The hackademic approach to business strategy
I’ve been providing professional digital strategy consulting to small & medium sized businesses, non-profits, and individuals outside of my day job for the last five years. I’ve also worked on many strategy engagements for globally recognized brands at my day job, both as a project manager and an individual contributor to deliverables.
However, this Tuesday will be my last day after almost ten years working as a full-time Digital Project Manager. I officially start my career as a Digital Strategist the following Monday. Now that strategy has become the primary focus of my professional contribution to the world, I thought it would be interesting and productive to take a step back and develop a better understanding of the roots of this area of work.
The goal of this self-directed ‘Hackademic‘ exercise is to develop a deeper understanding of the concepts of traditional business strategy, and look for ways to incorporate this knowledge with a current understanding and approach to digital strategy practice. In other words: What tools do traditional strategists use? What processes and frameworks do they follow? What value do they create? And, most importantly, how can I use traditional business strategy to be more effective Digital Strategist?
Follow the leaders
Information is like food: You are what you consume. For this reason, I really like the idea of beginning with a list of leaders I should be paying attention to. Fortunately, Twitter makes this very easy. Because this list isn’t only about understanding strategy in general, it includes individuals focused on digital strategy and content strategy, such as my current colleague Dave Wieneke who leads the Digital Strategy Practice at ISITE Design, as well as industry leading exemplars such as Perry Hewitt, Chief Digital Officer at Harvard University. This list also includes leading business publications such as the Harvard Business Review and Knowledge@Wharton.
Next I went to Amazon and searched on topics including ‘strategy’ and ‘business strategy’. Under the circumstances I believe Amazon will generate better results than searching on Google because the ‘Customers also bought…’ feature will quickly lead to more value. Also, because I believe someone who wrote a best-selling book on topic as academic as business strategy probably gets it. The other obvious benefit to this approach is immediate access to their books.
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
About halfway through this one. So far the big take-away is Michael Porter’s defining article ‘What is Strategy?’. The short version of the answer is: Strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities.At this point you may be wondering: a different set of activities? Different than what? You’ll need to read the article for the answer to that.
Rounding out the initial set of books to read, I would like to go with someone a little younger, who I personally identify with. Max Mckeown is a straight talking, engaging author and speaker on the subject, with an approachable and practical sensibility I would like to emulate. I’m about three quarters of the way through this book and I am really enjoying the modern case studies and introduction to standard strategy tools, such as Porter’s Generic Strategies.
Test your mettle, MOOC style
At every inflection point in my career I’ve relied heavily on books to accelerate my climb up the front side of the learning curve, with good results. But today there is a whole new class of resources available, which I’d be a fool to ignore: Massively Open Online Courses. That’s why I’ve signed up for Coursera’s Foundations of Business Strategy, taught by Professor Michael Lenox of the University of Virginia. It promises I will learn how to analyze an organization’s strategy and make recommendations to improve its value creation by building your strategist’s toolkit. Unlike books, I will have an opportunity to discuss what I’m learning with the instructor and the other students who are attending the course.
Open to discussion
I think another vital step in hacking your way to understanding any subject is to discuss it, a lot. In the past this might have been a bit of a challenge for individuals taking a deep dive on something as unique as strategy, without the benefit of a traditional classroom experience. However, today there’s really no excuse for a lack of community. At any moment I have access to online groups, communities, forums, meetups, and literally thousands of open conversations happening on the social web via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN and more.
To that end, I’d like to engage in this conversation: Who are the leading voices in strategy you follow? Please leave your comments here, or connect with me on Twitter and let’s chat.