My Advise to Executives – Use the Next Six Months to Invest in Innovative Capacity and Strategic Agility. Think Spitfire.

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by: Idris Mootee

It seems as businesses have been anticipating and preparing for this downturn for 2 years, constantly predicting it and pushing it off as long as we could, all the while listening to CNN telling us it was just around the corner. And now that it is here and the media is making it worse by repeating the "R" word thousands of time a day. Every news story seems to have the addendum "in a downturn or recession" attached to it.

I suspect that soon there will be new category/products "Recession PC", “Recession Music”, “Recession Food”, “Recession Lego” or even “Recession Travel” marketing to us. You can use some imagination to think what they look like (innovation opportunities here!!)

I’ve been speaking to many groups and associations on how best to deal with downturn, I’ve been sharing my perspectives about how leaders can survive and even thrive during downturns and how to see and prepare the light at the end of the tunnel. While you run your business on a day-to-day basis primarily dealing with the current crisis, you can only design your future business by seeing beyond current challenges.

The first thing we have to do is ask ourselves a fundamental question: Do we believe things will get better? Or this is the end of the world or our economy? If you think this will be the end of the world, go and spend your money and enjoy it when six stars luxury are selling at 4 stars price. Make sure you get the best of what ever is still available. If you think and understand this is the part of the cyclical nature of our economy, then you have a lot to do to prepare when the economy slowly starts to swing back to the other side. Although life (and business) will never be the same again.

My call to action is clear: Use this time to invest in your organizations’ and your own future. In fact, the best investment you can make right now is to invest in the innovation capability of your organization and reorganize to become a agile corporation. Strategic agility is the key to winners of tomorrow’s success and over 90% of all organizations today are over burdened with systems and kept prisoners by their inertia and organizational silos. When I speak to senior executives, I often refer to military planes and strategies as analogy. RAF’s Spitfire is the best example of agility. It became the symbol of the Battle of Britain because of its speed and agility.

This is the perfect storm to redesign your organization and bring their clarification to drive recommitment to the organization’s values and purpose. No one will do this when the market is hot and every CEO looks like a mini Jack Welch. This requires a lot of passion, foresight, time and energy, but not much money (usually with a little help from outside consultants). And it will yield substantial returns and provide sustain the organization through difficult times, and even more when the economy rebounds.

A wise executive team will view this as a big opportunity to build greater trust and behavioral cohesiveness and realignment once they have dealt with the survival thing. For those paper pushers this is not good news as they will most likely end up not having a job. For those innovators and dreamers, this is one of a lifetime opportunity to make a mark in an organization and be part of those who shape its future. Portfolio management needs to become an innovation undertaking as part of a bigger re-alignment; it takes new lens to see things from customer’s perspectives and will raise questions around industry and category attractiveness. We believe what is missing is a specific lens through which to examine the portfolio that reflects a deep and detailed understanding of the customer. In this article, we present a powerful way to incorporate the customer perspective into all the critical portfolio decisions: what to maintain, what to modify, what to streamline, and what to create.

If you invest wisely in the next 6 months to become more innovative and agile, both your organizations will emerge stronger than ever when the economy turns around, with a real innovator’s advantage over competitors. That’s because most of those competitors will probably flail during down times, frantically searching for a tactical way to swim upstream and defy the storm, leading to even more frustration and angst than is necessary. It takes a different kind of skills to sail through the storm. In the end they’ll simply be more weary, depressed, scarred, and unprepared.

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