2020 LESSONS: PREDICTION, LEARNING & ALTERING STRATEGY

When Raj & I started Propay Partners nearly two decades ago, there were no go-to manuals that showed us how to run the business. Just like other business owners, we started with what we knew best: hard work. Today, the world moves not just on hard ‘work’ but hard ‘planning’. Ask me if that’s a deliberate attempt and I would say every bit of it is; especially today, where fierce competition rules the industry.

The traditional mindset with which we began our journey always changed courses, whether we liked it or not. The last 20 years taught me that learning and unlearning were continuous processes that couldn’t be compromised. To be fair, it also taught me another valuable thing as well – the importance of collaborating with like-minded entrepreneurs to learn new concepts in innovation.

The 2020 health crisis was a jolt out of the blue. Companies were thwarted off their paths and the highly-anticipated digital transformation of industries happened in a matter of weeks. Who’d have known? Sometimes, the right question to ask ourselves is “why didn’t we know?” or better still, “why couldn’t we predict and restrategise?”.

Last month, I took a plunge back into learning. It wasn’t an attempt to learn new management techniques or take the road less taken, but a journey to understand what we need to do as entrepreneurs and why predicting the future of one’s business was crucial to understanding whether you’ll break it or make it.

I took up a 6-week course on Disruptive Strategy with Harvard Business School Online to understand the theory behind the most broadly-used term of our time: Disruption. Disruption doesn’t mean a whopping new product or a platform that causes a turnaround. Businesses willing to create needs overlooked by dominating brands and consequently creating a shift in perception and buying define the dynamics of Disruption.

A key learning for leaders here is how they choose to understand each of these terms and define it while building their companies. There is a difference in understanding fundamental theories and so, if you aren’t saying it right, then you aren’t doing it right. Many businesses fail to reach full potential because they aren’t targeting what their customers expect them to do.

A good example is ‘problems’. Every business has problems that crop up every now and then. How far do we believe that these ‘problems’ could actually be solutions to what customers are actually looking for? Our desire to keep up with trends and develop new products have minimized our ability to look around for opportunities within problems reported in our own sectors.

This applies to purchasing experiences, service performance and meeting customers’ core expectations. In short, it’s like asking ourselves whether we are actually solving their issues or just distracting them with additional features. Many a times, innovative products or services fail due to many reasons, and interestingly enough, many of those reasons are purely ‘predictable’.

Leaders who see a foreseeable change in their business strategy will make sure their resources, processes and profit formulae are well tailored to address that need. The catch is not in changing resources, it’s in predicting or anticipating the change. Vision should be not about how you want your company to grow. It’s how your company can meet an unforeseen need or better, drive demand for a never-before-experienced idea or service. Much like how the iPad was invented. Nobody wanted it. But now, nobody can do without it.

The Covid-19 pandemic has driven many businesses off the grid. Looking around, one sees some of the multinational giants surviving amidst a host of what we all thought were run-of-the-mill firms. The HBS course changed my perspective on core competency. What we decide to run in-house and what we choose to outsource defines our ability to weather crises.

And the best part of it was the lesson on strategy. The best strategy is to predict change and keep guessing how your business will change in the future. Leaders should understand that the strategy they have right now may not be the right one at all when a crisis strikes.

For me personally, investing my time this year to learning was a joyful experience. To be able to collaborate with a global cohort of leaders has offered me refreshing insights into how different organisations are bracing for change and long-term performance.

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