Seeing Around Corners

Inflection points for a business or industry often appear as if they happen overnight and without warning. While these massive shifts seem to be random, Rita McGrath in her book “Seeing Around Corners” contends that there are a number of different ways that businesses can spot these inflection points and guard against becoming the next Blockbuster or Toys R Us. Using the analogy that “snow melts from the edges” McGrath argues that business leaders need to have processes and strategies in place to connect them to information flow outside of the ‘C-suite.’ Allowing ideas and input from those closest to the customers (usually frontline salespeople) can alert leaders to the very beginnings of an inflection point, well before any traditional data points confirm the change in trend or narrative. To elicit not only information flow but innovative ideas, fostering the mentality of making “little bets” and “failing fast” can help generate ideas from those in the organization that may not get heard in innovation or strategy planning meetings. Adobe’s philosophy that the most creative ideas can die fighting corporate bureaucracy was the reason they created the “Kickbox” program, which incentivized people throughout the organization to generate creative ideas that could be incubated and put into action. Recognizing that customers are not hostages (think Blockbuster and late fees) is another key factor in keeping well entrenched organizations out of the graveyard, which was what Microsoft’s Satya Nadella did when he took over the role of CEO. Nadella changed the mentality of associating success with lagging performance metrics like revenue and profit to focus on what he calls “customer love,” a leading indicator of success. While McGrath highlights a number of strategies to make sure leaders of an organization aren’t blindsided by an impending inflection point, she also highlights that it’s not enough to realize an inflection point is upon you; the organization also needs to “align around a common point of view in order to respond effectively.” Clarity about the organization’s strategy and simplifying complexity by creating a common rallying cry that resonates with everyone can help to galvanize the organization around embracing the innovational change required to successfully navigate inflection points. To quote Gail Goodman, the CEO that turned a barely surviving start-up into an IPO, “if you are sloppy on the direction of the company’s strategy, lots of things get built that aren’t needed….it’s always better to do two or three things completely right than do a half-assed job at eight.