Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Play's The Thing

“The play’s the thing” may be from Hamlet but the subject is from Michael Jacobides, an associate professor of strategic and international management at the London Business School who appears in the new issue of Harvard Business Review with an article Strategy Tools for a Shifting Landscape.

His starting point is the breathtaking speed at which customers and competitors transform – and the turbulence this creates. Traditional strategy frameworks aren’t working, he says – they simplify rather than taking account of complexity and changing boundaries; they produce “still pictures of the future.” Jacobides puts forward the playscript – a narrative in which “words are more powerful and flexible than value curves.” Playscripts “consider how a company could succeed by reinventing its role as reality changes.” His method involves characters and their roles, storylines and connections, links and rules, plots and subplots. More fun than the usual approach to strategy planning!

Jacobides’ HBR article applies the playscript method to the challenges of the pharmaceutical industry; looks at how Ikea future proofed itself, how IBM reinvented itself, how Marvel Entertainment turned itself around – and this is the part I especially like – how Saatchi & Saatchi changed the very basis of its competition via Lovemarks.

The article cites the company’s revival after its near collapse in the mid 1990s. Noting that “companies can change strategies by changing their roles,” Jacobides writes that “Saatchi & Saatchi didn’t just change its value proposition. It transformed itself into a strategic link between clients and their customers.” By “writing a new playscript” Lovemarks shifted Saatchi & Saatchi from being suppliers to strategic partners; created an industry wide concept; cemented connections to clients; and increased the number of pitchless wins.

For me, it really was a case of “to be or not to be.”

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