Back to School

Volume 18 Letter 7

As students head back to school this month I thought it would be a good time for us to check in on the educational needs of our business teams.  When was the last time you invested in your team’s strategic leadership skills?  If it’s been a while it might be time to consider a tune up.  And while it may be tempting to focus on improving what you already do, here’s a second question;  is the goal of business education to teach what is already known or is the objective to develop innovative minds capable of new discovery?


While there is much to be said for optimization of current systems it’s the ability of a business to adapt and/or revolutionize that creates competitive advantages and delivers superior value.  For anyone running a business it is important to note that competitive advantage comes from innovative, strategic thinking and like any skill, business acumen must be practiced and developed.


Enjoy the newsletter – Cam


Back to School


As a business leader, ask yourself one question;  “Are the resources of our firm aligned with our best business opportunities”?   Score yourself on a 1 – 10 scale now ask that same question of your peers, superiors and subordinates.   If the average answer is less than eight it might be time for your team to go back to school.


As I travel the world I get to see a bushel of strategic presentations each year.   Most don’t pass the simplest of tests.  The first test of any strategy is “does the strategy allocate resources?”   Then second test is, “are resources allocated to the best opportunities in an objective and transparent way?”


Two simple questions that when thoroughly attended to can give your company a sustainable competitive advantage.   This requires innovative thinking and strategic acumen, skills that aren’t taught in engineering schools, medical schools, or the sciences and are only touched on at a few business schools.  Why does it seem so difficult to develop innovative, strategic thinkers?


Innovation is what happens when people must solve complex problems in order to  achieve a specific goal.   Insights that are needed to solve complex problems come from seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.  These skills of innovative thinking and strategy aren’t innate; they must be taught, developed and practiced.  We already know this in sports where practice plays a large role in development of talent.  So why do universities struggle with teaching innovation and strategic thinking in other areas?


The traditional role of university is to deliver a series of lectures and then give a test to measure knowledge.  This works well for learning accounting, the sciences or engineering where the answer to a problem is absolute.  Bright people excel at these subjects yet we know that being  “smart” doesn’t necessarily transfer to solving real world, complex, business problems.    It’s here, where the answers are relative and situation specific, that creativeness and strategic thinking are needed.   These are skills that must be practiced, not just memorized.  The learning equation at university might be ‘teach a lesson and follow up with a test’ but to develop business acumen we need to first ‘give a test’ and then ‘follow up with the lesson’.


When learning to play soccer or drive a car, anything past some basics pointers makes little sense.   You have to kick the ball or drive the car first before lessons about how to bend a soccer ball into the goal or drive through a skid can really make sense.   Doing is paramount.  Author Joseph Clinton Pearce stated that this kind of play… “is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold”.


While the business world is fast paced and unstoppable any visible results from our efforts can be a long time coming. How can we develop skills in this business world when it refuses to conveniently stop so we can practice and learn?   This is where business simulations are filling a huge gap.    In a good, competitive business simulation only the market is simulated.  The competition is real.  Teams that represent companies in the simulation must develop and manage their product or service portfolios to maximize market share and profit.   The competition is intense as participants must apply innovative and strategic thinking in order to win the game.   It’s here, while making tough resource allocation decisions, that theories come to life, pre-conceived ideas are challenged, minds are stretched and life long skills of innovativeness and strategic thinking are developed.  This ‘hands on’ experience develops skills that ​are readily transferred to real businesses.


At the beginning of the newsletter we asked a question;  Are the resources of your business aligned with your market opportunities?  If the answer to the question is unclear it may be time take your team back to school.

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