Strategic Inflection

April 22nd

Andrew S. Grove, the former leader of Intel, wrote a book in the mid-nineties in which he sought to help leaders “exploit the crisis points that challenge every company.”  In 1996 when the book (Only the Paranoid Survive) was published, not even the head of Intel might’ve guessed the true scope of the revolution that was underway.

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In the short term, virtually every institution, both public and private, was forced to contend with the impact the creation of a global Communications system that was immediate, global, ubiquitous and virtually free. Harvard held two conferences, one in 1998 and one and 2000, and sought to involve the entire university in thinking about the Internet and Society.  There was wide recognition at the time that the Internet would have a dramatic impact on concerns that range from business to learning to global diplomacy.

The question was asked “Was this a revolution that was more like Gutenberg or Luther? the invention of the printing press or the Reformation?”  This may sound like Harvard. But the point should not be lost that there has been a recognition for some time that a revolution was taking place and that it would have wide implications for the economy, security, knowledge and much much more.  But whether the Internet would be a call to action for a given organization or not, it was the perfect illustration of the challenge for leadership in seeking to deal with pending change.

How was one to know that a downturn was actually a lead up to a strategic inflection point? Grove defined strategic inflection points as the place where a business or public institution recognizes that the fundamentals of the traditional business model were about to change. He described his own practice of looking for “10 next change” among the critical variables.

And he emphasized that change did not have to signal pending disaster.  For those who can become adept at anticipating strategic inflection and operating in a new way, these moments of transformational change can offer opportunities.

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