2012 IEG’s Chief Strategy Officer Summit

One word pretty much sums up the message from IEG’s Chief Strategy Officer Summit:  Agility.

“Adaptability and Agility are the keys to surviving in business today”

“The only form of strategic advantage you will have is the ability to innovate”

“We’d try to get the pulse of the organization based on hierarchical structures…today it bubbles up from all employees.”

“Business cases are dead. The exercise is still valuable, but today you have to be comfortable with the numbers being more directional.”

“Companies were not built to be strategic.  They were built to be stable”

“It’s not just that things are changing…they always have.  The real story is how fast the rate of change is changing.”

I’ve written about the Agility Advantage, and it’s a frequent topic of our conversations with executives across a variety of industries.  It’s a drum we’ve been beating for some time.  But, it was striking how “Agility” was such a strong and consistent theme across so many speakers. And while this wasn’t a Digital conference per se, Digital was certainly the enabler of disruptive shifts toward more customer-centric models, and a key accelerator of the pace of change.

Along with the focus on Agility, Innovation, and balancing Strategy with a more Entrepreneurial test-and-learn approach; there was also an affirmation of the old adage “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Time and again, company culture was described as a key determining factor of success.

  • The patience of Plantronic’s Chief Strategy Officer Barry Margerum to pace with engineers and executives to help shift the company toward a more customer-driven focus. “Change is harder than you think.”
  • The foresight of Discovery Networks’ EVP, Digital Strategy and Emerging Business, Gabe Vehovsky, to ensure that his team offices in Chicago, far away from corporate headquarters. “A lot of what we do won’t succeed, and we’re ok with that.”
  • The wisdom of Dell’s Chief Innovation Office, James Stikeleather, who builds organizational momentum by focusing on shorter term wins to prove value of an idea. “Fail fast and furiously to get singles and doubles.”

Stikeleather put forth an excellent analogy, noting that most companies are like a symphony, but innovative organizations are like a jazz fest. At a symphony, the expectation is flawless execution. If a mistake is made it is painfully obvious and certainly not celebrated. (traditional corporate culture). But, at a jazz fest, if someone makes a mistake (or tries something unexpected), it can take the music in a whole new and exciting direction (Innovation).

A final theme was that the lines of Strategy and Innovation are clearly blurring. Strategists are going to have to get comfortable with an increasingly fuzzy future and time horizons that are coming closer each day. And Innovators are going to have to increasingly prove the strategic value of non-traditional approaches and create ways to overcome cultural barriers to change.

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