Simplicity at the Other Side of Growth Complexity

How the PitStop uses models & metaphors to engage people in the science behind growth.

The Strategy Pitstop™ is a mixture of assessment, science and psychology. It’s power lies in the ability to take the complex subject of accelerating business growth and make it so accessible that managers can achieve new breakthroughs in PitStop workshops in just a few hours.  Here we examine the sophistication not just of the science behind the PitStop, but how it has been made accessible to managers and teams.

At the core of The Strategy PitStop™ is a thoroughly researched and scientifically validated model/framework for accelerating business growth. It is built up from more than 100 growth related variables (organized under 7 headings) from best practice bench-marking data across 47 country markets.

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However, great models need more than science behind them. They should be capable of being explained pretty quickly and should be easy to remember  – a key requirement for widespread use across teams/business units.

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So while our statisticians and analysts gathered the data to make a robust model for accelerating business performance, we put our more creative brains to work on how it might be communicated or represented most effectively.  We wanted great science, communicated both powerfully and simply – that would require the use of models and metaphors.

 

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Models and metaphors are key to making any complex subject or science accessible.  Models are a visual representation of a complex subject, theory or idea.  They are aimed at representing complex information in a way that is easier for people to comprehend and communicate.  That is important to enable a new more powerful dialogue around strategy and growth (1).  a simple visual has power

 

The use of models is increasingly seen as a key aspect of a new form of high impact conversation and collaboration around strategy and performance (2).

 

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But what should the model for accelerating business growth and performance look like and where to look for inspiration?  A lot of models look the same – even the very good ones.  Take for example Porters 5 forces model.   These models don’t require a graphics department, but with their straight lines and square boxes they often struggle to  fire up the imagination.

 

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It is difficult for abstracted models to come to life – to enter the conversation and change the narrative.  They rarely convey any meaning other than that which is given to them – they need to be explained.  We wanted the PitStop model to tell a story and that sent us in search of a metaphor, as well as a model.

 

A metaphor is ‘an object, activity, or idea that is used as a symbol of something else’.  So we wanted something that was symbolic of the challenges of a fast growth business.

 

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There are lots of metaphors for business performance and strategy.  The only problem is that they have lost their power.

Most strategy books, for example, quote a long dead Chinese warrior.  But what is the relevance to modern business challenges?

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Many industries have been transformed in less than a decade, yet for more than two millennia after his death Sun Tsu lives on in today’s business books.  But what can he possibly teach managers about the requirements of accelerating business performance in the age of the internet, global markets and continuous innovation?

 

The word ‘strategy’ may have its origins in the battlefield moves of generals, but while so many books on business strategy quote von Clausewitz, what lessons do the Napoleonic wars (or warfare in general) have for modern business managers?

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Most of today’s though-leaders on business strategy and performance have dispensed with the battlefield metaphor because ‘…business, unlike a war or battle, is not primarily about defeating an enemy’  (3).  Today the focus is more on creating value, rather than warfare.

What about other metaphors for business performance – such as chess for example?   Well, despite its common usage as a metaphor for strategy, chess speaks little to the demands of competing in fast changing markets, but rather the opposite.

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Chess resonates with slower times, when solitary managers could ponder at length over the next move and when thinking logically was all there was to success.  All this has little or no relevance to the dynamic modern business arena.

Business is no longer like chess.

 

 

The Strategy PitStop is the result of a search for a richer deeper metaphor – one that resonates with managers – that speaks to the challenges of fast changing markets, quick moving competitors and ever more demanding customers.

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A good metaphor is visual.  That means it engages with the imagination and integrates ‘left and right brain’ thinking. In addition it is symbolic – when it is shown to somebody without any explanation it conveys particular associations, or meaning.  It has to do this across language & culture – whether in Beijing or Boston.  The Formula One metaphor meets these criterion.

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A metaphor that can evoke feelings or emotions has even more power in terms of its ability to re-frame the subject in question.  The Formula One racing analogy for most people conveys terms such as agility, speed, winning, taking advantage of openings, as well as glamour, money and passion. But are there alternatives?  For example why not a boat or a plane?

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On one level it does not matter what metaphor is used.  As a projective technique many metaphors would have the effect of re-framing the issue of performance.  They might also evoke concepts such as speed, competition and winning.  People could, for example, talk about direction and the speed with a variety of different metaphors.  However F1 is incredibly complex just like strategy and sales alignment.

There were two tests we set in terms of selecting the most powerful visual metaphor for accelerating growth.  The first was the richness of the analogy – the complexity involved in F1 (engines, drivers, aerodynamics, race conditions, controls, fuel and so on) would mean that we could get a lot of mileage out of the metaphor.

The second test of a powerful metaphor would be its ability to enter (and indeed shape) the dialogue.  For example in PitStops people readily engage the Formula One metaphor to formulate and explain their views.  They will ask questions such as ‘are we going fast enough?’ or ‘are we going in the right direction?’, ‘what gear are we in?’  They naturally convey a deeper meaning through expressions such as;

‘…we are in pole position’

‘…we have the right driver, but need to work on the car’

‘…we cannot see the road ahead’

‘…we need to change gear’

‘…there is smoke coming out of the back’

‘…out competitors are about to overtake us’

 

The Sales Strategy PitStop™ as a formula for growth has proven to unlock performance and potential of 9-15 percent. It has passed the richness of analogy and dialogue test (noted above) with teams selling solutions globally. It uniquely leverages the metaphor of F1 with benchmark data, and proven techniques from 7 disciplines. The Sales Strategy PitStop™ is a registered mark and protected by The ASG Group.

 

 Notes & References

1. J C Spender & Bruce A Strong, Strategic Conversations (2014)

2. Chris Ertel, Lisa Kay Solomon, Moments of Impact (2014)

3. ‘Frank Cespedes, Aligning Strategy & Sales‘ (2014))