The Road to Three Box Strat­egy

In­no­va­tive lead­ers re­alise the Three Box frame­work is an on­go­ing process, not a one-time project. They are al­ways search­ing for and test­ing weak sig­nals.

The Economic Times - - Career & Business Life -

(Box 3); with­out Box 3, you don’t have a fu­ture. To get there, you’ll have to dis­card some of the mind­sets, prac­tices, poli­cies, and per­haps prod­ucts or ser­vices that got you and your com­pany to where you are to­day. Leav­ing be­hind the past (Box 2) com­pletes the cir­cle.

Of the three boxes, Box 2 is the most chal­leng­ing. It’s easy to ra­tio­nalise keep­ing el­e­ments of your or­gan­i­sa­tion that con­trib­uted to its cur­rent suc­cess but, too of­ten, these el­e­ments can be a trap that keeps your com­pany in sta­sis rather than mov­ing it for­ward. The courage to for­get the past is one of sev­eral lead­er­ship be­hav­iours at the heart of the Three Box So­lu­tion. Another is in­sight into changes that are only be­gin­ning to trend. These changes are what some fu­tur­ists call “weak sig­nals”.

Weak sig­nals are emer­gent changes that ap­pear on the hori­zon, some­times so dim and dis­tant that they are al­most im­per­cep­ti­ble. They could be changes in be­hav­iour or de­mo­graph­ics, or tech­nol­ogy, or the econ­omy – al­most any ac­tiv­ity re­lated to hu­man­ity. Within the Three Box frame­work, they are the raw ma­te­ri­als lead­ers can use to de­velop as­sump­tions about what may hap­pen in the fu­ture. The glob­ally pop­u­lar M&M can­dies pur­port­edly were cre­ated af­ter Forrest Mars, whose fa­ther founded the Mars con­fec­tionery em­pire, no­ticed sol­diers eat­ing candy-coated choco­late pel­lets dur­ing the Span­ish Civil War. Mars re­turned home to re­fine the prod­uct, de­vel­op­ing a more heat-re­sis­tant, travel-friendly candy. The US mil­i­tary in­cluded the newly cre­ated M&Ms in sol­diers’ ra­tions dur­ing World War II, and those sol­diers shared the candy with the peo­ple they en­coun­tered around the world. To­day M&Ms, the best­selling candy in Amer­ica, are sold and en­joyed in 100 other coun­tries – a global suc­cess story that sprouted from one per­son’s ob­ser­va­tion of a weak sig­nal.

Weak sig­nals are ubiq­ui­tous but, as men­tioned above, some­times dif­fi­cult to de­tect. Where do you find them? You can mine for sig­nals by us­ing a free-for-all ap­proach, so­lic­it­ing ideas from the pub­lic, for ex­am­ple. Or, you may choose to cre­ate a task force within your or­gan­i­sa­tion, ded­i­cated to iden­ti­fy­ing up-and-com­ing trends. Another op­tion is to look for in­di­vid­u­als within your com­pany who seem to have their eyes on the hori­zon. Of­ten, these are younger in­di­vid­u­als or peo­ple who have a rep­u­ta­tion among co-work­ers for non­con­for­mity. These mav­er­icks see the world dif­fer­ently, tun­ing in to sig­nals that oth­ers miss.

Good lead­ers un­der­stand, how­ever, that weak sig­nals must be tested to de­ter­mine whether they truly do fore­tell com­ing changes or are just noise. This is the third lead­er­ship be­hav­iour in which the Three Box fram- ework is rooted. Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion re­solves un­cer­tain­ties and in­creases learn­ing even as it re­duces risk. Let’s take an ex­am­ple. In the late 1990s, ris­ing af­flu­ence among In­dia’s mid­dle class sig­nalled to lead­ers at Mahin­dra & Mahin­dra that In­di­ans might be ready to em­brace high-end sport util­ity ve­hi­cles (SUVs). But it would have been both reck­less and ex­pen­sive to cre­ate a new model for this mar­ket with­out first test­ing its vi­a­bil­ity. So the com­pany first re­leased the Bolero, an up­dated ver­sion of an ex­ist­ing ve­hi­cle that could serve as a test bed for SUV strat­egy, parts, and tech­nolo­gies. It was a lower-risk ven­ture that paid off, con­vinc­ing com­pany lead­ers to move for­ward with what be­came the au­tomaker’s highly suc­cess­ful Scor­pio SUV.

In­no­va­tive lead­ers re­alise the Three Box frame­work is an on­go­ing process, not a one-time project. They are al­ways search­ing for and test­ing weak sig­nals. They never cease build­ing the fu­ture even as they en­sure their or­gan­i­sa­tions func­tion at peak per­for­mance to­day. They are con­stantly vig­i­lant for traps of the past. As a re­sult, their com­pa­nies are able to op­er­ate suc­cess­fully and si­mul­ta­ne­ously within all three boxes.

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