The Practice of Strategy

Doing the right thing wrong is better than doing the wrong thing right

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methodology isn’t methods.. or… what goes in a methods chapter

A nice piece by Pat Thomson on the difference between methodology and methods.


Since I’ve been posting about methods and methodology, I’ve been asked several times to discuss the difference between methodology and methods and how these appear in a methods chapter. This post is by way of an answer.

Not all dissertations have a methods chapter. Although much of the how-to-write-it material (including my own) suggests that there is a distinct chapter called methods, some disciplines and many research projects don’t have one per se.

However, most (but not all) arts, humanities and social science theses do have to include, somewhere in the first few chapters, something about the way that the researcher has approached the task of researching, how they think about themselves as a researcher, and how they have designed the actual piece of research that they are doing, and why it is the way that it is. (In the textbooks these things are usually called epistemology, methodology, and methods.)

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Strategic focus: The falafel way!

There is a small restaurant here at the heart of Kuwait City called Sharaf. This is the restaurant’s only branch. The restaurant has been in business for almost 40 years. All Sharaf servers is falafel and hummus. That’s it: just falafel and hummus. Over the years, Sharaf has become THE trade name of falafel. Many people here believe it’s the best falafel restaurant in Kuwait. But what has led Sharaf to decide to sell only these two items? Why did the restaurant decide NOT to sell tens of other varieties of fastfood meals that many other restaurants serve? How about growth? How about expansion?

Sharaf Restaurant

Sharaf does not have  vision and mission statements. It doesn’t even have a website. It doesn’t have a corporate strategy or a Chief Strategy Officer. It doesn’t have a board of directors. And I am sure its owner(s) did not hire an international consultancy firm to help them with their strategic planning process. I can imagine the founders of Sharaf saying: “We will only serve falafel and hummus and nothing else. We will make the best falafel in Kuwait.” Such business model has significant implications, particularly in terms of operation efficiency. By focusing on only few items, Sharaf minimizes the cost of unutilized inventory and the need for human expertise and labor. Another strategic decision Sharaf made is its location. Kuwait City is not a residential area. All it contains are government buildings and businesses. This makes people who work in this area mainly want to eat something on the go. That’s why Sharaf does not offer dine-in. Just takeaway orders.

Whether this has been the right strategy is something that we might never know, tut having survived for 40 years, Sharaf mist have been doing something right. And there is a lesson here for businesses. In this age of intense competition, complex business environment, and amazing technological changes, trying to be everything to everyone is probably not a good idea. Current dynamic market conditions force companies to be more focussed by deciding whom to serve, what to offer, and where to play.

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Highlights from the CSO conference – London


I just returned from the Chief Strateg Officer summit that was held in London last week where I spoke about organizational complexities and the struggle with strategy implementation.  This was my third CSO summit (attended one and spoke at two) and the conference is getting better and better in terms of content and speakers.

I was glad to see Professor Richard Whittington again. I first met Richard exactly a year ago at the same conference. PhD students and graduates would tell you how exciting it is when you meet the person whose work (strategy-as-practice) was the basis of the conceptual framework in your doctoral study. Richard spoke about the concept of open strategy. He argues that strategy is getting more ‘open’, in two senses. First, strategy processes are becoming more inclusive with regard to internal and external constituencies, with greater engagement of employees and consultation with partners. Second, strategies are becoming more transparent internally and externally, with more information either being deliberately shared or, sometimes, inadvertently leaked.

I was also excited to meet Professor Norman Sheehan of the University of Saskatchewan, who shares my interest in strategy implementation. We had a nice chat about how most of the available strategy frameworks, including the balanced scorecard, miss the human and psychological elements of the strategy process.

There were some great presentations during the conference, but I particularly enjoyed the  one by @LiorStrativity. Lior spoke about why becoming customer centric should be a top priority for every organization today. His insights were based on over 150 transformation projects in 21 countries. Thanks for the free book, Lior.

Finally, I would like to talk about my own presentation. Unlike most speakers in these professionals conferences, I did not share how we did something at my company. Instead, I wanted to share a complex idea with other strategists. And that, I believe, made my task much harder. The primary challenge I had was remembering all the points that I wanted to cover with each slide. It would have been much easier for me if I had more text on the slides to help me with that. But when it came to designing my presentation slides, I had to choose between two things: Either make slides that are full of text and bullets points that would bore the audience, or design slides based on full images and minimal text to work visual aids that will grab the attention of the audience and remain with them way beyond the 20-minutes presentation. I chose the latter. I put the audience first. It’s obvious that I still need to continue working on my presentation skills. But given this was my second conference presentation, I am sure the next one will be better.

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Presenting at The Chief Strategy Officer Summit – London, April 26, 2013

I am preparing my presentation for the Chief Strategy Officer Summit which will be held in  London, April 25-26, 2013. I will be talking about the struggle with strategy implementation. We have enough evidence that most companies find it extremely challenging to implement their intended strategies. Many barriers to implementation have been reported by researchers, including poor communication, lack of resource, conflicting priorities, ineffective decision making, and many more. These are certainly serious problems, but are they they real problems? Or are these symptoms to more systemic problems? 

In my presentation, I argue that there are less visible barriers to strategy implementation. I think it is critical that we conduct systemic analyses of those barriers through the appreciation of the complex nature of organizations. I think it is this complex nature of the organization that makes strategy implementation an extremely challenging process. I will share some thoughts on how companies could overcome some of those challenges by better understand the complex structure of the organization.

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My graduation ceremony in Miami

I just came back from Miami where I attended the Commencement of Walden University. It was a great trip. I was glad the graduation regalia I ordered from Jostens arrived at my hotel the day before the graduation day, as promised  The event was very well organized. The venue was great. It was very exciting to be hooded on the stage by my doctoral study supervisor. A great moment. The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Tererai Trent, an inspirational speaker who has appeared twice on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Dr. Trent has dedicated her life to fostering educational opportunities for girls and women in Sub-Saharan Africa

This was my first visit to Miami. What a fantastic city. I loved it. Every time I travel to Europe or the US, the first thing I do is take the sightseeing bus tour. I think this is the best way to see all the major attractions in any city. Then one can decide if certain places merit a second, dedicated trip. The sightseeing company in Miami operates on two loops–the City loop and the Beach loop. I took the City loop the second day I arrived and took the Beach loop the day before I left Miami.

Then I left to Montreal to spend a few days with the family. It was freezing cold during the fourth week of January. One day, it reached -40. However, it was nice to see some relatives whom I have not seen for more than three years.



Trying to be a blogger?

It’s January 1, 2013. I am home alone at 16:40.

I created this blog more than a year ago. My objective was to blog about 2 things: 1) my doctoral study and 2) strategy. I started with a couple of blog posts but then stopped. In my first blog I wrote about my doctoral study. The second one was about recruiting participants (middle managers) for my research. Perhaps I was too busy with my doctoral study to come here and write a blog post. Or perhaps I am not a natural blogger. Perhaps I don’t have what it takes to be a blogger. OK I decided to give this another try. I will try it for the next three months. If I don’t blog at least one post per month (on average), I’ll quit blogging.

I am professionally, as well as academically, passionate about strategy. I am particularly interested to learn why most companies struggle with strategy implementation. So I guess I will mostly blog about strategy and strategic issues.