Repeatability – The bane of Innovation

I was recently asked by the Co-Founder and CEO of Agile 2 what I thought about “The Repeatable Model” espoused by Chris Zook and James Allen in their book and by the concept promoted by Bain & Company. I thought blogging about it would be a great way of not only sharing my views but also learning from a cross-section, whether my thinking was along the right lines.

The authors claim to have learnt from the CXO Community they researched that at the heart of the matter are three embedded design principles for sustainable, profitable, and growing organizations:

  1. Strong well-differentiated core
  2. Clear non-negotiables
  3. Closed-loop learning

I must confess at the outset that I haven’t read the book. However, I have watched the above video that I have embedded into my post as well as the authors talking about why they wrote the book. The problem is with the very premise of their work. Their point of arrival is that “Complexity is becoming more and more the silent killer for profitable growth in businesses”.  That is a very naive observation because complexity has always existed and will continue to exist as life and life forms evolve. The part where complexity becomes a silent killer is when one is not able to understand and deal with it.

Far from what is advocated, business leaders and their businesses must learn to embrace complexity to be successful to repeat profitability and growth in their enterprise and the means must not be confused with the outcomes.

One cannot and should not simplify strategy. Else it would not be strategy. On the other hand the implementation of strategy should be simplified. This is when complexity is embraced. The authors seem to be confused with respect to thinking and action which is often evident in the businesses enterprises globally today operating like a hamsters on a wheel. Modern management must abandon the theory that some will think and the majority will execute. The lines between the front, middle and back-offices are blurring in a global business world and the entire enterprise or at least a majority of it needs to be in a learning mode that is conducive to participating in a co-creative customer universe.

It is important to understand the difference between Education and Learning. The latter is experiential while the former is training. Far from the concepts followed by management to institutionalize change predominantly through communication, it is important to transform the very concept to proactive rather than passive participation. This is the promise of a socially mobile and cloud based organization.

I am confused when the authors advocate a common or unified approach to international expansion. There must be a commonality of processes based on a differentiated business strategy. Every business person who has internationalized their business knows or should know that. This rather simplistic view that a common template will succeed for all internationalization is a recipe for disaster.

Consumerization and Commoditization are the foundational problems of the American Society / Corporate America and business and as many enterprises have already discovered to their great disadvantage, failures in international market with such cookie – cutter approach has been more rapid than in the Americas.

In essence, the three design principles rather than seamlessly facilitating each other, seem to advocate a polarity in business.

  1. A strong well differentiated core is definitely a must for every business. However the core can and should have variations and versions in different markets, sectors, customer segments in different parts of a global enterprise.
  2. Negotiation should be an important element of every business that allows people in the enterprise participate effectively and deliver to the agreed Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Where Performance is directly proportional to the preparedness of the enterprise to transform and contribute to growth.
  3. Closed Loop learning implies Action – Reaction rather than experiential cognitive action. It is the essential difference between React and Respond.

The authors seem to be advocating old world management in an era where the commander roared and the battalion rushed to the battlefield with unquestioned loyalty. Today every soldier has the means to perform reconnaissance and contribute nimbly with agility on the battlefield with more sophisticated weaponry than a bow and arrow or even a AK-47.

In essence, Focus must be sharp even in diversity while Embedding flexibility in a participating enterprise that Learns from the successes and failures of every action in the enterprise globally and adjusts them to successful outcomes locally in a global environment with agility in real-time.

About Subbu Iyer

Subbu Iyer is an Innovation & Transformation Leader as with 28 years of serving customers globally. He is currently the Chief Designer & Transformer at Energizing Innovation, an enterprise that is being founded to facilitate continuous growth in enterprises and as a consequence create societal wealth. The Radical Shift that this enterprise intends to employ is focusing on the Potential rather than the Performance of a business. He has been a serial entrepreneur and an intrapreneur in his past life, having founded Nihilent Technologies and Nandaki Systems besides being associated in senior leadership roles with firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Cambridge Technology Partners, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies and Steria.
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