Innovating for Results - Case Studies - Part 2


I was recently asked to blog about some of the successful consulting and training projects I have been involved with over the last two decades. There are many, but I will start with four of my favorites representing a range of industries. Below is an overview of Project #2.

Client # 2: Sybase (now SAP)

Client Need:

As a successful company experiencing rapid growth in an industry that typifies the unrelenting need for change, Sybase was faced with the challenge of continuous reinvention and renewal. With competition increasing daily, complacency could be lethal. Instead of resting on the laurels of the past, they wanted their people to develop a mindset of continuous innovation and change.

 Innovation was identified as one of the five core employee development training areas, part of what was called “Sybasics.” To Sybase, innovation meant more than technical know-how. Management realized that future sustainable success would require creating an environment capable of continuously finding new and viable ways to apply their expertise. 

Training Challenge: 

Recognizing the critical role Sybase managers play in their success, they created a managers’ development program entitled “Sybase Film.” This entailed bringing in 150 of their 600 managers together each quarter throughout the year for three days of training. The first year of Film was focused on Innovation, Leadership and Management, with a day allocated to each topic.

Training Solution:

Sybase chose the one-day version of IFR to lay the foundation for creating an environment of continuous innovation. IFR was adapted to meet Sybase’s specific training needs re innovation, as well as customized to integrate with the other two days. 

The Results:

Reaction to the training was overwhelmingly positive.

With nearly 400 managers trained in IFR, the Sybase Film sequence was successfully launched. 

As a result, Sybase expanded a training curriculum and made it available to all employees under the name of “Sybase Café.”

Sybase’s national marketing manager was so impressed with IFR that he is training all his sales people as well.

Client Comment:

“Innovation is the lifeblood of our business, and IFR keeps it flowing. We’re delighted with the way the program enhances our creativity and ability to compete.”

* IFR is the newly released and expanded version of “Break-It! Thinking.”


* IFR is the newly released and expanded version of “Break-It! Thinking.”

Innovating for Results - Case Studies - Part 1


I was recently asked to blog about some of the successful consulting and training projects I have been involved with over the last two decades. There are many, but I will start with four of my favorites representing a range of industries. Below is an overview of Project #1. 

Client # 1: Bank of America

Client Needs

Client Need:

Faced with increasing customer expectations, advances in technology, and mergers within their industry, the President of their retail division set out to define what it means to be a bank in the 21st century. He wanted customers walking into B of A branch offices to feel like they had stepped into a Nordstrom’s department store rather than a typical large bank. Everyone at B of A would need to become customer service and sales focused, in that order.

B of A wanted its branch managers to think and operate with a true entrepreneurial mindset. The goal was to get everyone in the bank, from managers to tellers, acting like independent business owners instead of bureaucrats in a financial institution. To help branch managers understand this transformation, B of A adopted a “franchise management” training initiative. “The branches are to think of themselves as ‘franchise stores’ with certain corporate parameters, policy and budgetary constraints, but also with an imperative to make risk-taking, innovative decisions within the latitude granted them.” 

Training Challenge:

This fundamental transformation in thinking and behaving would take more than simply training managers in the “tactics” of franchise management if it were to be successful. After all, these were financial analysts, and MBA’s, not sales and customer service people. Most branch managers had worked for years and had an established mental model. Resistance to a new paradigm would be high. B of A would need help to achieve this paradigm shift with their managers.  

Training Solution: 

B of A selected Innovating for Results  (IFR) for a three-day franchise management training program designed to help managers understand why radical change was needed and to gain the necessary thinking skills to embrace it.  

The first step was to bring regional and district managers together and introduce them to this new vision for the branches. Anticipating the natural resistance to change, IFR was introduced at this level before going to the local branches. Next, a pilot program was done for 180 branch managers in Arizona. Given the late October (I.e. Halloween) timeframe, and after discussions with senior executives planning the event, manager-attendees were asked to come to the pilot dressed outrageously. Imagine a room full of managers dressed in scuba diving gear, pajamas, hunting garb, and more! IFR immediately set a tone that change was fun and positive. 

Managers meeting

After the pilot, customized adjustments were made to IFR to maximize the impact for B of A managers and employees and to fully integrate IFR with broader Franchise Management Training. In addition, in-house B of A trainers learned to facilitate IFR training.

With the customized IFR and in-house trainers in place, 3,000 branch managers were trained in less than three months. 

The Results:

The conventional banker mindset was rapidly replaced with an entrepreneurial one, facilitated by IFR training. 

New ideas are given more life and are not “firehosed”, allowing for greater innovation and efficiency. 

Long-standing barriers created by archaic policies and procedures were reviewed and in many cases removed or modified to better serve the customer.

Operations managers faced similar issues were trained in sales management, and elements of IFR were added to their two-day sales management course.

Customer Service Managers requested that a one-day IFR training be developed to focus on helping employees to be more innovative at problem solving.

Client Comment:

IFR has been a tremendous catalyst in helping our people find a new way to think about our future. It has given us the foundation we need to transform our organization from it’s conventional, conservative past to a more innovative entrepreneurial future.”

* IFR is the newly released and expanded version of “Break-It! Thinking.”


Louis Patler on “Making Your Own Waves”: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

Excerpts from the interview, part 2

Morris: For those who have not as yet read Make Your Own Waves, hopefully your responses to these questions will stimulate their interest and, better yet, encourage them to purchase a copy and read the book ASAP.

First, when and why did you decided to write it?

Patler: I wrote a few pages about “The Surfers Rules” in my first book (If it ain’t broke…BREAK IT!) over 20 years ago. I’ve always been interested in what business people can learn from elite athletes, and also interested in how metaphors can be treated as facts. So, if the media talks about “waves of change” or “blue ocean strategies”, my brain goes to look for subject matter experts on waves and oceans. In this case I started interviewing physicists and…surfers! I found some conventional wisdom from the physicists, but the really interesting unconventional ideas came from the surfers! Who knew? Further, the elite surfers to me were the 2-300 or so men and women who ride the Big Waves, 30-60 feet or higher.

So initially I had a chapter in a book proposal on innovation when Stephen S. Power, the senior editor at AMACOM books contacted my literary agent, John Willig, to inquire if maybe there was a full book I could write that took lessons to be learned from Big Wave surfers who risk life and limb and apply those lessons to entrepreneurs. I developed a new proposal. Stephen sent a contract the next day, and the rest is history.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Patler: Yes, there actually were several head snappers. The deeper the dive I took into the small world of Big Wave surfers, the more profound I found them to be. They understood planning. Patience. Preparation. Training. They told me about how time slows down when they are in a crisis situation, beaten up under water by two or three wave hold-downs. They reminded me of things I learned as a kid learning to surf about “always looking ‘outside’”. In surfing “outside” or “out-the-back” refers to watching the sets of waves that are coming, and how important wave selection and your location in the “line up” in order to be in position to take the right wave is. I learned about the commitment it takes to turn your board and GO! I learned the importance of “paddling back out” after a wipeout, and to never surf alone. They also reminded me to “dare big!” and to “stay stoked”. When the passion wanes it’s time to move on.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Patler: That’s easy to answer. I originally had Seven Surfer’s Rules. Three of those were re-named and modified, and three new ones were added after my research and interviews with the Big Wave surfers.

Morris: If you were explaining the meaning and significance of the book’s title to a six year-old, what would you say?

Patler: To a six (or sixty) year old I’d say: “Make Your Own Waves” is a storybook. The stories are cool…and seem simple, but they will stay with you your whole life… and they will amaze you and make you feel like you can do anything and be anybody you want to…but you have to be willing to work hard!”

Morris: By what process have the “Big Wave surfers’ rules” been determined?

Patler: I did extensive research on the history of Big Wave surfing, and key innovators among them, looking at a thousand or more articles and hundreds of videos that I transcribed. I did personal interviews of course too. Having been trained in content analysis, I was able to bundle comments under several categories and these categories eventuated in each of the Surfer’s Rules.

Morris: What is “the endless summer syndrome”?

Patler: A classic surf movie of the 1960’s was called The Endless Summer). In it two surfers are filmed as they travel around the world in search of the perfect wave throughout the whole year. For many Big Wave surfers the endless summer syndrome, as I called it, is the incessant search for waves the size of office buildings, around the planet, all year long.

Morris: In your opinion, which of them are most relevant to the efforts of innovators and entrepreneurs? How so?

Patler: I think all 10 are crucial to the innovation process, but if I had to single out a few today I’d say “Learn to Swim”, “Always Look ‘Outside’,” “Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean,” and “Stay Stoked.”

Morris: Which Big Wave innovator do you most admire? Why?

Patler: Probably Laird Hamilton. He never wanted to be on the competitive world Big Wave competitive tour but constantly is out on the leading edge. He was the first to do tow-in surfing, the first to develop hydrofoil surfboards that rise up out of the water, and has helped develop all kinds of safety equipment and training.

Morris: Which Big Wave entrepreneur do you most admire? Why?

Patler: There are not many Big Wave surfers who are entrepreneurs per se. There are though a few surfers who have created billion dollar products. My favorite is Nick Woodman, creator of GoPro cameras. Other examples include the founders of Quiksilver, RVCA, Reef and other lifestyle brands.

Morris: How important is luck to the success of surfers, innovators, and entrepreneurs? Please explain.

Patler: In Big Wave surfing as in business I do not believe in luck. In my second book, Don’t Compete…TILT the Field! (Capstone/Wiley: 2000) I make a distinction between “good luck” and “good lucky.” “Good luck” is pure, random and passive chance. “Good lucky” is what I refer to as “pro-active” risk-taking, where you are putting yourself in a position that enhances the likelihood of good things happening. I do believe in “good lucky.”

Morris: You have especially clever as well as appropriate chapter titles. Please explain the relevance to business of each of these. First, “Always Look ‘Outside’”

Patler: The book’s chapters follow a chronological sequence from “Learn to Swim” (Chapter 1) to Stay Stoked! (Chapter 10). “Always Look ‘Outside’” is actually Chapter 4 and, and as I said before, the title refers to paying attention to the sets of waves coming at you. There is no need to take the first wave, “the low hanging fruit,” when a better wave may be just showing itself on the horizon. To the entrepreneur and innovator, this takes discipline and patience but has a much greater yield.

Morris: Next, “Paddle Back Out”

Patler: In waves big and small, you WILL “wipeout” and fall. So too, in business. The art of being an entrepreneur in parts rests on your ability to learn from the falls, iterate, and paddle back out in search of the next wave.

Morris: Then, “Never Surf Alone”

Patler: Surfing may seem a solitary sport. One person, one board, one wave. But in Big Wave surfing you need a team … for spotting places to surf, for your personal safety, for your equipment, and of course, for fun and companionship!

Morris: Finally, “Stay Stoked!”

Patler: In surfing as in business, especially for the entrepreneur and innovator, passion carries the day. It sustains you in tough times and pumps you up when things are going well. If you lose the “stoke” it’s time to move on.

Morris: Of all the skills that Big Wave surfers, innovators, and entrepreneurs must develop to a very high level, is there any one of them that you consider to be most important? Please explain.

Patler: I‘m not sure you’d call these “skills”, but patience and hard work come to mind as crucial to success. I mean, think about the Big Wave surfer. They train, plan, research all year long to have maybe 5 days in prime conditions. Think of the patience that takes. And these are elite athletes, so they stay in tiptop condition year-round just to be ready for those few days. Many entrepreneurs have too little patience. They want it all now without the hard work that makes success more likely.

Morris: A friend of mine has a firm that helps hospitals to establish or strengthen their ER. As I worked my way through your brilliant book, it occurred to me that Big Wave surfers and ER staff members also share much in common. Do you agree?

Patler: Thanks for the word “brilliant.” Much appreciated. And yes there are many similarities between ER staff and Big Wave surfers. Both need to be well trained. Both are resilient and ready to respond to dramatic and rapid changes. And both literally deal with life or death situations daily.

Morris: In your opinion, which of the material you provide in Make Your Own Waves will be most valuable to those now preparing for a business career or who have only recently embarked on one? Please explain.

Patler: The 10 chapters are designed to take the reader through the steps needed to create a good business plan. At the end of each chapter there is a section called “Things to Do.” Typically there are 3 or 4 questions, the answers to which form a rudimentary business plan. For those recently embarking into the entrepreneurial or business life, the first four chapters (“Learn to Swim”, “Get Wet,” “Decide to Ride,” and “Always Look ‘Outside’”) are very helpful.

Morris: To first-time supervisors? Please explain.

Patler: For them, I suggest “Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean,” Chapter 6. Substitute employee or customer for the word “Ocean” and you get the idea. Don’t take people for granted or get complacent. With very rare exception, “Good enough” isn’t.

Morris: To C-level executives? Please explain.

Patler: C-level executives have to be more strategic and take the longer view, so the last three chapters (“Dare Big,” “Never Surf Alone,” and “Stay Stoked!,”) are vital.

Morris: To owner/CEOs of small-to-midsize companies? Please explain.

Patler: To owner/CEOs of small-to-midsize companies, to the startups of the world, honestly I think all 10 Surfer’s Rules will serve you well.

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Patler: “Where can I get my hands on this brilliant book?”

I suggest you click here.

Louis Patler on “Making Your Own Waves”: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris


Excerpt from the interview

Morris: Before discussing Making Your Own Waves, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Patler: Probably it was my mother. She was very wise and the queen of one-liners. “Learn how to back into a clearing,” she would tell me.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Patler: Believe it or not, the greatest influence professionally may have been the 15 years or so I taught poetry and poetics at university. I also have a PhD in sociological theory, which gave me a sense of rigor and discipline and the value of data. That helped too.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Patler: I suppose the turning point for me was getting hired right out of grad school to teach on the Semester at Sea program, which allowed me to sail around the world for nearly four years. The international perspective I gained from visiting about 40 countries was invaluable. Then, there came the decision to leave university and academic life. I was tiring of university politics and also have five children so I needed to earn more income than that of a college prof.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Patler: As I said, there were many things my formal education brought to the table for me. I like to have my head in the clouds while my feet are also on the ground. Theory and data. Strategy and numbers. They coexist for me.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Patler: Tolstoy said, “all happy families resemble one another.” I have found this to be true of organizations and their leaders. Having worked mainly with CEOs and corporate Presidents for the past 15 or more years, I find that the best of them share similar traits and are just people like the rest of us. I am not intimidated nor do I pedestalize them any more.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Patler: This may sound odd, but Field of Dreams held many business lessons for me. The power of a vision and a wild goal. The importance of relationships. The power of continutity from generation to generation. The importance of having family, friends and support around you. All of these things apply in business too.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Patler: I believe that a leader’s role is to make it possible for everyone else to do with ease whatever it is that they have to do. Make resources available. Minimize obstacles. Articulate core values. In doing so, “the people” will indeed have “done it themselves.”

Morris: From Michael Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Patler: I think Porter got that half right. What NOT to do and what TO do, and in what SEQUENCE have equal value to me. But strategy is ephemeral. Amorphous. Even porous. These days strategy has to be agile and flexible because we are in a world now ruled by exponential change.

Morris: Peter Drucker once said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Patler: And yet today’s cliché can generate the next dangerous idea. I gained that insight while reading The Structure of Scientific Revolution by Thomas Kuhn many years ago. Paradigms shift when an entirely new orthodoxy replaces the prior one… e.g. from Copernicus to Galileo, Galileo to Newton, Newton to Einstein. ‘Twas ever thus, as my mom would say.

Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”

Patler: “Odd” is God. The anomalies have always sucked me in. Called to me.

Morris: From Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Patler: And innovation without execution is folly. Today, results matter. There are lots of ways to generate all kinds of ideas for products and services but unless you figure out how to move from idea to delivery, they have little business consequence. That’s one of the reasons I created a training program and workshops under the title Innovating for Results.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Patler: Most large organizations fall prey to becoming masters of efficient uselessness. This takes many forms…archaic policies and procedures, fear of taking risks, rewarding complacency. My first book, the NY Times bestseller If it ain’t broke…BREAK IT! addressed this head on.

Morris: Of all the greatest leaders throughout history, with which one would you most like to be closely associated for an extended weekend of one-on-one conversation? Why?

Patler: There are so many. Plato would be solid. Lincoln has always interested me. I suspect that the man from Omaha, Warren Buffet, would be a good companion for a weekend. Steve Jobs too, although I don’t think he could sit still that long! But, as of today, as I write this, it is Bishop Desmond Tutu’s birthday, so my friend “Arch” is on my mind. I have known him for many years and he is truly very special. His wisdom. His humor. His patience in the face of adversity are all extraordinary. His “Truth and Reconciliation Committee” process in South Africa helped stave off a blood bath after the end of apartheid, and led to a smoother transition to the presidency of Nelson Mandela. Arch has spent time with most of the world’s spiritual and political leaders and I am sure I could learn much from him.

Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Patler: Most change initiatives that fail are those that come top down. For example, I cannot tell you how many times CEOs have sought to create “a culture of innovation” by making that a priority for a given period of time. But in my experience and research, there is a valuable distinction I make between “a culture of innovation” and “a company of innovators.” If you focus on the latter you eventuate with the former. Change and innovation have to be seen as everybody’s everyday job. And what, at the end of the day, is “innovation” if not a form of problem solving or the provision of a new opportunity?

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive?

Patler: I don’t subscribe to the idea that a “workplace” culture is any different than any environment…e.g. a living room or locker room or school room…in the sense that all these places encourage and foster growth and help people to thrive. Any environment that treats people with respect, that values each of our uniquenesses, that gives us needed tools and resources will create a “culture” conducive to our development.

Morris: Recent research indicates that, on average, less than 30% of employees in a U.S. company are actively and productively engaged. The others are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, undermining the success of their organization? How do you explain this situation? What’s the problem?

Patler: The problem is related to the circumstances. In highly regulated industries like insurance and government, repetitive tasks lead to boredom and lack of zeal. In many blue collar/assembly line jobs, “productivity” is quantitative and people work by rote and routine. So, in each “circumstance” the challenge is to offer “meaning” to the employee. For example, in aerospace and defense, even the most menial jobs can be enhanced by the opportunity to see your work as helping “protect those who protect us.” This has motivational power.

Growing Baseball in Kathmandu by Louis Patler

The kids I coached came in 2nd in the first ever Nepal baseball Tournament!

The kids I coached came in 2nd in the first ever Nepal baseball Tournament!

What an exciting time to be have gone to Kathmandu Nepal. I am just back from where I played 5 games and did two baseball clinics for kids. The games were with the Nepal Army team and the Army Special Police (ASP: they guard the embassies) team. The ASP team had no jerseys so I gave them the last set I had brought with me from Mill Valley Little League. 

Baseball was introduced to Nepal only one year ago, and Baseball International ( ), who I’d gone to Cuba with a few times and I was invited to play and teach baseball once more. The adult players were all terrific athletes so they learned quickly. The main challenge was their skills were based in cricket, so we had to explain and demonstrate the differences between the two sports. 

One of the days we were scheduled to do a clinic for a few kids too. But when we showed up there were over 50, 8-14 year olds there. So we came back again the next day and did another clinic. They had about a dozen gloves that they all share, one set of catcher’s gear, and one set of flat rubber bases. Our team, seeing this, donated dozens of gloves and baseball bats, it was wonderful seeing their excitement at such a simple gift. Note that these kids play for the “Gurkha’s” and later in the week they came in 2nd place in the first ever Nepal baseball tournament. 

There is not a single full-sized baseball field in all of Nepal. Games are played on soccer or cricket fields where they put down chalk lines by hand. There is one Little League diamond in the whole country, but it is inside the US Embassy and rarely available. Even with these obstacles the kids and adults clearly love the game and were like sponges in learning the wonderful game of baseball.

We held clinics for over , 8-14 year olds who want to learn baseball

We held clinics for over , 8-14 year olds who want to learn baseball

Nepal’s Army Police Force team wearing Mill Valley Senior Minors uniforms

Nepal’s Army Police Force team wearing Mill Valley Senior Minors uniforms

Switching Strategies - Part 4 of 4


 There is strategy and then there is good strategy, and understanding the difference between the two rests on the ability to answer seven fundamental questions:

1. What business are you in? Many companies are in more than one business and/or offer a variety of products and/or services without knowing it. Others have a single focus or a few well-conceived products or services. It’s important to understand the business you are in, the competition, and the most innovative practices in your industry. Sam Walton started Wal-Mart to bring popular brands to smaller communities at low prices.

2. What other businesses are you in? Many companies don’t see their business through a wide enough lens. They fail to capitalize on other business opportunities that can accrue from little more than a change in thinking. For example, trucking companies are in the transportation business; banks are in the transaction management business; soccer teams are also in the entertainment business. If Ford and GM make more profit from their automobile financing products than their cars, are they not a financial services company also?

3. What are your core competencies? Knowing the core competency of your company will give you an incredible competitive advantage. Competencies are not mere strengths. Every company has its strengths, but only a very few strengths are true competencies that are going to give you an edge over the competition, market differentiators that separate you from others. But core competencies are often very subtle: one billion-dollar computer connector manufacturing company took much of its skyrocketing growth from an unnoticed core competency—the ability to acquire companies and hold onto their key employees and customers.

4. What are your core values? Isolating and identifying core values is crucial. If your core value is shorter profitability, you need to organize your company accordingly. If you value long-term relationships with customers, this requires a different strategy, compensation package, and organizational chart. What you value should inform your strategy through and through. Southwest Airlines has a people oriented culture, so they hire for hospitality skills and humor.

5. Which competitor will be your next partner? Necessity is the mother of odd couplings. It may be to your advantage to form a strategic partnership with a competitor on a specific product, R&D, or other aspects of your business in order to remain a player in your field. The world has changed, and a past competitor can be a future ally. Good strategy is open to new realignments, even with a current competitor. Further, when you research a competitor-as-potentialpartner, you will see the company’s strengths and weaknesses in a new and strategically important light. When Sun Microsystems looked at some competitors’ strategies, it moved to outsource all facilities management functions, realizing that the company wasn’t well suited to be in the real estate business.

6. Are your short-term goals and long-term strategies aligned? Public companies tend to think from quarter to quarter in order to please financial analysts and shareholders. The pressures of the next quarter too often conflict with the opportunities of the next few years. Companies need to align short-term results with long-term profitability, short-term profits with long-term customer satisfaction. When Barclaycard realized that it had a long-term strategy of individualizing transactions with customers, it altered its credit-card product array significantly.

7. Do your answers to questions 1–6

complement (or negate) one another? Too often a company will provide a viable answer to one or two of these questions. The real advantage, however, will go to the company that continuously examines itself in the context of several of these questions. For example, are core competencies, goals, and values working together to meet both long- and short-term goals?


Strategy is becoming increasingly important to business success. Good strategy is the result of: knowing the assumptions of your business model; sound investigation; open, curious, and broad thinking; and asking the right questions—often. Though strategy is often changed precipitously, in today’s world it is far better to be useful than to be correct. Old ways die hard, so strategy under constant scrutiny is best understood as an agent of change.

Switching Strategies - Part 3 0f 4


The seven questions listed below help place parameters around good strategy (good strategy is strategy that is implementable and drives success, growth, and customer loyalty). But remember that these are not seven easy questions, nor are their answers cast in stone. I advise managers to ask these questions—all of them—at least twice a year. Even if the answers haven’t changed significantly, at a minimum you’ll be thinking on the right level with some regularity. Then, once you have the perspective that this combination of answers offers you, you’re ready to act and make hard decisions, because you’ll know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and your decisions will be based on sound strategic thinking. Remember, too: strategy is not tactics, it’s directionality.

Conversely, by regularly revisiting these seven questions you’ll have additional, crucial information to detect the early warning signs of good strategy that has taken a turn for the worse. If, for example, two or more of your strategic givens and/or answers to these seven questions change significantly, it’s often an early indicator that fundamental shifts in strategy are appropriate.

‘‘Strategy making is an immensely complex process involving the most sophisticated, subtle, and at times subconscious of human cognitive and social processes.’’ (Henry Mintzberg)

Coming up in my next blog: The 7 Questions you must ask yourself regularly and often! 

Switching Strategies - Part 2 of 4


It’s helpful to overtly identify and understand the broad assumptions that underlie your strategy, to know what the basic cornerstones of your paradigm are. Here are five useful indicative assumptions for the modern business world:

1. Today the rate of change is exponential, not incremental. This is a crucial starting point. Things are changing at a fast-forward, willy-nilly pace. This makes it very difficult to use conventional modes of thought, measurement, or planning. Often things don’t build up or add up, they just explode to a new level.

2. Things will never ‘‘get back to normal’’—this is normal! The so-called glory days of the bygone past have gone. And they won’t be back. So, the new Thoughtware says, ‘‘Get over it! Get used to it! THIS is normal from now on!’’

3. Plan as we may, the future has plans of its own. Because exponential change is here to stay, we have to look down the road with 20/20 vision, focusing on the next 20 minutes and the next 20 years simultaneously. The bad news is that the number of senior executives and key managers who possess 20/20 vision is minimal. The good news is that this is a learnable cognitive skill that a few training programs can teach you.

4. Organizations that learn how to learn, ask the right questions at the right time, and find out how to find the answers will thrive in a global economy. Astute organizational strategists know that an organization’s verbs will supplant its nouns, that is, diverse methods and responsive processes will be more powerful than tried-and-true facts and off-the-shelf systems. And asking the right questions at the right time will determine the most sustainable and viable answers.

5. The productive organizations that will excel will be ones that value flexibility, diversity, integrity, cooperation, and innovation. It’s no longer sufficient to add value to products; we have to add values into both the process and the product. Customers, creditors, consumers, and our conscience now require it.

Coming up in my next Blog: When to Change Good Strategy? To Dismount or to Ride on?

Switching Strategies - Part 1 of 4

• Today good strategy is more important than ever to sustain success in the marketplace.
• The strategic givens and fundamental questions—and their answers—shape good
• The givens and answers, revisited regularly, also provide early signs whether to stay with
or to change strategy.

A five-year-old software company sells for more money than Ford paid to acquire Volvo. Slow-to-change American Express announces the creation of a new senior level vice president of customer listening. In a matter of a few weeks a loan information company moves from no-com to dot-com to hot-com to no-com. What do all three of these cases have in common? They all have lessons to teach us about the nature of strategy-—the pathways or direction to productivity and profitability. As such, strategy is more macro than micro, more compass than map. We live in a business world taken over by ironies and oxymoron, a world of walking contradictions in which the line between conventional and unconventional wisdom is drawn with disposable pens filled with invisible ink. The rules that once seemed so useful, even profound, now ebb and flow like a hyperactive harvest moon. With the advent of ecommerce,
Internet access, and mobile phones, today’s economy evolves and changes before our eyes, and we dare not blink for fear we will miss something.

In the face of such exponential change we have witnessed a commensurate rise in the importance of strategy for the growth and profitability of any enterprise. Sony, for example,
took an exponential leap, strategically speaking, when it realized that it was in the miniaturization business as well as the electronics and entertainment business. In fact, the traditional planning process has often been bolstered with a strong commitment to well-conceived strategic planning and research. This said, the rise of the importance of strategy did not come easily, since conventional wisdom is replete with axioms that lobby for the status quo. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Never change horses in midstream. The inherent problem with these supposedly tried-and-true concepts is that

• Today good strategy is more important than ever to sustain success in the marketplace.
• The strategic givens and fundamental questions—and their answers—shape good
• The givens and answers, revisited regularly, also provide early signs whether to stay with
or to change strategy. they have indeed been tried, but they are often no longer true. Would you want to fly with an airline with the motto, ‘‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?’’ Would you want to be on an aging horse in a rising stream of rapids and white water?
The real challenge today is to develop strategies that are both viable and flexible, implementable yet nimble. The growing tendency of companies to change their strategic plan, core products, and organizational culture with alacrity typically leaves shareholders bewildered, customers underwhelmed, and employees confused. Further, the challenge of developing good strategy is exacerbated by the growing tendency of companies worldwide to
change direction far too often, thereby confusing flexibility with sloppy thinking and
the relative absence of due diligence.
Against this backdrop let’s look then at three practical topics affecting strategy formation and change in more detail. First, what are the assumptions that underlie modern strategic thinking? Second, how do you know when it’s time to change strategy? And third, what is ‘‘good’’ strategy?

Make Your Own Waves-The Book's History

About 25 years ago I started doing research and writing about innovators and entrepreneurs who had repeatedly been successful. I was interested in how they sustain innovation over time, not just as a one-hit wonder. In the course of this project I stumbled upon an unexpected, common characteristic they shared: they took analogies and metaphors literally. This enabled them to form some odd couplings and creative inventions, ranging from making an industrial solvent into “Kitty Litter” to a “talking typewriter” that eventually became a smart phone.

In the world of business a common analogy at that time was matching “cycles”, “sets” and “waves” to economic activity. One day I had an epiphany: why not take that analogy literally and seek out those who are the subject matter experts on waves? I chose two: physicists and surfers! I started talking to both and found conventional wisdom on waves from the physicists, and unconventional wisdom on waves from the surfers. Taken together I gained new insights into the world of work.

In 1991, in my New York Times bestseller, If it ain’t broke…BREAK IT!, amidst dozens of other topics, I wrote a few pages about seven “Surfer’s Rules”, and moved on. I received occasional comments about The Surfer’s Rules and in 1998 I was asked to do a short video feature to explain them further as part of a four-video package of training materials on innovation. To my surprise, the royalties on The Surfer’s Rules video was quadruple the combined total of the other three. I could see there was a broad audience for them, but I still did not see the depth of wisdom in the Rules and their direct application to being an entrepreneur.

Between 1998 and early 2014 I wrote three other books, all concerning aspects of innovation, change, leadership and strategy. In none did I mention The Surfer’s Rules, as I still was evolving in my own understanding of them. In late 2104, I expanded a section of my latest innovation-training program, Innovating for Results, to include a long segment on The Surfer’s Rules as a strategic planning tool.

In 2015, I contacted my literary agent, John Willig, with an idea about an ambitious, data-driven book that summarized my 25 years of research on innovation. I developed a book proposal in which one of the chapters revolved around the Rules. The proposal was sent around to a half dozen publishers and generated some interest immediately. But one editor, Stephen Power at the American Management Association (AMACOM books) contacted John immediately.

Stephen had an idea: Might there actually be a book that could come from The Surfer’s Rules per se? Stephen was interested in targeting young entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovators and saw something unique and special in the juxtaposition of surfing and business. He contacted John, John asked me what I thought about the idea and after I had a talk with Stephen I decided to give it some thought.

By this point I knew that my real interest in the surfing community had shifted to the small, elite group of athletes who rode Big Waves. Having talked to many of them over several years, I knew that the Big Wave surfers were a breed apart: prepared, focused, patient, creative and courageous. As such, their traits mirrored my research findings of successful, serial entrepreneurs and innovators.

So I wrote a new proposal for a totally different book and audience. John looked at the new proposal and liked it. Stephen looked at it and liked it too, not only offering a contract almost immediately but even proposing a title: “Make Your Own Wave.” I knew immediately that he “got it,” he understood the power of this analogy that linked Big Wave riders and entrepreneurs. He also understood the depth of insight these elite athletes could offer readers. I signed the contract, added an “s” to the title to reflect the ability to repeatedly succeed, and Make Your Own Waves was born.

In writing the book, the starring role played by Big Wave surfers led me to immerse myself in that world. The deep dive helped me to evolve and modify the original seven Rules into the ten Surfer’s Rules that form the book. The more I researched the better the analogy fit and I then realized that there was a natural chronology or cycle to the Rules. The first four chapters (Learn to Swim; Get Wet; Decide to Ride, Always Look “Outside”) address the hard work to be done before even trying to ride a wave. The middle three chapters focus on the rides, wipeouts and determination to get up after set backs (Commit. Charge. Shred.; Paddle Back Out; Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean). And the last three chapters examine how important it is to not rest on your laurels, to collaborate and to stay passionate about what you do (Dare BIG!; Never Surf Alone; Stay Stoked!).

Today’s business opportunities—and challenges – are enormous. They roll in at high speed, in sets and intervals that mirror the ocean’s cycles. The size of the opportunity is dictated by trends, technology, market savvy and hard work. With the unconventional wisdom of Big Wave surfers in their toolbox, innovators and entrepreneurs will be better prepared to make their own waves. Where there’s a will, there’s a WAVE.