October 2004

The Coaches Corner

This Month’s Question

“A key competitor is launching a product line extension in the next 3 months. My perspective is that the line extension could strategically impact us in a few years. Some of my fellow executives see only minor impact for the immediate future and no need for action in the short-term. We have agreed to meet on this issue. How can I move their thinking?”

Our Advice

Some breakthrough thinking principles which help organize the coaching:

  1. Any projections about the future are just that … projections. There are no facts. When you treat them as projections, it means that future scenario could happen versus it will happen. This creates a freedom for all to think differently.
  2. There is an implicit dilemma in this situation. You don’t want to disrupt plans and allocate resources based upon limited competitive intelligence. Yet, you don’t want to ‘miss the boat’ if this is a true threat. Make the dilemma explicit.
  3. A good aim is to leave the meeting with actions to hedge yourselves. You don’t know the impact of the competitor’s move yet. You don’t know how disruptive it will be. You want to leave, resourcing appropriate action. Leaving with actions to ‘hedge the future’ also opens up thinking.
  4. Spend most of the meeting in your competitor’s shoes. Looking from another perspective shifts the thinking.

We suggest the following agenda for your meeting?

  1. Get up front agreement on reaching a new level of understanding that is in your company’s best interest.
  2. Assemble a collection of candid viewpoints from all your fellow executives.
  3. We suggest thinking of this as a ‘Collage’ because you will have a number of very different pictures tied together by a theme - the competitor’s line extension. Aim for two side-by-side collages. (1) A best case for the competitor; (2) A worst case for the competitor.

    Have both collages cover a range of timeframes, starting with now to 1 year… 2 years … through 5 years out.

    Speculate on the motives and intentions of the competitor. Stand in their shoes. What do you see as the business opportunity?

    Attend to:

    • Take your time on this one. Doing this well will move the rest of the discussion along faster.
    • Everyone freely expressing their views without interruption. This is essential to move their thinking.
    • You want to find yourself thinking … hmmm, I didn’t think of it that way. Or perhaps …. hmmm, I don’t agree and yet I see the validity. This will convey your openness.
    • It is at these boundaries that our thinking changes. Discussing what is likely only leads to entrenched thinking. Whereas, discussing the possibilities, shifts our thinking. Keep the best case and worse case separate.
  4. What needs to happen for your competitor to realize its best scenario? Its worst scenario?

  5. This calls for informed speculation. Attend to:

    • Get specific – presume the competition has really thought through this line extension.
    • In the competitor, thinking through your company’s response, what response would be part of their best case? Part of their worst case?
  6. What has been your company’s traditional response to these moves by your competition?
    • What have you typically done?
    • Where were you strong?
    • Where did you have regrets?
  7. What can you now see to do? (after discussing 1-4 above)
    • Where should you adjust your plans? Resources?
    • Does this offer you any new opportunities?
    • What will be an early indicator that the competitor’s move is big trouble for us?
    • How will we monitor the situation?

In summary: When assessing new developments in the marketplace we are always doing so on incomplete information. Consider the future as possible scenarios. Take action to hedge – plan your options. Take action to look for subtle signals.

Good Fortune to You!

©2004 Innovate LLC (all rights reserved)

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