Stubborn Vision, Flexible Details

Neil Perkin and Peter Abraham

Harvard Business School professor and author Clay Christensen describes how strategy is "not a discrete analytical event" or something decided using best-known numbers at the time in a meeting of senior managers. Instead, it is a "continuous, diverse, and unruly process" that constantly evolves. So the art of managing this is not to dismiss anything that deviates from the original plan but to continually identify better options and then manage resources flexibly to nourish them. Rigid planning processes (particularly in large organizations, where challenging an original fixed plan can often be a political, morale-killing exercise) mitigate the flexibility needed to respond to rapidly changing contexts.

The example Christensen uses to illustrate the advantages of flexibility is the way in which Honda broke into North America. The company’s strategy was based entirely around big motorbikes (since that is what U.S. consumers seemed to favor), bringing them into competition with manufacturers like Harley. Some Honda employees started to use a few of the much smaller Supercub models to do a bit of weekend dirt biking in the hills around Los Angeles, a Sears buyer sees the interest this generates, decides to stock them in the outdoor equipment department, and a new opportunity for Honda, an innovative distribution strategy, and a whole new genre of biking, is born. Honda refocused…

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