The Minority Report and the future of strategy


There’s a great scene in the sci-fi classic, The Minority Report. As the Tom Cruise character walks through a futuristic shopping mall, his retina is automatically scanned. Digital billboards welcome him back to the store and offer tailored promotions.

It’s Big Brother on marketing steroids. We’ll never know from the movie, but what happened to the data from Tom Cruise’s retina scan: when he entered the store, what he looked at and for how long, the angle of his view, the emotional response in his eyeball, and so on?

Were humans involved in the data analysis or did algorithms decide on the store’s promotions and product mix after crunching vast oceans of data? Did computers determine the organisation’s strategy, based on data patterns, and rely on humans to implement it?

Minority Report, of course, is fiction. But this level of technology-driven, precision marketing is much closer than many realise. From smartphones in our pocket that provide tailored notifications, to geotagging software that tracks our location, to artificial intelligence, such as Apple’s Siri, that will become more predictive in time.

Companies will have more data than ever. In fact, the ability to capture, analyse and incorporate data into strategy could become the most valuable competitive advantage of them all, in many industries. Companies that use data faster and smarter will win.

High-performing organisations will integrate humans and machines in ways previously unimagined. From the board to the shopfront floor, these companies will have staff whose work is inextricably intertwined with increasingly powerful technology and larger datasets.

Future of corporate strategy

This Brave New World of strategy conception, formulation and implementation might terrify managers who have not grown up with technology. Or be ammunition for those who believe machines will make more jobs redundant, including those of many senior managers.

Is it a stretch to suggest that software algorithms will one day produce the first cut of corporate strategy, based on real-time analysis of company and competitor data? And that humans will fine-tune a strategic plan, conceived by machines, and oversee its implementation?

For the record, I see “humanness” remaining the key factor in strategy formation, as the line between humans and machines blurs in the workplace. Our ability to see things differently, to explore, to empathise and to “unlearn’ will never fully be replicated by machines, no matter how powerful. Our humanness sets us apart.

I predict an enduring role for corporate strategy that has a five-year outlook.  The type of strategy that successful organisations have crafted and followed for years. Technology will strengthen and “speed up’ that strategy, but not replace or reinvent it.

If anything, technology presents a risk for corporate strategy: too much data driving short-term strategic changes and not enough focus on long-term strategy.  Too many kneejerk reactions from data insights and a loss of strategy “intuition” in executive teams.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a great believer in technology and its benefits for strategy. But having advised dozens of companies over the years, I’ve seen too many veer from an agreed path because of short-term noise. Nothing beats considered, disciplined, long-term strategy.

Embracing Stragility

Winning companies in the next five years will excel in a concept I call ‘Stragilty’ – combining Strategy and Agility through technology.

Think of Stragilty like two layers. The first is strategy, or the process of developing and implementing the organisation’s agreed long-term plan. The second is agility: harnessing technology to create fuel for that strategy and speed up its outcomes.

This layer of agility – and the organisation’s capacity to integrate in strategy – will make or break more organisations. Great strategies will fail if competitors more effectively use technology. As will great technology if it does not feed into a clear strategy.

Stragility exemplars will have people and processes that use technology to collect and analyse customer insights, faster than competitors. This information will shape strategy and help the organisation adapt. Long-term strategy will be tested and refined at quicker intervals.

Such organisations will ensure their board composition has sufficient technology skill. Directors who can ask the right questions about technology-driven customer insights and use big data to strengthen board decision-making and improve governance outcomes. Note the skills requirement of the future will not simply be about having project management capabilities or IT management experience. Rather, it will be about better solving customer problems through the lens of new and advanced technologies.

Executive teams will need greater expertise in how data is captured, stored, protected, analysed and fed into corporate strategy, to create shareholder value. I see the rise of the Chief Customer Officer – a senior executive who straddles marketing and technology and is responsible for deriving not just technology-driven market insights from big data but whole new offerings for current and new markets.

Leading organisations will ensure they have staff who can incorporate technology into their job. A true culture of lifelong learning and a capability to develop new skills rapidly, as job functions are transformed, will be vital. The goal: to adapt to the unknown.  

Data architecture will be pivotal. How, where and when is the organisation’s customer data captured? Who analyses it? Where does the output of this analysis go? How does it feed into strategy? How often is this data used to test strategy? How are strategic insights communicated throughout the organisation and to stakeholders, where appropriate?

This data will drive strategy, which in turn will drive technology, creating a virtuous loop that spins the organisation, ideally faster than competitors.

A final thought

It’s ironic that Minority Report used “Precogs” (human psychics) to predict crime, rather than machines only. Perhaps the corporate Precog of the future will have humans using technology to predict and respond to consumer needs, well in advance.

Instead of the PreCrime department in Minority Report, companies might have “PreConsume” divisions whose sole job is to anticipate customer wants and needs in real time!  Either way, corporate strategy as we know it will never be the same.

Chief Precog, anyone? Now there’s a job title.

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