TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Legal Education's Moment of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change

MomentsChris Ertel (Deloitte Consulting) & Lisa Kay Solomon (Innovation Studio), Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change (Simon & Schuster, 2014), reviewed by Adrian Wooldridge (Management Editor, The Economist) in the Wall Street Journal, The Best 'Strategy Meetings' Unleash Fresh Thinking and Offer Maverick Views; The Worst Are Dull, Unstructured Time-Sucks:

Anybody who has anything to do with the corporate world will be only too familiar with "strategy meetings" in which senior managers try to lift their heads above the parapets and gaze over the competitive landscape. The organizers try do everything they can to shake people out of their "default settings." They hold the meetings off-site. They tell everyone to forget about corporate hierarchies and routine agendas. They bring in outside experts to talk about industry trends. They experiment with corporate games.

And the result of all this effort? More often than not a huge waste of time. Few management techniques have produced more toe-curling embarrassment than what the authors of "Moments of Impact" call "strategic conversations." Brain-storming sessions produce airy-fairy nonsense. Attempts to abandon hierarchy generate status hierarchy. The outside experts are nothing more than cliché-mongers. As for the corporate games, the less said the better.

And yet the need for wide-ranging discussions of strategy has never been greater. Many companies confront radical challenges that cannot be dealt with by business as usual....

Mr. Ertel and Ms. Solomon make several points that ought to be obvious but are clearly not, given the number of strategic conversations that go wrong. The first is that you need to define the purpose of your meeting. Are you trying to get a broad overview of industry trends? Or are you trying to make specific decisions? The second is that unstructured meetings are as dangerous as over-structured ones. Companies that are used to having tight agendas often throw agendas out of the window when they hold off-site meetings. But unstructured "brainstorming" sessions seldom produce any light.

"Moments of Impact" is at its best on the importance of promoting different perspectives. Businesses need to look at the world through as many disciplinary lenses as possible if they are to cope with the fast-changing threats that confront them. But day-to-day corporate life is all about fences and silos. Strategic conversations give companies a chance to examine their business models from the outside—and, as the authors put it, to "imagine operating within several different yet plausible environments."

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