The Methods Most Managers Aren’t Taught – Our Leading Strategic Growth and Change Curriculum – Part 2

advisory business intelligent failure Aug 17, 2023

To recap and continue: Competitive advantages have life cycles – born in innovation, scaled up with launching, making a profit by operating and eventually transforming to the next advantage. Unfortunately for leaders in today’s fast-paced contexts, we tend to only teach the “operating” part of this story. My Columbia Executive Education course “Leading Strategic Growth and Change” fills in the blanks. Here are some quick session descriptions of our last two days. To learn more, visit this page.  

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The Elements of Choice – Eric Johnson

Over the last few years, the field of behavioral economics and behavior science has exploded. As scientists have studied actual human decision-making, we have learned that there are literally dozens of biases embedded in the heuristics people use to save time and energy in the process of making decisions. In this talk, Eric Johnson presents the concepts from his ground-breaking book The Elements of Choice to show how by taking human cognitive and emotional biases into account, decision architects can create the context in which the best decisions are made for both the decider and the decision architect. He will also alert us to some of the more pernicious ways in which choice architects use their knowledge of human psychology to benefit themselves at the expense of deciders. For instance, web sites that make it easy to subscribe to an offering but incredibly difficult to cancel use ‘dark patterns’ to enrich themselves at the expense of their users.

This session will give participants the ability to break down the elements of choice, including defaults, promising paths, the order and number of choices and others to create better decision architectures.  


Discovery Driven Planning

Discovery driven planning is a methodology that was developed to help organizations plan with discipline under conditions of high uncertainty when the primary challenge is learning. It emphasizes reducing cost and risk by breaking monolithic plans into smaller learning activities organized around checkpoints. The method itself has five interlinked parts:


  1. Define success and create a ‘reverse’ income statement to specify what must be true if the plan is going to be successful – essentially working backwards.
  2. Test the feasibility of the plan against existing market and demand conditions.
  3. Define operationally what would have to be true.
  4. Document key assumptions and update what is being learned.
  5. Plan, but plan through key checkpoints, growing knowledge and understanding as you go.


This technique was called “one of the most important management ideas – ever!” by the late Clayton Christensen.


Guest lecture – various

A visitor is often invited to guest lecture in this course. Past guests have been as varied as Tiffani Bova, the Chief Growth Evangelist at Salesforce, Joyce Roche, former CEO of Girls, Inc., Sylvia Acevedo, the former CEO of the Girl Scouts, Rod Cotton, a senior leader at Roche and current Board member on several public boards, and so on.  


Organizational transformation

Ron Boire, a Columbia EMBA graduate, is a vastly experienced senior executive who has held “C” suite roles at a number of name-brand companies and uses this session to give participants a 360 view of the elements they need to take into account as they contemplate large-scale organizational transformation. With real-life anecdotes and a treasure trove of stories, Boire challenges often unspoken assumptions that can doom a transformation effort. For instance, that a company’s owners will work together for the best long-term interests of the firm.  

In his session, Boire does a deep-dive on the cases of Toys R Us, Best Buy and Sony, sharing lessons learned along the way. He also lays out the leadership challenges of managing in highly uncertain and volatile conditions.


The Power of Positive Politics

Although organizational politics are often regarded as negative, if a change or growth program involves people, it’s inevitable! In this session, McGrath lays out a stakeholder-based way of assessing one’s political prospects, discusses vehicles for influence and what to watch out for and helps participants proactively consider their political strategies in the context of their personal cases.


Strategy and Network contexts

Jerry Kim leads this session. Traditional views of strategy assumed clearly defined roles for different players, either as buyers, suppliers, competitors or entrants. Strategy today, though, takes place in the context of network ecosystems, in which organizations may compete in one set of markets while simultaneously cooperating in others – the rivalry between Apple and Samsung comes to mind. This session offers a way of analyzing complementary relationships and reveals some surprisingly potent ways in which network effects influence buyer behavior – the blue and green bubbles appearing in iMessaging being an example.

In the second half of the session, Kim offers a perspective on platform strategies in which firms benefit by bringing together two sides of a market. Google offering advertisers access to their users by providing free, effective search, is an example. Unlike straightforward product businesses, platforms have less control over the interactions and can find themselves in a bit of a wild west situation! The session concludes with guidance on how to seed a platform, particularly with which side receives a subsidy and which can be monetized.


Digital Inflection Points

The tsunami that is the digital revolution has unleashed major change in competition, competitive positioning and value of digital offers. This much is well understood. What is much less well understood is how to think about the evolution of digital and how to design one’s own digital strategy. Leading AI and digital strategy practitioner, Ryan McManus, demystifies the notion of what “digital” is and offers practical tools to help participants think through their own digital agenda.


Nominated topics

Another signature elements of Leading Strategic Growth and Change is the opportunity for participants to co-create a session, which we call “nominated topics.” They can suggest content for coverage in this session, bringing in new ideas. In the past, we’ve had sessions on organizational reward systems (and how to tune them up), the fallacies of multi-tasking, how to create alignment using a model I call the “kite” and many others.


Adapting these to your own organization’s needs

Any of these topics would make a great centerpiece for a workshop or talk for your own organization. Reach out to us if that sounds as though it would be useful.