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101 Redux: the next new thing

By Joseph Cervenak

“What’s the next new thing in strategy?” a senior executive recently asked Phil Rosenzweig, a professor at the International Management Development Institute in Switzerland. His response was surprising for someone whose career is devoted to advancing the state of the art of strategy.

“With all respect, I think that’s the wrong question. There’s always new stuff out there and most of it’s not very good. Rather than looking for the next musing, it’s probably better to be thorough about what we know is true and make sure we do that well.” (McKinsey Quarterly, January 2011, Strategy Practice.) 

We will come back to Professor Rosenzweig.

In BridgeView, Caribbean Maritime No 16, I asked ‘Now what?’ in reference to being overawed by the number of apps (25 billion) downloaded from Apple’s App Store. Indeed, what could be next? Well, if ‘billion’ impressed you, read on.

On 12th June Amazon’s Jeff Barr announced that its S3 (Simple Storage Service) online facility had reached 1 trillion objects. (An object is an on-line storage ‘bucket’ for Amazon client computer files.) This was at the rate of 40,000 new objects added per second. And this trillion is net after its object expiration feature removed some 125 billion objects. Uses of S3 include web hosting, image hosting and storage for back-up systems. (ZDNet, 12th June 2012.)

Taking the mind from 1 billion to 1 trillion prompts the question ‘what could be the next musings?’ In brief, radio frequency identification (RFID) is expanding into the Internet of Things (IoT) and now its cousin, the Web, is broadening its reach into the Web of Things (WoT). Coupled with IoT and WoT is Nimbits, with its mashups (accumulations of data from various sources).


All of these, at near-warp speed, are connecting people, sensors and devices while tidily tucked away in Cloud cover.

But wait – there is more!

Post-PC buzz

Is the personal computer going away? In short, yes: for the retail consumer. We will graduate to full-featured Smartphones, tablets and hybrids. Read: store merchandise ‘sales’ and Christmas stocking fillers. For the near future, however, content and graphics creators will continue to rely on PC-centred architecture. Yes, everything is, or will be, connecting. No need to read Huxley; we are indeed moving into a frighteningly ‘Brave New World’.

A quick assessment suggests that every physical object is on the way to being digitally connected, shared or accessed in real time. Everything about everything is coming to be known. Scary? Truly. Where does this take us: a dreamer’s dream come true or an Orwellian ‘Nineteen Eight-Four’ nightmare?

Unsettling or not, this will be our reality. And, be assured, the admired solid growth companies are exploring these technologies, testing and experimenting with every new development. Many of these ‘new things’ offer the potential for a strategy designed for competitive differentiation and sustainable growth. However, many of us are not in a position to be experimenting. We are those who, day in and day out, struggle to stay in business, make a profit, fend off competition and care for our workers and families. As such, how much time do we take or spend on these ‘next new things’?

Let’s tie back to Prof. Rosenzweig, who is not likely suggesting a dismissal of the theories and techniques of the management bible writers. The Gary Hamels, C.K. Prahalads, Peter Druckers, Tom Peters’s and others have educated us well with their management philosophies. Nor is it likely that Prof. Rosenzweig is ignoring the proven feet-to-the-floor practices of the management whizzes such as Jack Welch, Lee Iacocca or Richard Branson.

Wake-up call

Instead, speculatively, Prof. Rosenzweig is sounding a wake-up call to Refocus. Rediscover. Reboot (Ctrl+Alt+Delete). Reclaim the day-to-day, taken-for-granted, oft-overlooked, likely-forgotten (or, for some, too-lazy-to-do); the 101 – Basics of Proven Business Practices. That is, practices that together add up to the company we want to work for, own, or do business with.

Somewhere along the way many of us have lost those everyday practices ingrained since youth and instinctive in use.

Lost? Lost where? Lost in the Cloud, in space-time, in the billions or trillions of stored Objects? 

Not likely. Lost or fading away are the foundational and fundamental structures of our business-life existence. Somewhere along the line, we lost what many universities may list as ‘101-Basics’. Take, for instance, my recent experience. A leading supply chain magazine to which I hard-copy subscribe cover-featured an article centred on the pursuit of excellence in the supply chain. Excellence is very much in my interest. I turned to the Table of Contents and went as indicated to Page 40. Not there!


Excellence? What could be the excuse? Too much pressure? Tight editorial deadlines? Short of staff? Or, as American stand-up comedian and actor, Freddie Prinze, was fond of saying, “Ain’t my job!”

I suspect the next issue of that magazine will have an erratum, cloaked in greyed, minuscule six-point font. But – and it is a terrifying ‘but’ – this is not about supply chain magazine excellence. This is a 101-Failure. 

Yes, the proverbial ‘stuff’ does happen, be it at a workstation, in the boardroom, at the conference table or on the bridge. Is it catastrophic or game changing? Not likely. Instead, we hope only an infrequent miscue. Regardless, it creates a negative bias and blemishes perception of a good magazine. People do judge a book by its cover. (By the way, I found the article on Page 43 and it was worth the hunt.)

The basics of managing a business are just that, basics. The 101 application is pervasive, omnipresent, universal and more. There is no regulatory agency, congress, industry or person with the right or privilege to not do the right thing. Doing the basics IS the right thing. This includes answering the phone with a ‘smiling voice’; addressing people by name; checking for correct punctuation in a document; turning off mobile phones where the situation requires; serving drinks but fingers never touch the lip of the glass; being courteous; offering to help; apologising graciously; intelligently asking for the business; delivering service and product value; and valuing the customer. Indeed, as it is said, ‘the Devil or God is in the details’.

So how do we delve into the details and demonstrate the value of common sense, respect and correctness in all that we do? Leadership. Strategy and leadership are coupled. The best strategies are ineffective if not articulated and directed by a leader. Thus, we need to develop a strategy that creates a work environment wherein the goals and objectives of our companies are clearly defined, unmistakably understood and relentlessly pursued.


As leaders, we must foster, promote and unfailingly support a culture wherein personal pride versus an eight-for-eight paycheck compels each individual to pursue personal and enterprise excellence to do a really great job. We need to develop a passion for perfection and desire to work with the same passion.

Walter Isaacson, author, biographer and writer of the book ‘Steve Jobs’, said of his main character: “He infused Apple employees with an abiding passion to create groundbreaking products and a belief that they could accomplish what seemed impossible.” Jobs told Isaacson: “By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things.”

I offer that Prof. Rosenzweig presents just such a challenge for each of us. That is, to articulate a credo driven by three core beliefs: (1) personal and company excellence are inseparable; ( 2) the customer is king; and (3) all that we do has value.

No – not a new thing. As Aristotle observed: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” 

Executing ‘101’ correctly, each and every time, thinking through what we know is true and making sure we do it well. Such is to be the strategy.