Book review: open strategy mastering disruption outside the C-Suite
Alim Abubakre, PhD, a Fellow of the UK’s Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, is founder and non-executive chair of United Kingdom-based TEXEM, which has trained over 4000 executives in the UK and Africa in the last 10 years. He is an entrepreneur with an unparalleled passion for Africa, academic, and is on the advisory board of the London Business School Africa Society. He lectures at the University of Coventry, a top 15 UK university and was in 2010 selected as one of the top 100 Virgin Media emerging entrepreneurs in the UK. He accompanied London’s Lord Mayor on his entourage to Nigeria in 2015.
Book Review: Open Strategy Mastering Disruption Outside The C-Suite
Authors: Christian Stadler, Julia Hautz, Kurt Matzler, and Stephan Friedrich von den Eichen
We all know that the world is experiencing a turbulent time. Still, the zillion dollar question is how do we turn these challenges into vitamins and win despite these disruptive realities? Thus, it is germane to share actionable insights to help leaders thrive, despite the disruptive and volatile operating context. I am qualified to signpost leaders to a collection of valuable insights for success, given my experience of engaging with over 4000 leaders and hundreds of organisations through TEXEM, a company I founded 12 years ago.
From Volkswagon to Dunlop, Nigerian Airways to NITEL and NEPA, one could contend that what they all have in common aside from extinction are poor strategies and many failed change initiatives. Hence, it is essential to celebrate an instance of a book that inspires leaders to optimise their core competence and capability to win via successfully harnessing an open strategy.
Arguably, many businesses and public sector organisations struggle with strategy often because they do not get the nitty-gritty of the art of developing/implementing a good strategy. While most of them understand the importance of having strategies, there’s a need to have a clear strategic direction that guides the process. Put simply, many organisations have strategies, but the process of making them work is not an easy task. More precisely, understanding what a strategy is, developing it, and implementing it differentiates those who succeed from those who fail. Unfortunately, only a few succeed, as research has shown that between 50-90% of strategies fail.
As a leader, having the right resources that provide guidelines on strategy is one way to boost performance. However, while there are many books labelled as the best strategy books out there, not all of them give the right tips on developing and implementing strategies. As such, it is always advisable for leaders and everyone else who wants to master strategy to make the right pick. One of the books that is already gaining tremendous popularity in the business world is Open Strategy: Mastering Disruption from Outside the C-Suite, authored by Christian Stadler, Julia Hautz, Kurt Matzler, and Stephan Friedrich von den Eichen (MIT Press, 2021).
In this book, four renowned professors share their experience on the art of tapping into the power of people both when developing and implementing a company’s strategy. Their idea for writing the book is to guide leaders on developing the right strategies informed by diverse perspectives. They argue that strategy development is not a one-off exercise but rather a process that takes time. Most importantly, it should incorporate the ideas of all stakeholders, including employees and the top management of the company. In the words of these great scholars, strategy development “should generate ideas, openly and effectively as opposed to the traditional closed approach that most organisations use”. Simply put, the process should consider the ideas of most, if not everyone, within the organisation.
The book encourages the transition from closed-door strategy development to an open and well laid out approach. The idea here is that in the traditional approach, leaders or executives would often find it a little bit difficult to come up with imaginative ideas alone. So, it becomes pretty easy to probe and get the right ideas with an open strategy. How’s that possible? Well, in an open strategy, every stakeholder, especially the frontline employees, are given a chance to share their ideas. In so doing, it becomes easy to develop the right and more actionable strategies that can propel the organisation to higher levels of success.
So, how does the book compare to other seminal books? Such as Mintzberg’s concept of emerging strategy as articulated in the readings in the strategy process? While they both argue that, in reality, the strategy actually achieved by organisations consists of a combination of traditionally planned corporate strategy and strategy that occurred due to the actions of early-career staff lower down the organisation.
In this way, small adaptions to day-to-day organisational practice could result in more significant strategic change. However, this book is Mintzberg’s perspectives advanced and made more actionable by giving pragmatic examples of organisations that have done this and how this could work in practice. Also, the examples are from diverse organisations and regions of the world. Hence, there are examples that could be applied irrespective of where in the world you are or where your organisation is. Furthermore, it is different from others, such as Freeman’s Stakeholder theory or Porter’s Five Forces, because it incorporates critical leadership concepts around self-awareness, vulnerability, groupthink and having a growth mindset.
However, the authors of Open Strategy warn that leaders and anyone else who adopts their approach should not confuse the open strategy with a free-for-all strategy. They argue that while the process needs to be open, there are limits as to when, how and to what extent should the process be open. For example, the book encourages the use of smaller representative groups. It makes it easier to engage, participate fully and come up with the right ideas. But that’s not all. Another precaution that the highly experienced and successful authors share is that readers should not confuse openness with sharing information that ought to be confidential. The point here is that while transparency in the process is very vital, an organisation’s confidential process should not be compromised.
Overall, the book introduces an insightful and authentic approach to developing strategies. The authors are prominent scholars from world-leading institutions. Also, with their wealth of experience in strategic leadership, there is hope that the book will inspire leaders to achieve sustainable success. Importantly, this fantastic, well-articulated book aptly captures the synthesis of innovation and strategy for sustainable success in a world characterised by the urgent need to evaluate the organisation’s core competence in an increasingly fast-paced, stiff competition and digital ecosystem. It clearly articulates how to make the best choices, take the right actions and position the organisation for success. This book will help strategic leaders learn how to avoid confusion, complacency, denial and be in a continual state of renewal.
Currently, the nation and the world are experiencing a ‘ trideca lema’ (thirteen and not two as in dilemmas), making organisations’ operating context more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Thirteen of the many challenges that organisations presently face include; the unprecedented worldwide pandemic occasioned by the novel coronavirus that has affected every country on earth, high level of insecurity and high level of inflation. Some more include supply chain disruption, new cybersecurity threats, failing organisational models, and how to inspire a remote workforce effectively.
The others are low national cohesion, dramatic forex fluctuations, negative real GDP and, by extension, low customer demand, dwindling government and business revenue, higher costs, low morale of staff and the citizen, and diminishing productivity. These insightful and impactful examples of organisations that have successfully embraced and implemented open strategy from insights gleaned from outside the C-Suite as documented in this book could culminate in positioning your organisation on the path to future success.
Notably, the open strategy book should inspire all leaders and aspiring trailblazers in their quest to achieve sustainable progress in nation-building. Hence, this example should provide essential motivation and valuable insights for all business leaders and policymakers not to give up or be distracted no matter how arduous the task or bleak the outlook.
Alim Abubakre, PhD, a Fellow of the UK’s Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, is founder and non-executive chair of United Kingdom-based TEXEM, which has trained over 4000 executives in the UK and Africa in the last twelve years. He is an entrepreneur with an unparalleled passion for Africa. Dr Alim is an academic and is on the advisory board of the London Business School Africa Society. He was in 2010 selected as one of the top 100 Virgin Media emerging entrepreneurs in the UK. He accompanied London’s Lord Mayor on his entourage to Nigeria in 2015.