Monday, October 26, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#26): Refining the Definition of the Expert

To thrive in the global economy, one cannot be a mono-focused specialist. Those days are gone. The abundance of information and the profusion of copycat competition have created an unstable level of uneven parity.

The Expert
The 21st century expert is proficient in integrating relevant points of various subject matters into one grand picture. It also enabled him or her to capitalize on major opportunities while mitigating the risks.

Most amateur experts do not possess the insight, the foresight and the perseverance to be the ultra class expert. They usually talk a good game of "what the objective" should be. As a big picture thinker, these experts rely on their network to do the detail work. The results are usually "good enough."

Following are the requirements of the expert:

  • Having the skill to define the dots;
  • Connecting them together on time, on budget and on target.
  • Staying focused on the target while being mindful of the relevant external points.
The completion of those three points usually guarantees the client that the expert's strategic advice is reliable, relevant and do-able.


Extinction of the Expert

How the knowledge economy is changing the innovation game.

By Denise Gershbein
The age of the expert is over. Information is flowing at such an everyone, everywhere, everything, all-the-time pace that participation in the knowledge economy is no longer optional, or a value-add. It’s compulsory. And it offers an identity crisis for those individuals and companies who call themselves experts, leaders, innovators, and problem solvers.
In the knowledge economy, you can’t achieve expert or lead status just by having a compelling idea, a creative design, or a body of experience to call upon, no matter what field you work in. Unfettered access to information means an expected participation in a larger number of domain verticals. Expectations for the quality of the idea are higher.
But while individual participation and production across domains increases, the bandwidth of the individual to validate his or her ideas shrinks. Your idea or topic will always have a germ somewhere else, whether you know it or not. Audiences are smarter, more skeptical, and more judgmental. Facts can be checked and disproved easily, and audiences can crowdsource a verdict quickly and summarily.
Innovation is a neutral term: it simply means “new.” But new isn’t enough when the crowd can do better. Today, the question of innovation and achieving it through cross-disciplinary collaboration and knowledge sharing is well beyond deep expertise or broad horizons. We’re beyond the lateral and the longitudinal, beyond the specialist or the generalist. We’re also coming to understand that the crowdsourced collective isn’t the whole answer. To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell: You can’t crowdsource Shakespeare.
Convergence hasn’t delivered on its promise because it isn’t the solution: It’s only one step within a future-forward knowledge framework. Innovation is achieved after disciplines come together, when their organizing principles, themes, and guiding premises overlay in transparency and there is a resulting exponential accretion of knowledge and possibility.
The awakening to the power of our collective intelligence can be seen in the business media and the semantic gymnastics swirling around convergence, divergence, design thinking, innovation, and other catchwords. Convergence came on the scene when everyone figured out that there were other domains and verticals that needed to be considered in the practice of design; that there were other practices that could inform your own, other specialties to benefit from, shoulders of giants to be stood upon. Now, being “convergent” is like being multinational but not global. You’re on the big stage, but you haven’t achieved the statesmanship that comes with the full essence of understanding.
This awakening is likely a good thing, but it also means that the idea of a powerful collective intelligence is in its nascency. People don’t quite get it yet. Everyone is straining for the holy grail of innovation, but if everything is new, then change just becomes the norm and everything becomes disposable instead of special. Nothing is truly innovative in the finest meaning of the word.
Going forward, convergence must not be about the objects of design but about the process of creativity. Because of that it’s becoming harder to imagine a holistic, expert stance for an individual. True expertise and innovation increasingly depend on creativity and problem solving by community, or what we might call a “society of design.”
Does this mean experts, creative directors, and gurus are going extinct? It does if they try to hold on to the fading notion that they’re the central repository of expert knowledge. The fact is, encyclopedic knowledge is in the crowd, and specialized knowledge will rest with the individual. The leaders and experts of tomorrow have to be either polymaths (deep multi-domain experts), curators (those who collect or collate different domains), polyglots (the overlay and meaning makers), or all three.
Even then, effective leadership won’t come simply by collecting numerous disciplines under one roof. Nor will it come by buying a company for the purpose of associating oneself with expertise. True leaders and experts will have to support distributed knowledge networks by attracting polymaths, polyglots, and curators into their workforce, and by pursuing partnerships or collaborative consultancies externally. Leadership, expertise, and innovation will come from those who rise up to facilitate and speak the lingua franca of all domains.

We recently rebuilt the "Tangible Vision" of our company. This site is solely focused on remote team collaboration. Our view on the matter of strategy can be found at

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#25): Understanding the Innovation Game

Regardless of the features of any new innovations, there is always a minimum of one technical weakness within its scheme. In most cases, quality is rarely a part of any innovation scheme.

By using our Compass AE process, we assessed this innovation with the following steps:
  • Identifying its approach in terms of various strategic variables;
  • Determining its tendencies through the collection of information;
  • Evaluating the sequences of events through the use of those strategic variables; and (finally)
  • Analyzing the data reliability through "probable and possible" scenarios. ...

September 6, 2009
N.F.L. Preview

N.F.L. Looks to College Game for a New Plan of Attack

It has been 10 years since the St. Louis Rams rode a fast and furious offense that resembled pinball on cleats — the Greatest Show on Turf — to a Super Bowl title.
But that attack, which seemed to come out of nowhere along with quarterback Kurt Warner, was merely prologue to an explosion of innovation that is transforming the N.F.L.

Conjured by coaches who borrow from the wide-open college game, new-look offenses have developed into something previously imagined by video gamers in their living rooms.
Nearly every team now has a Wildcat package, the scheme that carried the Miami Dolphins to the playoffs last season by putting players in unexpected positions.

And the spread offense floods the field, with receivers stretched from sideline to sideline, to such effect that Warner and the Arizona Cardinals used it about 85 percent of the time on their stunning run to the Super Bowl last season.
On the horizon is the University of Florida’s star quarterback, Tim Tebow, who will enter the draft next year. He could open the door to what was once virtually unthinkable in the N.F.L.: a quarterback with the size and sturdiness of a linebacker who reads the defense and has the freedom to run as often as he passes in the college-style spread-option offense.

In many ways, change has been forced on the N.F.L. because defenses are so fast and complex, and because fewer drop-back passers, fullbacks and blocking tight ends are being produced in a college game dominated by the spread.
So it is little surprise that almost all N.F.L. teams occasionally use a four- or five-receiver offense, and that Florida Coach Urban Meyer, who has all but perfected the spread with the Gators after giving it prominence at Utah, has been asked for advice from at least four N.F.L. teams, including the New England Patriots. “I think it would have worked years ago,”

Meyer said. “No one has had enough — I don’t want to say courage — no one has wanted to step across that line. Everyone runs the same offense in the N.F.L. A lot of those coaches are retreads. They get fired in Minnesota, they go to St. Louis. They get fired in St. Louis and go to San Diego. I guess what gets lost in the shuffle is your objective is to go win the game. If it’s going to help you win the game, then you should run the spread.”

The resistance to the spread was based on a belief that no N.F.L. team would expose a quarterback to the pounding that might result with fewer blockers on the field. The Patriots, who rewrote the single-season record book in 2007, are the best N.F.L. team at the pass-heavy version of the spread precisely because quarterback Tom Brady gets rid of the ball so quickly, said Bruce Arians, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

The Dolphins went to the Wildcat to exploit a different advantage. They have two superb running backs, and they could be on the field at the same time.
“You can’t sit back and do the same basic stuff, because both sides have to try to fool the other,” Warner said. “It’s guys in their little laboratory saying, ‘What’s the next big things we can pull out to fool people for three or four plays?’

Many teams still use a form of the West Coast offense, which stresses methodical movement down the field. But the tipping point for the offensive revolution might already have occurred. When the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden attended his son’s high school football tournament, only one school of 77 used a traditional center-to-quarterback snap. The others were in the shotgun, running the spread-option offense. Those are the players who feed into the college game, where even traditional running teams like Texas and Oklahoma have switched to the spread after watching opponents with less talent become competitive with it.

The new schemes force defenses to honor all 11 players on offense. Against traditional offenses, defenses do not account for the quarterback. But if the quarterback — or the player taking the snap in a Wildcat formation — is a threat to run, it removes the defense’s numbers advantage. When the offense is spread out, the running lanes widen and it is easier to spot blitzes. That holds the promise of more effectively attacking defenses like Dick LeBeau’s confusing zone blitz, which has propelled the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles in four years.

When Kansas City Chiefs Coach Todd Haley was with the Jets earlier this decade and with Arizona last season, he said the teams deployed the spread against opponents they thought could manhandle them because forcing a defensive player to line up wide neutralizes his ability to overwhelm an offensive lineman. And with the defense easier to see when spread out, quarterbacks tend to make fewer mistakes.

Last season, the interception rate dipped below one per team per game for the first time since such statistics were first kept in 1932, even though teams have passed more in the last 20 years.
But the new offenses have also created problems for coaches. Quarterbacks are no longer schooled in the traditional drop-back model that is still the N.F.L. standard personified by Brady and Peyton Manning. It means quarterback coaches must teach rudimentary skills like how to take a snap from directly under the center or even run a huddle. This may eventually force teams to pluck college backups with little playing experience from programs that still run traditional offenses — a risky draft strategy.

“As coaches, we have to find ways to use what we have, and we have to do it fast,” said the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator, Dan Henning. “They don’t give you a five-year program. What are you going to do, live and die until you get a franchise quarterback? Nobody wants that, because they don’t want to pick him No. 1 because they don’t want to pay them.”

This season, more teams seem to be trying to adapt elements of their offenses to their players’ talents. The Dolphins drafted Pat White, the former West Virginia quarterback, who is widely expected to run a fuller Wildcat package this year. In Minnesota, the former Florida receiver Percy Harvin will probably be deployed at a number of positions. And in Philadelphia, the Eagles signed Michael Vick — once the highest-paid player in the N.F.L. because he could deploy designed runs to such devastating effect — to run a specialized package of plays.
Still, as tantalizing as the Wildcat is, it is likely to remain a curveball more than a regular part of the offense. “I’m not a fan of putting a $100 million quarterback on the bench or at wide receiver, where they can take a cheap shot at him,” Arians said. The threat of injury is probably what will keep the college-style spread option from migrating en masse to the N.F.L., the way the passing iteration of the spread has. In 2006, Vick occasionally ran something similar: He was reading the defense and either running himself, handing the ball off or passing. He surpassed 1,000 yards rushing that season, averaging 8.4 yards a carry. At 6 feet 3 inches and 245 pounds, Tebow is a physical marvel who Gil Brandt, a former personnel executive with the Dallas Cowboys, thinks will be a top-10 draft pick next spring.

/// There is a risk for each objective and every approach. The general objective for most ultra class professionals is to maximize their opportunities while minimizing the risks.

But for an N.F.L. team to make the spread option its full-time offense, it would need several quarterbacks who can do what Tebow does. Even trickier, it would need players who are built to take the hits he does. Otherwise, one injury means the entire offense must change.
“You’re not going to be running your $18 million quarterback in the option,” said Jeff Jagodzinski, the recently fired offensive coordinator for Tampa Bay who saw plenty of the spread option as Boston College’s head coach.

/// All that glitter is not gold. What factor is one willing to compromise when using something new and innovative?

“That would be a tough one to explain to the owner.”
Perhaps, then, Tebow will represent the end of this thread of innovation. Even fans of the spread wonder if it could someday go the way of the wishbone and the run and shoot, earlier offensive incarnations that defenses eventually caught up to.

Then someone will have to go back to the laboratory to dream up the next big thing.
Warner will be retired by then, but he will be watching. “I love the innovation,” he said. “Better than 3 yards and a cloud of dust.”

Pete Thamel contributed reporting.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

/// *** Innovation is a good idea when one has the time and the resources to experiment with it.

Applying the Spread Offense in Business

In business, a "spread offense" approach works when the strategist is able to create technical mismatches within the opposition's defensive scheme. We discovered that it does always not work for those who have limited resources. If the mismatch does not work, the scheme will fail. One's supply of resources diminishes.

Whenever the difference maker (the principal implementer) is detached from the setting, the secondary option usually does not have the same experience and skills of the starter.

Lesson: It is not cost efficient for the strategist to sacrifice their difference maker in chaotic situations.

Sidebar: Regardless of the state of the settings, we professionally prefer the application of methodical movement in our strategic implementation. It creates a level of stability within the client grand settings.

The Way of Strategy (#24): Knowing the Grand Settings (2)

"Know the challenge, know yourself; your success will never be threatened. Know your settings, know the external changes, your success will always be absolute." - Art of War

Whenever one enters into a new competitive setting, knowing the rules and the dimensions of the terrain are the first few steps. Understand the strategic leverage of your team. Determining their strengths and weaknesses. Then matching the attributes to the terrain. Those are the first few steps of a good Compass strategy. ...

We recently were talking to an associate who used some parts of our process in his projects. He explained the following business situation.

"We have a mechanical engineer consultant who just has designed the physical box that our module unit will go into. It will be attached to the dashboard that I'm responsible for. He doesn't have an actual dashboard, but he has all the mechanical drawings from the daskboard designer. ... The management presumed that the mechanical engineer did not need any more information. He sent me a prototype. We tried to install it and the device did not meet our requirements. ... As you constantly mentioned to us, that people usually performs well, are given a tangible representation of what is required of them. ... ( Sidebar: Defining the end in mind is the most difficult challenge in defining the strategy. Proper strategic assessment and planning areis the other most difficult things to do.) ... *I* think what we should have done was to send him an actual dashboard and let him see for himself (not photos) on how it actually works. ... Management is beginning to come around to see the wisdom of assessing the compass of their situation before doing anything else. ..."

Strategic Assessment is about understanding the compass of one's grand settings. It is not about assumption or guessing. Depending on the quality of the data and the experience of the Compass strategist, he/she can predict the outcome.

Our preferred approach is to operate with tangible data from every strategic stakeholders. ...

Assumptions usually have a tendency of wasting time and money. One cannot tell someone to design a three-dimensional object with two dimensional data.

One cannot advise inexperienced outcome-driven management (who has no grand picture or any strategic experience on proper logistics and protocol), on the proper strategic management approach until they understand that quality takes time. Poor quality specifics (requirements to process) usually create extended time line and higher operating costs.

"There is no time to do it right. There is always time to fix it. ..."

When project managers or strategists do not properly build a grand picture that focuses on the agreed "end in mind.", time, effort and money are wasted. It is a lesson that most inexperienced outcome-driven management will never understand.

Conclusively, strategic experience results.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#23): Knowing the Grand Settings

"Know the enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total." - Art of War

Knowing the rules of the competition is one of the first few steps of game strategy. ...

The quality of one's leverage determines whether the opposition will attempt to utilize the rules against you. If they can't use those rules, they find a way to change it.

In business competition, the act of fairness does not exist. It is a deceptive belief that most naive and innocent businessmen and women get lured into.

One should always know the rules and the history of the arena that he/she is competing in.

September 25, 2009, 6:58 pm
AT&T Says Google Voice Violates Net Neutrality Principles
By Saul Hansell
Policy and Law

AT&T is playing a “gotcha” with Google. The big phone company filed a letter with the Federal Communications Commission Friday saying the Google Voice calling system violates the commission’s network neutrality principles.

At issue is Google’s decision not to connect Google Voice customers to certain conference calling and other lines because of what it says are excessive access charges by the providers of those lines. AT&T, which is required to connect its telephones to all lines, says Google is discriminating against certain uses of its network, a no-no in the network neutrality world.

Google, meanwhile, says it doesn’t have to follow the same rules AT&T does.

Whether AT&T is right depends on all sorts of technical interpretations of the commission’s policies and which regulations actually apply to Google Voice, which is a technological patchwork of telephone calling and Internet communication.

But that really isn’t AT&T’s primary concern. The company is mainly trying to score some debating points and show that sometimes companies have good reason to treat some uses of their networks differently than others. (If you do want to get into the policy minutiae, start with this post from the public-interest telecom lawyer Harold Feld .)

What AT&T and Google agree on is that the system for exchanging payments between phone companies for completing long-distance calls is deeply flawed. I looked into this last year, when Kevin Martin, then the F.C.C. chairman, wanted to reform what is called intercarrier compensation. After a week trying to understand those rules, I ran away screaming. Our long-distance system is so topsy-turvy that it makes the Mad Hatter’s tea party look like drill time at West Point.

But to simplify it as much as possible: When your long-distance company connects your call to a telephone served by a different company, it pays a fee to terminate the call. This fee can range from almost nothing to as much as 7 cents a minute. The difference is set by a number of factors, including state regulatory regimes. In most cases, those access charges far exceed the actual cost of completing a long-distance call, and every telephone user pays higher bills because of these charges.

So why do these charges exist? Originally, they were to subsidize service in sparsely populated areas, and they are still defended by the largely rural phone companies that benefit from them, many of which have allies in Congress. (Those phone companies get a number of other subsidies, too.)

Meanwhile, some enterprising phone companies, aided by local regulators, have taken to encouraging entrepreneurs to set up businesses that attract lots of inbound calls. Those include the free conference calling services, free fax lines and telephone pornography. The phone companies rebate some of the high call termination fees they receive to the companies running these services.

Maybe the commission will decide that Google, since it is turning into a telephone company, will need to connect to those lines and pay the fees. Maybe it will agree with Google’s argument that its services are different enough to be exempt from the rules AT&T follows. But consumers would benefit most if the commission used this as another prod to do the difficult work of bringing some rationality to the way that long-distance calling is priced.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#22): The Basics of Strategic Assessment

Lately, we have been spending our time advising startups who are over focused on tactics, specific means and their set of technological methods. While they refused to recognize the risk and the consequences of not understanding the grand objective and connecting the proper tactical approach to it, these decision makers believe that "keeping it simple" and the use of a specific technology are the key to their business success.

We also spent a great deal of time, trying to convince them in the importance of assessing the marketplace settings before building a tangible plan. The problem began when they began to believe that their intuitive feeling is greater than the need for intelligent data.

The beginning section of our future book will focus on the fundamentals of the grand picture and how to develop a tangible strategy from it.

Regardless of the marketplace, the general fundamentals for competing strategically are always the same:
  • Assessing the grand picture.
  • Positioning oneself with proper planning; and
  • Influencing through the implementation of direct and indirect methods.
Living in an information-driven society does not always mean that people would always make the proper decision. Our resolution is to emphasize the message of understanding the grand picture before making a strategic decision.