If your enterprise is fairly flatly structured, not too steeped in massive infrastructure which is still being paid off, and your capacity only allows you to reinvest in innovation in order to stay relevant, then the leapfrogging strategy may be a genuine alternative. One specific way to achieve this is to place the collaboration strategy at the centre of leapfrogging. A lot of entrepreneurs do this in a disruptive environment, or to put it more precisely, an environment where we work with constant expectations of hard to predict, and even harder to manage, change.
Leapfrogging is not as easy as it seems though. Businesses get better gradually as they acquire new experience, knowledge, networks, capital, etc. The expertise that a mature operation produces is unique for every enterprise. It is precisely because of this that a major change in strategy, wholesale rethinking and repositioning may seem a tad too entrepreneurial. Companies, like any other human form of organisation, are inclined towards group-think, conformism and a culture of discipline. What makes them successful in one sense, makes them less resilient in another. The capacity to innovate in response to major disruptive trends does not come easy. And, for most the part this is due to a lack of systematic factors that make organisations agile and capable of adopting new strategies, without destroying what has been built over years and decades past. Most of you will remember Kodak’s famous ‘Kodak moment’ marketing campaign which highlighted the company’s famous instant photography appeal, only to be slightly mocked by business experts when the company failed to survive the digital photography disruption (better known as the technological discontinuity challenge) which led to its bankruptcy. In a way, many companies, big or small, commercial, government or non-profit, are at risk of experiencing their own ‘Kodak moment’.
What makes collaboration a suitable strategy for leapfrogging? There is no simple, six word answer. But nor is the answer too complicated. Collaboration makes sense. That is what more and more businesses are beginning to realise. When considering new competitive strategies in the age of homo disruptus, collaboration may offer unexpected benefits. One of the keys to competition is knowing the comparative advantage of an enterprise. While collaboration offers one such advantage, many are simply not comfortable exploring it because it poses uncomfortable questions. And that is why collaboration can present the perfect leapfrogging approach. This inevitably has to come with jumpstarting the whole culture of organisational performance, with collaboration as a major KPI. As has been noted by those who apply it, collaboration significantly increases the capacity for innovation; innovation which is needed to go beyond sustenance to a more radical form, whereby staff can actually ask questions which were previously the domain of an organisation’s sacred rules (read ‘that’s how we do thing here’). The idea of disciplined innovation that well-structured organisations rely on to outperform competition can and, to some degree does, work. The challenge is the pace of disruptive factors which do not occur algorithmically. The essence of collaboration is now as much about sharing knowledge as it is about testing it.
One question that can’t be ignored when a leapfrogging strategy is considered, is how to balance the “story” of an organisation against a new environment. Being able and willing to re-narrate one’s story to better fit the market is necessary. This means that change that feels unconformable for a while can come with a price that competitive business has to accommodate.
Reflecting on the famous Kodak example of how a mixture of complacency and poor strategy led to failure, it is worth remembering that perhaps most ironic is the fact that Kodak was beaten by digital photography growth from its competitors, despite it being the digital photography pioneer. This is a very common lesson few business leaders and decision makers understand well. Rationally speaking, it is not hard to grasp the idea behind it. The problem is human nature. Two centuries of economic dogma stating that humans are rational beings who choose what is in their best interests, has been sorely tested too many times. The result is resistance to change when we can. Instead we change when we are forced to, with a higher cost included. But, there’s hope; start small through collaboration.