Rita McGrath and co-founder of Extraordinary Women on Boards, Lisa Shalett

Thought Spark

“What’s next” is the question on everyone’s mind.

The reality is, we don’t — and can’t — know for sure. What we can do is articulate our best hypotheses and assumptions and then pay close attention to the early warnings that might suggest which are bearing out.

This thought spark is based on a recent meeting of Extraordinary Women on Boards, a community of women corporate board directors focused on advancing board excellence, modern governance, and board diversity. …


Thought Spark

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Successful innovation isn’t magic — it’s a discipline all on its own

When you ask why large companies have a problem building an innovation proficiency, you get back all the usual suspects: “We have silos.” “It’s nobody’s job.” “We’re afraid of failure.” “It’s unpredictable.” And what do all of these things have in common?

Every single one of them is self-imposed.

While there are some true barriers to innovations — rules, regulations, laws of physics — by and large, the biggest roadblocks are the things we do to ourselves. Now, they’re usually done for very good reasons — they serve the core business, perhaps they were important at one point in time, or there was some sort of technological constraint. But what we don’t do enough of is ask ourselves: Are these things still relevant? …


Thought Spark

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An inflection point exerts a 10X force on your business

In Part 1 of this story, I outlined the reasons why I believe a “pitchfork” moment may well have arrived, in that the imbalances in our social contract have reached a breaking point. It’s one thing, though to say that may be the case. It’s quite another to consider what to do about it from a strategy point of view. In this article, I’ll walk you through the technique that I use, derived from Chapter 2 of my book Seeing Around Corners: How to Spot Inflection Points in Business Before They Happen.

This one feels like a bit of a “thin ice” moment, because things are moving so quickly, but hey, I’m always up for an experiment. …


Thought Spark

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My book Seeing Around Corners is all about strategic inflection points. So, back in March of 2020, in the midst of the mother of all inflection points, I used the framework from Chapter 2 of the book to reflect on what kind of futures we might be looking at as the pandemic rolled its disruptive way through our lives. Here’s an updated version of that story. I’ll include the future scenarios piece in Part 2, and I think you’ll be intrigued that some of the possibilities are now becoming real.

An economy in runaway imbalance

The American economy is just not working for the majority of people. As one observer put it: the class war is over — the rich won. …


THOUGHT SPARK

When speed and agility are at a premium, having a well-aligned operating model is absolutely crucial. Having one that doesn’t depend on constant reinforcement by leadership is even better! And yet, many leaders struggle with thinking through, let alone designing, what such a model should look like. And there’s always something that slips through the cracks.

What I’ve found over the years is that many leaders land on a few preferred levers for how to get an organization aligned around a particular operating model. For some, it’s all about structure. You’ll know those guys — they sit around spending hours re-drawing the organization chart, only to be astonished later when the musical chairs with names and titles produces very little. For others, it’s all about culture — which sets in motion a lot of workshops, boot camps and other opportunities to create a warm and transparent, psychologically safe culture. …


Successful serial entrepreneurs know how to see around corners

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Photo: Mark Kostich/Getty Images

By the time Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg sold their company, Invite Media, to Google for a reported $81 million in 2010, they were all of 24. Eight years later, at 32, they sold their next company, Flatiron Health, to Roche for nearly $2 billion.

Flatiron Health, a data-science software company, had emerged as an unlikely power player in 2016. Former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden had just announced the National Cancer Moonshot, and Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which directed the FDA to permit data separate from clinical trial data to be used in support of drug approvals. Clinical trials are often not representative of the population, potentially distorting the results. …


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Plenty of people are gearing up to make a — ahem — killing in the senior care business. Is it an opportunity or a mirage?

The World Is Getting Grayer

One of the more interesting types of strategic inflection points are caused by demographic shifts. And by all accounts, we are in for a doozy when it comes to an aging population.

By 2050, the number of people in the world aged 60 or older will be 22 percent of the total global population. And those people may not just go quietly into that good night. As Bank of America analysts have noted, a host of companies are entering the market for “delaying death,” which they estimate could be worth $600 billion by 2025. Among the technologies coming together to make a 100-year life routine are genomics, big data/AI health, future food, robotics, and “moonshot medicine.” With a number of companies ranging from manufacturers to high-tech artificial intelligence analysts expecting to benefit from these new developments, investors are curious about where to place their bets on people living longer, healthier lives. …


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We want it personal, digital, flexible, and eco-friendly, and we’re starting to turn away from plastics, but none of this is easy.

We’re Asking a Lot More of Packaging Than We Used To — and Suppliers Are Responding

As e-commerce continues its penetration into every corner of our commercial lives, the packages that land on our doorstep have a lot more work to do than ever. The massive amounts of packaging that have accompanied the digital revolution and a surge in single-use products such as Starbucks coffee cups are starting to draw critics’ attention.

Out With Analog, In With Digital, and Not Just for Replacing Printing

Although digital technologies for producing labels and other printed messages on packaging containers have been around for some time, the last few years have seen an inflection point in producers’ preferences. Sales of conventional analog “flexo” printers have been declining, while sales of digital printers are enjoying double-digit growth. As it does in many other industries, digital is enabling entirely new kinds of connections with end users by making small print runs affordable. …


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Venture capitalists are partying as if it’s 1999 — and we know how that went. Entrepreneurship 101 says startups should conserve cash, keep costs flexible, and operate with parsimony. Way too many founders in the 90’s laughed at that — the same way they’re laughing today.

The Money Keeps Pouring In, But It Keeps Pouring Out, Too

Investment in venture capital in 2018 surpassed $100 billion for the first time since 2000. With all that money sloshing around, the deals are getting bigger. In 2018, deals worth more than $25 million accounted for nearly 13 percent of all investment. …


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Digital has made a whole new kind of business model possible — and incumbents are reeling.

Born-Digital Companies Are Going Direct

They’re new, they’re nimble, and they’re communicating with your customers right under your nose, causing decades-long assumptions about retail success to become obsolete.

It Used to Require Lots of Access and Huge Marketing Budgets — No More

FMCG. CPG. The very fact that acronyms exist for companies that sell en masse to consumers through retailers shows how deeply their business models have become taken for granted. For the curious, the alphabet soup stands for Fast-Moving-Consumer-Goods and Consumer Packaged Goods companies, terms often used interchangeably.

These companies — familiar names such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nestle, and so on — own brands, manufacture products, and sell those through retailers. While their supply chains and manufacturing operations are complex, their business models are fairly similar — do research, make stuff, charge more if it is differentiated, invest in big brands, and work closely with retail partners. Underpinning it all is the requirement to capture share of consumer mind with massive investments in mass-market advertising. …

About

Rita Gunther McGrath

Columbia Business School Professor. Thinkers50 top 10 & #1 in strategy. Bestselling author of The End of Competitive Advantage & Seeing Around Corners.

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