A Re-Look at Strategy

By Guy Higgins

I’ve posted thoughts on strategy several times. On one of those occasions, I wrote about the approach developed by Helmut Graf von Moltke (the Elder). The Graf was the chief of the Prussian General Staff in the second half of the nineteenth century, and he implemented an approach to strategy that emphasized a common vocabulary to enhance clarity of communication and an appreciation that the “man on the scene” is in the best position to make rapid, tactical decisions to achieve the strategic goal. I think that that approach makes an enormous amount of sense. But… Continue reading


By Guy Higgins

Jack Welch was famously heard to proclaim that strategy was simple – “It’s just execute, execute, execute.” Well, I didn’t think that was a rational statement even when I first heard it back when Jack was the man in American business and industry as the CEO of GE. You have to know what you’re executing to – kind of that old cliché, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

Then about six or seven years ago, I read a transcript of the Dr. Andrew Krepinevich testimony before either the House or the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was testifying on national security strategy and he observed that the United States had not had a national security strategy since the Eisenhower administration because the formulation of national strategy had been allowed to become little more than a statement of, sometimes, vague goals or aspirations. Dr. Krepinevich asserted that those “fluffy” goals had replaced hard decisions about addressing both the barriers to success and the resources needed to overcome those barriers. Continue reading

Changing Culture

By Guy Higgins

Culture and culture change are topics that have, for some strange reason, been popping up for me recently, and it occurred to me that culture change is a good topic to talk about – so here goes.

Geert Hofstede, a culture and culture-change “guru,” says that culture is comprised of four things:

  • Values – what we base our behavior on
  • Rites – behaviors that we regularly engage in and that reinforce our values
  • Heroes – people who are exemplars for us
  • Symbols – those representations that we associate with our values, heroes and rites.

Hofstede groups these into two buckets: values (which, strangely enough, includes only Values) and behaviors (which includes Rites, Heroes and Symbols).  This is an important distinction because changing values is much harder than changing behaviors.  Hofstede observes that people can be convinced to change their behaviors.  Once these people see the utility or success of the changed/new behaviors, they will “recognize” that the changed/new behaviors align with their values (more on this later). Continue reading

Strategy and Planning vs. Responding

By Guy Higgins

In reading one of my newsletters recently, I encountered the following quote from Robert McNamara, “There is no longer such a thing as strategy; there is only crisis management.”

First, in the interest of honesty, I have to admit that I am not a fan of the late Secretary McNamara.  I think that he failed grossly as Secretary of Defense during the Viet Nam War in valuing the world’s perception of the U.S. over integrity.  I think that world perception was the driving force behind all his decisions.  He had not thought through what a strategy should be for U.S. national security and how fighting that war fit into that thinking.  He had no solid strategic framework on which to base his decisions.  Without considering the choices, options and consequences through developing a foundational strategy, he only responded to the exigencies of managing a series of crises.  Consequently, he made a lot of very questionable decisions. Continue reading

Commoditizing Knowledge

In a former life, I had the great good luck to work with Mike Kennedy of Targeted Convergence (www.targetedconvergence.com).  One of the concepts I learned from Mike was that of an organizational “knowledge value stream.”  Businesses talk about their value stream – the processes by which they provide value to their customers.  Mike pointed out that they should also be talking about the creation and maintenance of their own knowledge value stream – the processes by which they capture new knowledge and incorporate that new knowledge into the general knowledge and know-how of the company and which can then be applied to future product or service value streams for future customers.

Sounds obvious.  So does much of modern technology – things that were inconceivable fifty or sixty years ago (at the same time recalling that Arthur Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”).  Continue reading

Plans or Planning: Where’s the Value?

By Guy Higgins

“He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”  That bit of wisdom is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill during World War II.  A generation (or so) before Sir Winston uttered these words, Graf Albert von Schlieffen, is reputed to have invested years in his plan for defeating France and to have died emphasizing the importance of adhering to “The Plan.”  Seems like folks think plans are important – and I agree with them.  Without a plan, you are most likely reduced to “hip shooting” to achieve your goals, and that’s not conducive to success.  I’ve said for a long time that without a plan, you have no idea of how lost you are.  Companies have business plans, coaches have game plans, and politicians have campaign plans.  Even couples have plans for Friday night.

Carl von Clausewitz (and Helmut von Moltke, the elder) are credited with saying, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  So what’s going on?  What do these (reasonably) smart guys mean?  Am I right that plans are important?  How can that be if they don’t last beyond first use (let’s substitute “real world” for enemy here).  Well, General Dwight Eisenhower said, “Plans are nothing.  Planning is everything.”  Continue reading

All Moving Parts…

By Guy Higgins

During our first class in rotorcraft stability and control at the Navy Test Pilot School, Major Lew Watt, USMC, told us that, “The most important thing to remember for rotary-wing aircraft (that’s test pilot talk for helicopters) is that all moving parts are connected to all moving parts.”  It got the expected laugh, but Lew went on to explain that all the engines on the aircraft drive all the rotors – so that no single power failure will result in the loss of the aircraft.

I’ve used that line many, many times over the intervening years because it applies to so much more than just rotary-wing aircraft.  It applies to the world we live in – everything is affected by everything else.  Some effects are huge, some are small and some are not even noticeable.  Even more so, it applies to the global economy and to each company within that economy – Leaders take note! Continue reading