Looking Over the Horizon and Strategic Leadership

The choice between right and wrong is easy;
it’s the choice between two rights that takes real courage!

I left marine biology in the mid-70’s to pursue a career in business but to this day I am still fascinated by the ocean and its life.  A particular interest is Ocean Currents and their impact on weather and the economy of the globe.  A while ago wrote a blog article about the relationship between ocean currents and business strategy.

One of the more recent and very useful developments in oceanography is High Frequency Surface Wave Radar (HFSWR) and its application for mapping ocean currents.  HFSWR has the ability to look over the horizon and detect surface vessels as well as ocean waves and is used not only in oceanography but in Homeland defense as well.

Pretty cool.  To be able to look over the horizon and see what others on land can’t see.  In some sense this is the role of strategic leadership, to look over the horizon and sense what is coming next for their business.  In thinking about strategic foresight (over-the-horizon thinking) I am reminded of the famous Bill Gates “Internet Memo”.

At the time, 1995, Microsoft was booming, as shown in this chart of their revenue growth.   They had 28% net rev. growth, no long-term debt, $6.5B in cash and a Market Cap of $90B.  They were winning, big time.

So, let’s talk about you as the CEO.  Would you change the strategy?  Would you risk this type of performance?  Most leaders wouldn’t. They would keep on with a proven winning formula.

But Bill Gates somehow was able to see beyond the horizon and saw that the internet was about to destroy Microsoft, or at the very least make it irrelevant. And so on May 26, 1995 Gates issued an internal memo called: “The Internet Tidal Wave”. The basic message was this:

“We were wrong about the internet and we are going to do a 90° turn and go full steam to dominate the internet.”

And change strategies they did.  As a result they crushed NetScape and Sun and completely took over the web browser market.  And check out at the results!

It’s the job of the CEO to search beyond the horizon for his company.  To grab onto insights and snippets of information and work on them until they either yield great value or are deemed to be trash.  Then do it again.  To think strategically, to constantly keep asking, “What if . . . ” and exploring ways to build greater longevity and sustainability into the organisation.

But you can’t do it if you are constantly running from meeting to meeting with no time for creative thinking.  Are you leading your company beyond the horizon, or running from “pillar to post”?

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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1 Response to Looking Over the Horizon and Strategic Leadership

  1. Brian says:

    Contemplating a more organic org chart than the standard. And thoughts on how to to draw a picture of a culture based org chart vs the standard pyramid. I keep coming back to a messy systems theory chart that looks like a bad United hub map. Any thoughts about making visual the ideal culture base school district?


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