For those of you who are not familiar with the name Dick Fosbury, you may recognize the maneuver—a la strategy innovation—that made him famous: the Fosbury Flop. Fosbury, an Olympic high jumper, invented the backward-over-the-bar technique in 1965, and at the 1968 Olympics, he brought his radical approach to the world’s attention. Furthermore, his technique remains the prevailing style in the sport to this day.
You may ask: What does high jumping have to do with your business? Everything, as it turns out.
In The Power of Strategy Innovation: A New Way of Linking Creativity and Strategic Planning to Discover Great Business Opportunities, my colleagues and friends Bob Johnston and Doug Bate define strategic frontiers as the “unexplored area of potential growth that lies between today’s business and tomorrow’s opportunities.”
In business, we tend to think of technology as the catalyst for innovation. But, when we talk about strategic frontiers, technology is an enabler to reach a new horizon. We contextualize strategic frontiers as the markets, products, technologies, business models, or business processes that lie beyond your current corporate strategy.
Simply put, you’re not going to reach the horizons that produce significant jumps in revenues and profits by looking at your current business and trying to figure out what’s next. You must first figure out what’s next and then tie it back to your current business. This requires radical thinking and radical action, both of which tend to scare the hell out of many business executives, in my experience.
For Fosbury, achieving record jumps that were impossible using the straddle technique (the gold standard for high jumpers up to that point) meant going back to physics and physiology to understand the root of launching a body over a bar and discovering a new and better way. Moreover, he had to risk looking like a fool for not following the conventional and proven technique, the technique at which he was already successful. By radically changing his approach to achieve his intended results, he discovered a strategic frontier and revolutionized an entire sport.
It’s critical to understand that strategic frontiers are discovered or created; they’re not something you already know. You’ve got to be in an inquiry; I’ll discuss that method in Strategic Transformation: Part II – How to Get There.
Until then, aim high and jump higher.