Sunday, May 1, 2011

At the Brink of Conscience

In rain, all birds find shelter but, an eagle avoids it by flying above the clouds.
- Anonymous

If ever there is a saying that encapsulates the lessons of strategic management, it is nothing but the saying quoted above. Strategic management in itself, is worth not just an academic undertaking but a platform for subduing the challenges in life that has profound and significant impact.

The lesson in strategic management that I liked most is its emphasis on looking beyond the horizon or the so-called foresight. This makes sense not only from the General Manager’s perspective but also in our daily lives because foresight is as important as common sense. Common sense without foresight is complacency and foresight without common sense is lame.

Reflecting through the veritable lens of strategic management, I probed on the insights that I gained from the various tools this discipline has. As we have learned in SME, it is always important to ask the right questions and we can get the most insight by having that kind of practice. In this reflection paper, I used the 6Ws of asking questions as a framework for extracting valuable insights from our strategic management course.

What is really important?

The most valuable thing I learned in strategic management is that if everything is important, then nothing is important. From an MBA student pespective, this learning is very helpful in surviving our studies here at AIM. When I came here, I was overwhelmed by so many readings given to us each day. I thought that if this is the load that I am going to face in the business world, I better quit. But thanks to our strategic management subject, now I learned the trick of overcoming this hurdle. The trick is first, I have to identify the various points in the case. Then from among those points I have to pick those which have the most profound and significant impact. This approach gives me focus in analysing the case and thereafter helps me in coming up with the most practical solution or recommendation to the problem or issue at hand. I believe learning this trick is the true essence of casemanship.

Beyond my studies, this approach will still be very helpful especially when I’m back in the corporate world where I have to solve pressing problems as well as make hard decisions. Having this mindset I can tackle the problems that my future company will face in the most efficient and most practical way possible.

Why should I drill down?

Having identified the important aspects of the case, the task now is to dig deeper on the impetuses of those aspects. This is important because in drilling down we can see different perspectives and we can unearth insights that may not have been apparent before. This is especially useful because we might be addressing an aspect which is not really problematic or stating it the other way, we might not be addressing an aspect which is really problematic. More so, in having a focused probing, we will be able to know how these aspects interact with each other and a business model illustration can be of help towards this end.

Drilling down can also help us in sharpening our understanding of the dynamics of business especially its systemic nature. In dealing with these systems, we have to step back and see the whole picture because in doing so, we will know how the changes in one parameter affect the other parameters.

In drilling down, we are building up on what we currently know. Hence, there is the imperative of coming up with a better question or statement. As I noticed during our case discussions, the first few statements on what the case is all about is not that sharp yet. However, through successive questioning, my classmates would come up with a better and better statement until we hit the best insights that we can extract from the case. This goes to show that drilling down can be used as a means of coming up with better insights until finally the best insights come to light.

Who helped me in sharpening my thought process?

At least in my case, Professor Jacinto C. Gavino and my classmates helped me in sharpening my thought process. Hence, there is no single person who can be of help towards this end.

In the spirit of the case method, our SME class instilled in me a mindset of using the case as a platform for further thinking. This is the most valuable lesson that I learned and the greatest appreciation that I have of the case method. In this mindset, the case is not an end in itself but a means to an end. In here, the end is the insight that the case provides. On the other hand, we should also be wary of what the case is not telling us for it can give rich insights on the case.

This intellectual exercise I believe is most useful not only in the caseroom but also when we have our work after MBA. Sharpening one’s thought process is very critical especially when one is confronted with challenging circumstances in his or her work. Moreover, this can also help us in thinking on our feet which is the primary competency that a manager should have.

When should I challenge the “proven” paradigm?

One of the challenges in management is initiating change. The valuable learning that I got from SME is that if ever I have to initiate a change, I have to assess first the status quo because it is very hard to effect change if there is no adversity within the organization. At this point in time this is the most perplexing thing in my mind.

Effecting change in an organization is a sort of experimentation in which new things are being tried. This experimentation can result in either success or failure. If it is a success, better things or processes come into light. On the other hand, if it failed the most important thing is to learn from it and probe on the aspects that potentially caused that failure.

Challenging a paradigm should be done within the bounds of an organization’s core competencies. Otherwise, the lifeblood of the organization will in itself be destroyed. The good question now to ask is, to what extent can I challenge a paradigm? I think, the extent should be broad enough to cover strategic aspects, but narrow enough to be focused on core competencies. In here, trade-off comes into play. There are so many aspects that can be covered but many of those should be sacrificed so that our focus is not lost. In here, strategic fit should also be looked into because if our products or services does not fit the need or demands in the market then we are not really delivering value.

Where can I apply the insights I learned?

The insights that I got from SME has enormous applications not only when I get back to the corporate world but also in my daily life. Taking an SME course provided me a mindset of working wisely, that is accompishing something in the easiest and most practical way possible. How to do this? As we are frequently being reminded by our professor to step back and see the whole picture. In seeing the whole picture, we can identify the aspects that need our utmost attention and from there we can devise the most efficient means of addressing the problem or issue at hand. We can also apply here the elements of management which are planning, organizing, controlling and directing.

In addition to that, I can use my knowledge in SME when I put up my own business when my own strategy is central to the business success. Even in my dealings with my suppliers and government officials, the strategic mindset serves best for this purpose.

How to go about these learnings?

The learning in SME that I like most is the method of Appreciate, Critique and Recommend. This gives me a framework of thinking through written as well as verbal communication. This is helpful in drilling down on what the case is all about. In the real world in which we will be confronted with various problems and circumstances that need decision and evaluation, this method is most useful. In appreciating, I can extract the most value from a literature, a written communication or a verbal statement. In critiquing, it is my thought process at work in which I analyze details and then synthesize. In making a recommendation, I can add value to a literature, a written communication or a verbal statement. Hence, through this method, I can have a holistic view of case or issue at hand.

In SME, the rule of the game is to anticipate. As what we have learned, the business environment is very dynamic and failure to anticipate change in the external environment is like falling prey to a death trap. Hence, there is an imperative for a long-term horizon.

There are also many frameworks available in the literature which can be applied in analyzing cases. However, there is this caution, “Do not force-fit the situation in a framework which is not suitable for it.” These frameworks have assumptions embedded on it that we have to be aware of. In some circumstances, we are also making various assumptions in our analysis. Sometimes however, the pitfall is in the assumption itself because it is not applicable to the situation at hand. That is why, if everything fails, we have to go back to our assumptions and challenge it with objectivity.

So what now?

The SME course provided me not only with the thinking hat of a General Manager but also the mindset of transcending beyond the limits. As such, I am resolved to make it a habit of thinking strategically. In so doing, I will never be lost because I have a direction in tackling issues whichever context I am in.

In our world today where competition becomes intense each day, the SME framework gave us distinct advantage in tackling our competition. These frameworks will be our tools in winning the game of our business and ultimately the game of our life.
The SME course at least for me is life-changing. Now, I have a better view of why I failed a lot in the past and my diagnosis is that because I thought everything is important. Choosing a “battle” is as important as winning the “war” itself and now I know how to choose a “battle” which will make a lasting impact be it in my future job or in business organizations that I will become part of.

My strategy professor truly made a profound and significant impact in my life. That is why, I want to follow his track. Post-MBA, I want to specialize on strategy firstly by becoming a part-time intructor of strategy at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business. I will also find a job where I can apply the learnings that I got from SME and hone my strategy skills there. I believe, the strategy track is the best way to go for aspiring entrepreneurs like me.

The SME class is by far the best experience I ever had. It left a lasting imprint in my heart on which I can build up the story of my life – a life that can make a profound and significant impact!

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