Purpose Matters: Chief Strategy Officer Summit

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A sustainable competitive advantage cannot be attained if the business fails to address the relationship between it’s core purpose and social purpose. Strategists must unearth the why before getting buried in the how

Good Business Message

A sustainable competitive advantage cannot be attained if the business fails to address the relationship between it’s core purpose and social purpose. Strategists must unearth the why before getting buried in the how

“The goal of strategy is the pursuit of sustainable competitive advantage. As competitive and business environments evolve, sources of advantage must be renewed”.

True enough. The burning question then is “how”? .. which is quickly followed up by “what strategy should we implement to gain that elusive advantage… what’s right, right now?”

It was just these sorts of statements that last week’s Chief Strategy Officer Summit pitched to attendees, and I was looking forward to being a part of some insightful discussions.

Perhaps my expectation was too high. Perhaps my yearning to hear about how these businesses were recognising the strategic imperative of being purpose-led, as well as profit driven, had blinkered me to the realities of ‘everyday business’ and current thinking around strategy development. Perhaps I wasn’t concentrating enough…the chalk and talk nature of the sessions was a little dull.

One would imagine that a ‘Summit’ of Chief Strategy Officers and professionals working in and around the space would offer more than the incidental insights that were thrown up over the two days.

An early session from Mastercard gave me hope

What are the seven most expensive words in business today? …We have always done it like that”

This led to an excellent example of how lean business methodologies were implemented into what is essentially a behemoth of a business. Pretty impressive, considering the usual siloed thinking that can proliferate in big business; there was a lot of talk around “think like a start-up” yet here was a real-life, working example. Nicely done. But hang on, let’s not forget the brutal reality of context: MasterCard, Visa and other antiquated payment systems are set so squarely in the firing line for major category disruption, it would not be unfair to say that they couldn’t have got their business model canvas out fast enough.

Over the two days we heard about the need to be “agile”, “keep it lean” and the usual patter around “get out and talk to your customers” (is that really the latest thinking on strategy development?), while the message from Telstra’s Guy Lupo was ‘disrupt or be disrupted’. He then skipped us through a solid example of intrapreneurship in their business with his high energy and positive presentation that got me thinking: “this stuff is quite good… but what about the good stuff?”  It would have been refreshing to hear more about how these businesses “focus on the why“, how they create a sense of positive progress, that “purpose matters” or even investing a slide or two on “social purpose as a strategic imperative“.

Henry Ford Quote

Hearing no less than 4 of the speakers tell us that Henry Ford once said “if he’d asked his customers what they wanted they would have said ‘a faster horse’” has, I suspect, made me somewhat less forgiving of what was delivered over those two days. We really didn’t get enough of the promised “no holds barred discussions” of “creating and implementing innovative strategy”.

Shame, because the opportunity was there and ears were pricked. I suppose when you’re in the business of purpose and driving sustainable competitive advantage, it’s easy to imagine everyone else is riding the wave with you.

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