What Should We Worry About Today (Strategy Version)?

Clickbait!  let’s talk about cryptocurrencies

Just kidding.

I have a very good friend, someone would even say my BFAM or best friend, with whom I usually have this conversation:

Him: How are you doing?

Me: Well, these are the many things I want to complain about…(list of small things that annoy me and bother me)

Him: Well, all that is because you are Jewish – how are things otherwise?

There is a slight amount of truth in that statement, we worry too much about small, inconsequential nuggets of bother while we happily go along, trying to solve the bigger problems without worry.

Or at least, we should.

But where do we start? Let’s set a benchmark,  a starting point that shows us what, those of you who are not Jewish, should be worried about.  I often say I have two jobs: I work as an analyst for free, it’s a passion business – no one would do it for the money only, and I work as an advisor for money (although, it is also a passion… but I am more passionate about asking questions all the time and trying to figure out the answers – blame my rabbi).

I have been incredibly fortunate the last 20 or so years I’ve been an analyst to meet and work with amazing clients.  Some of them still ask for advice today, not always as a client – but as a trusted voice, and most of them will still take short conversations on the phone on request.  I use those conversations, around 1,000 or so of them a year, and at events and with people I meet here and there to form the basis of my “understanding”.

Basically, I listen to what smart people say, then I synthesize it.

I have taken a lot of time in those meetings and conversations lately.

I listened and collected a few insights into what each of them is worrying about, what their projects are, what they are working on, and what they are pondering with regards to strategy (will do a similar post, focused on tactics later, soon – but later).  With the caveat that there are generalizations in the following bullet points, and that each CEO and Chief Strategist I talked to had very specific, non-generalized issues they are trying to solve – here is a short list of what they are worrying about today (in no specific order other than my frail memory allows me to remember them):

Uncertainty.  This is not a political statement because regardless of your country or political inclination, the world as a whole is going massive changes and those always lead to uncertainty.  Some of us have elected leaders more wisely than others, some of us have focused our efforts better than others on the big problems to solve – but, when you have a growing number of entitled demanding middle-class people around the world, the traditional class-based models adapted over years are not going to work – and something must be done.  The doing, or lack of doing in some cases, leads to uncertainty – and poor leadership reinforces that.  There are good things happening around the world, they are just shaded by the “bad” things.  The problem is not the societal change, the problem is the slow adaptation to those changes, and the uncertainty it brings with it.  Takes a generation or longer to adapt – likely we won’t see it fully changed.  Uncertainty is the most talked about event these days, and the one that none hows to overcome.  Takes time and patience.

Digital-everything.  If you have not been “attacked” by digital transformation you are not reading/ talking/doing anything in business these days.  Good news, the “revolution” started five-to-six years ago is finally showing some signs of progress.  The first few strategies cooked by internal teams and management consultants are beginning to show up across organizations around the world.  The initial findings are that – there is something there, there’s gold in them thar hills.  It is not so simple to find, though.  The real meaning of the concept of iterative strategies is beginning to be felt – as projects that are implemented find value in places where they were not looking, or far greater than expected and then reinvest in better tactics for second and successive generations.  What I am not hearing, yet, a lot of is companies complaining of failures.  As it turns out, so far by early adopters, changing and transforming a business to find more value and grow better (see next point) is good for business.  Who knew?

Growth. Ah, the magic word.  Everyone is in love with growth these days.  We finally made it to an economic point where (no matter who you listen to or where you come from) the economy is growing stable and there is low unemployment, and people are spending money – and every economic indicator is showing a path forward that is good.  We even have a bubble for crying out loud! (more on cryptocurrencies later).  Things are good; these boom times, cautious as they may be, show companies aiming for growth.  While it is hampered by the uncertainty mentioned above, there is a sentiment of growth afoot.  What we don’t have is clear strategies for growth.  Either virtually everyone in power forgot how to grow, or we are dealing with a very, very different economic reality that we have had in past boom times – I am working on that answer.  But, if you promise growth and showcase a framework for growth – this is what is leading investments these days.  Caveat: if you and I had a conversation earlier this year you heard me say that everyone was being very cautious with spending money.  And they were, and continue to be, but if you can show a clear strategy for growth – the money is there.  Growth begets growth.

Pace of Change.  This one is a little troubling to me.  While doing research over the summer for a position paper I was working on, I came across the concept of pace of change and how everyone (or most everyone) out there seems to be burned out by the pace of change (if you are reading this when it was written – right after the new year break – you may disagree, but we just came back from 1-3 weeks of vacay – so there’s that).  I wanted to include stats and data to support that thesis in my paper, but what I found was — interesting (not British interesting, really interesting).  The pace is not faster today than it was even 50 or 100 years ago (article to describe a large part of what I found, there’s more but I cannot find the link — even at Harvard).  It’s not the pace that has accelerated, it is the perception – and this is a critical differentiation: if the pace is the same, what we learned before is applicable.  Keep that in mind, will talk more about that later.

People and Society.Have people changed? Is society different? Is our children learning?  Was trying to explain to my 15YO daughter what it feels like to hear a grown person in a position of power say that out loud (cute, she thought I came up with it).  But the fact is that if this were to happen today – it wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow, to be honest.  And that is the point I am trying to make: given digital-everything, uncertainty, pace and speed perception, and everything else I mentioned – are we dealing with a new consumer? a new customer? a new employee? Has society changed that much in the last decade that we are facing different problems with different solutions? Has things changed so much that hearing such a sentence uttered in a speech would not elicit the same level of response? Definitely will explore more about this later, but I have already begun to incorporate some of the findings (sneak-peak: yes, we are) into my writings and presentations.  We are dealing with a different society, and a different generation, and a different – well, everything that makes sociologists drool.  Good times; we are living in interesting times (which, btw, is a curse – not an expression)

What did I miss? I am sure you have others to add (drop me a comment below, correct me or augment me), but to me they all point to one common problem: where to next?  There is too much noise and too little signal out there; it’s becoming harder and harder, in spite of the information overload, to find the right next steps.

Of course, I also hear about overdemanding stakeholders (customers, clients, consumers, governments, society, etc.) expecting more than is possible to deliver and lack of confidence in the direction.

Bottom line: all the concerns point to the same: it’s becoming harder to see where to go.

I have other insights, even some charts – yay, and other things to discuss, but I wanted to kick off with this short series.  Next posting is going to be what to worry about – tactical version (that’s CIOs and CMOs mostly).

Glad to talk about this, either in person, via email, or in the comments below.  What do you think?

WARNING: there are massive generalizations in this list.  Massive.  Huge.  This is a synthesis of what, at a high level, is being discussed.  If you are a CEO and this is not your list, you’re not doing it wrong — maybe these items are not impacting you, but you try to summarize countless industries, company sizes, and issues into a few bullet points…  I felt that saying disclosure was not good enough for this, but as a disclosure – I don’t make money from listening to people tell me what’s in their minds and having good conversations, I just get smarter; the above is no more than my opinion, and I always stand behind them.  If you disagree, come at me with data, facts, and a mind open to debate – glad to sit down over bourbon or coffee-flavored bourbon and chat.  Or we can have drinks, made with bourbon… and thanks, Jon Reed, not only for pushing me to write again – but for allowing me to copy your style with crossed-out text instead of the parentheticals that drive Sameer Patel crazy (or I think they do – dunno for sure ;))


(Cross-posted @ thinkJar)

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Esteban Kolsky is the founder and principal of thinkJar, a Customer Strategy consulting and think tank organization helping vendors and user successfully become better, more open, and more collaborative organizations. More information about thinkJar