of provenance for an organization. As the list of theories is almost endless, I have had to choose those that I have found to be most practically useful from personal experience. Should you have one that you feel is particularly good but is not on the list, you are more than welcome to reach out.

The concepts we will be looking more closely at are:

  • Stephen Bungay’s strategic intent,

  • Richard Rumelt’s guiding policy,

  • Roger Martin’s where to play/how to win,

  • Henry Mintzberg’s strategic perspective,

  • Alexander Osterwalder’s business model canvas,

  • John Kay’s concept of obliquity, and

  • visioning and missioning as detailed by Bob de Wit.

Although a fair few of these are staples of MBA programs in strategy, and many of you will already know them by heart, there is a point to reminding ourselves of how they work (or are intended to work) before we take our next step: determining the strengths and weaknesses of each in the practical complexity of reality, far from the theoretical order of the classroom. Unless I completely muck it up, this should in turn provide a solid understanding of where and how to best start when we apply ABCDE in practice.

This is where the really fun stuff starts. I hope you’ll come along for the journey.

Until next time, have a lovely weekend.

Onwards and upwards,
JP