Pragmatic Strategic Innovation Principles to Succeed in an Ever-Changing World

We live in a constantly changing world that requires businesses to proactively pivot to become sustainably successful. Although change typically elicits a fear response, a different perspective can help to “flip the switch.” So, rather than seeing change as an obstacle to overcome, we can view it as creating new opportunities for our business to leverage to provide new sources of value for our customers and differentiate us from competitors.

  • Pragmatic: Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.
  • Strategic: Intentionally developing and executing on a play of action or policy that is designed to achieve a major or overall aim.
  • Innovation: The creation, development, and implementation of a new product, process, or service with the aim of improving efficiency, effectiveness, or competitive advantage.
  • Pragmatic Strategic Innovation: Practical approaches to create differentiated value that aligns with your well thought out short-term and long-term objectives.

When faced with significant disruptive change to how we operate our business, the natural temptation is to focus solely on the tactical efforts to survive the short-term. Although this is an important factor to keeping our business on the right track, we need to balance short-term results with long-term objectives. Each business and each disruption are unique and can require some very complex solutions. I have provided reference material at the end of this article if you want to dive deeper into a specific topic.

Although these principles are not all inclusive, I will briefly recommend three well-proven principles that can apply in almost every situation, the OODA Loop, Scenario Planning, and Pragmatic Innovation.

1. OODA Loop

US Air Force Colonel John Boyd, a fighter pilot and instructor, made the OODA process framework famous. First, you OBSERVE the situation, then ORIENTATE yourself and your position, then you DECIDE what to do, then to complete the loop you ACT on your plan.

Probably the most crucial part of this process is that you continually go around the loop. Each action you take will change things, so, now you have to start again by observing the situation, orientate yourself, decide and act in a continuous fashion. After a while, you develop the mindset, skill levels, and the process flexibility to quickly adapt.

2. Scenario Planning

The OODA process describes how we develop a mindset of responding to the environment as it changes. A complementary approach to OODA focuses on preparing for uncertain futures.

We all know that predicting what the future will look like is not easy. A scenario planning approach does not attempt to precisely predict the future but, rather, incorporates a well thought out analysis to identify a set of possible future states. The key element to this approach is not just to define a state but, rather, to focus on what external driving forces would precede that state. What possible forces could realistically occur and cause a significant shift in how you would need to operate your business?

Scenario planning helps by identifying key trends and emerging conditions to monitor and get a degree of forewarning of a change. Anticipating an event will allow you to be proactive so that you take the most appropriate actions to adapt your business in time to avoid and/or minimize the corresponding negative impacts. Examples of factors that might be influencing shifts resulting from a pandemic could include:

  • Virus Longevity – How long the virus spreads and presents significant safety issues
  • Global Mindset – How will people and government react to the social, economic, and political impacts
  • Digital Adoption – How will the shift away from face-to-face to more digital tools affect your business

3. Pragmatic Innovation

When encountering a dramatic shift in the environment your business operates in, often the first reaction is either to be put on the defensive and take drastic cost cutting measures or go on the offensive and boldly expand your investment and scope of your business. Each of these have their merits. History has shown that taking a pragmatic approach of balancing defensive and offensive moves will increase your chances of not only surviving the short-term shifts but emerging stronger in the long-term. Understandably, this is an elusive balancing act. Start by considering where you want to end up. Look for practical ways to improve the efficiencies within your operations while, at the same time, looking for innovative initiatives that will differentiate your business in ways that are aligned with your long-term strategic objectives. A key common thread is to always stay closely connected to your customers’ needs.

One of the few constant things in this world is change. Planning is an essential element for any business but, as several noted thought leaders have lamented, “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face.” Develop a core competency for your business to anticipate change, pivot accordingly, and then develop the practical business behaviors to serve your short and long-term goals. When you do this, you will be able to treat change not as an obstacle to your success but, rather, an opportunity to differentiate your business and create a sustainable value proposition to your customers.

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