At the time I joined the DM program - and still today - one of the key challenges I was facing at my companies and at those I was serving at their Boards was the risk of facing strategic obsolescence. Most companies have some sort of strategies, more or less formal, and more or less sophisticated, which are based on some assumptions about the industry structure and trends. The key issue is that minor changes in the eco-system tend to have a big impact down the road. A lot has been written about strategic foresight and ways to rapidly adapt to the changes, but in my experience adapting is not precisely a solution, because it generally means being too late.
With that in mind I decided to research on the factors that enhance management´s capacity for anticipating strategic moves as to avoid strategic obsolescence. The way that this DM program structures the research activities was a fantastic journey for discovery. I started with a qualitative research based on grounded theory methods consisting of systematic yet flexible guidelines for collecting and analyzing qualitative data that emerged from interviews I held with CEOs of leading companies that seemed to have anticipated changes in a successful way. In a second step, I tested my findings in a quantitative research using structural equation modeling (SEM).
From an academic point of view, the qualitative and quantitative researches are a unique feature of this DM program. They were not only a great learning experience but also a means to experience two different but complementary ways for doing research. And the various papers, essays and homeworks have been an excellent opportunity to elaborate and polish my academic and practitioner writing.
From a practical point of view, the findings of my research have managerial and theoretical implications. First, companies that miss the shift do have strategic plans in place, so the mere exercise of a systematic and formal strategic planning process did not avoid failure. In fact, setting oneself on a predetermined course in unknown and changing waters could be the perfect way to sail straight into an iceberg. Second, I discovered that a good way to capture signals of change is by means of Upstream Immersion (with suppliers and non suppliers), Downstream Immersion (with customers and non customers) and Lateral Immersion (in the eco-system); the way of making sense of them was related to management´s expertise, and the ability to act was based on the capacity of management for innovation. Last, my findings pose a challenge for non-executive board members, because being immersed is not an easy task for somebody that is far away from action and only plays a part-time role in the company. Board members have to get somehow immersed in the environment of the company if they want to add value in strategic anticipation discussions.
In short, participating in the DM journey has been a rewarding challenge. The professors, the readings, the researches, the essays, and the cohort added a lot of value to my personal, academic and practitioner development.
Gabriel Berczely is a serial entrepreneur, a board member of several companies and associations, and a professor of strategy at the ESE Business School in Chile. He is also a DM candidate at Case Western Reserve University in the Weatherhead School of Management and can be reached at email@example.com