The choice between right and wrong is easy;
it’s the choice between two rights that takes real courage!
I left my Ph.D. degree in 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”.
Microsoft and Strategic Leadership
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.”
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.
Different Leadership . . . Different Results
Are you leading your company beyond the horizon, or running from “pillar to post”?
Fast forward in the life cycle of once dominant Microsoft and there is another story to be told, one of a different leadership focus and different results. Today, just 10 years after crushing NetScape and Sun and completely dominating the web browser market, Microsoft is a distant second place to Google Chrome.
Didn’t Microsoft see the rise of other browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Safari coming? Or the rise of Apps instead of software?
Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft for the years during the “browser wars” and up until just recently, had a very different leadership style than Bill Gates. Ballmer was a perpetual motion machine of doing, talking, motivating, haranguing, browbeating, running from meeting to meeting. Energetic and forceful? Absolutely! A get things done “NOW” kind of guy? Certainly! Managing by the numbers and keeping multiple projects going simultaneously was his specialty.
A deep and thoughtful strategic thinker? Probably not. He ran Microsoft from quarterly results to quarterly results, not for the long-term. It’s amazing how difficult it is to think about the future and see the “over the horizon” stuff when your day is full with “busyness”.
To go slow is to go far! ~American Indian proverb
See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014).
John also writes thriller novels: novels.johnrchildress.com