Harvard Business Review features a provocative, useful article from Nilofer Merchant: “Traditional Strategy is Dead. Welcome to the #SocialEra.”
Is that a correct assessment?
In a word, no.
At the least, it’s wildly incomplete.
We All Have Editors
One can well surmise how Merchant’s title evolved. Perhaps it was an editor seeking to compress her thinking into a single sentence. Perhaps the notion is that it will differentiate her offering in the marketplace.
But there is a danger.
The Connected Age
It’s easy enough for a title to become a short-hand for thinking. Perhaps it becomes a mantra. Perhaps it takes a life of its own as a substitute for thinking.
To assert that “traditional strategy is dead” is to declare something more than that our experiences are unique (which they are). It’s also a declaration–at least an implication–that our experiences separate us entirely from what came before. How could it be otherwise, when a “traditional” approach is “dead”?
The fact is, all aspects of organizational strategy evolve from prior constructs. We are connected.
History as Connection
If we recognize that evolution, and accept our place as part of it, we can attain access to incredibly valuable information and experience.
Will the best practices of 1960 or 1860–or 1999 or 1899–work today? Of course not.
But the ways of thinking amid change that enabled people to effectively navigate in the past can hold great value today.
Such history can result in our serving more effectively today. Ultimately, a deeper sense of history can connect us to the future.
If people rising in the strategy today believe that they have little or nothing to learn from what’s come before–that traditional strategy is dead–less value will be created.
If people experienced in traditional strategy are excluded from creating strategy today, less value will be created.
What’s in a Name?
How should one convey that the needs of our time are distinct, while accessing the value of history and its accompanying future-focus?
There’s no one answer.
Serve to Lead deals with it by referring to 21st Century Leadership, 21st Century Management, 21st Century Communication. The notions are distinct in our time, while built on a relevant foundation, and evolving beyond ourselves. To say something is a 21st Century matter is to make explicit its connection to past and future centuries.
It gives us an accurate sense of our unique situation. It also places us in the broader context.
Practical, Not Solely Theoretical
Think of communications. Just a few years ago the set speech seemed to be on its way to becoming a lost art.
In the world of social media it was an anachronism.
Then, along came TED. A 21st century Athenaeum was born. Ralph Waldo Emerson would doubtless feel at home on the stage or in the audience.
Barack Obama delivered an important, long speech about racial issues in the 2008 campaign. The format indicated respect for the audience. Would anyone in today’s wired world listen to such an extended oration? It turns out… yes. It was the most talked-about political viral video of the season.
Remember how your grandmother taught you to write thank-you notes by hand? So old school, traditional. And yet, likely more powerful in the social media age than in recent memory.
No One Walks Alone
The ultimate truth of the social media age is that value is best created when people are connected. Greater value is created when more people are connected, at ever deeper levels.
It would be ironic if, in our recognition of the immense opportunities of this moment, we failed to recognize the ongoing connection with prior approaches.
Traditional strategy is not dead. It’s evolving, a binding element for creations that can, in turn, connect us to the future.
History is not a dead letter. Properly understood, approached with humility, it’s an open book of innovation and connection.
Traditional Strategy is Not Dead