How a Sci-Fi Writer Can Inspire Your Company’s Strategic Frontier

Blog Post Innovation that Creates New Value

Every company has a strategic frontier, or area for potential new growth. But that doesn’t mean it’s being explored to the fullest potential.

For our book, The Power of Strategy Innovation, my co-author Doug Bate and I interviewed many senior executives about the future. We were surprised that few were thinking about it beyond the near-term. We found the territory between today’s business and the realization of their vision to be empty space. There was nothing there. No language, no practice, no tracking of trends or scouting for new opportunities.

What is a strategic frontier?

We saw this as an important opportunity to fill in that space between today’s business model and the articulated vision. A strategic frontier encourages companies to decide the most attractive areas for new growth beyond today’s way of doing business.

They do this by creating discovery teams, much like Lewis and Clark, who were commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to discover what lay west of the Mississippi.

These teams explore the organization’s most attractive strategic frontiers, which allows companies to continually probe and scout into new areas. As companies experience shifts in their strategic direction, they must have more than one growth opportunity to pursue.  This enables them to be more strategically agile.

The team tracks future forces (trends and possible or probable discontinuities), which have been identified as the most influential for generating new opportunities. They then create a probable scenario, mapping the timing and impact of these forces.

When multiple trends collide, they create new ways to create value. A strategic frontier can help organizations develop a future focus, necessary for sustained, innovative growth.

The biggest challenge organizations face is often how it views those opportunities. Many leaders have working assumptions or closely held beliefs of what tomorrow will look like. Those assumptions are always anchored in past experiences. A strategic frontier will help an organization generate and align on a future perspective based on the future, not the past.

Thought leaders who inspire the future

Since the most innovative companies are seldom those who only talk to themselves, one way to provide a catalyst to change is to engage outside thought leaders to come in and challenge future assumptions, such as:

  • Technology experts
  • Global demographers
  • Futurists
  • Even science fiction writers

As these experts share their area of expertise, new knowledge is created.

Leadership listening

I find it’s always less important what the thought leaders say and more important what the leadership or executives hear. Typically, one-third of an organization’s future assumptions turn out to be confirmed. But the rest need either to be dramatically modified to factor in important trends or new knowledge — or they need to be replaced altogether.

The goal is to strive for alignment across executive leadership of what the future roadmap should be to grow.

A shifting strategic frontier is a normal part of business, but it should never derail a business from future growth.