Pivot, Pilot, and Adapt

Anupam Kundu and Maneesh Subherwal explain how to operate in a global, hyper-competitive world while avoiding risk-laden experiments and other "stupid" strategies.

"Smart may have the brains, but Stupid has the guts." Have you heard this before? Diesel used it recently (but with a word more crass than “guts”) as part of its “Be Stupid” marketing campaign, arguing that it is better to be stupid and bold than smart and creative. It’s a terrible, uninspiring attempt to match up to the essence of Steve Jobs’s "Stay Foolish, Stay Hungry" commencement address at Stanford University.

As business-technology consultants, we often meet bold, smart product managers who are willing to take risks to build and launch new products and services in the face of extreme uncertainties. However, we never advise these executives to stay "stupid" by continuing to run risk-laden experiments without having the "smarts" to review the results, distill the feedback gathered, and adapt by evolving their strategy. Staying stupid is not a smart option!

Responding to Change
Everything around us is changing rapidly, influenced by fast adoption of new products and services in a mobile, social, and distributed world. In one generation, we changed our preference from typewriters to computer keyboards to touch screen interfaces; increasing percentage of population are adopting mobile phones as the new vehicle for taking digital photos resulting in significant drop of market capital for large camera companies: Organizations across the globe, small and large, are struggling not only with change but also with innovating, adapting, and effectively reacting to the pace of change.

In an earlier article, Anupam provides examples of product managers in large organizations who follows ordered processes to improve efficiency and scale rapidly with pre-existing business models instead of looking out for new ones.  These managers now struggle to ship new products and create innovative business ecosystems, while their counterparts in smaller organizations successfully foster new business models and product innovation. The same ordered processes and organizational structures that once helped these large organizations to scale efficiently and create specialized silos across the organization now inhibit them from creative innovation and discovery of new business models.

In the midst of such a dynamic business environment, we have seen multiple product divisions overwhelmed and even wiped out due both to sudden market downtrends in usage and adoption of their products and to product managers’ making blunders while scanning for possible escape routes. Most product managers (and, for that matter, others in leadership functions) are trained to work in ordered and predictable environments; they rely on stable intuition and experience to handle all kinds of situations, without an appreciation of how a particular business outcome (especially a negative one) is affected by complex, ambiguous, and unpredictable circumstances.


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