The New Enterprise Strategy Problem – Too Many Options

In the good old days, when most of today’s most senior executives got their business education, only three ways to acquire sustainable competitive advantage were on offer. At least that was the theory of Michael Porter – they were cost leadership, differentiation and focus.
I guess today you’d have to add: creating a platform that has a committed community, being the modern utility (in other words providing a platform on which other people do business), capturing the high ground in an ecosystem (like ARM, by owning and developing the major design skills in mobile chips), or providing a very high level of integration to the end customer (as Alibaba is doing by covering off merchant sales, financing customers (on the way to its second multi billion dollar business), providing ticket sales, taxi rides (on the way to its third multi-billion dollar business) and being a bank, among other things.
None of these rely on cost advantages. Alibaba’s rapid development is all about ignoring cost (within reason) and delivering new services (profitably). Uber does not obsess on the cost of its payments model. Nor is there a key element of differentiation involved. The core advantages in these companies is speed of execution, the level of security, customer-centricity that is usually data-dependent, the capability to deliver as near to perfect service as possible and an ever expanding offer.
As the old dictates of the industrial age die,  strategists need to do a radical and rapid about turn. Historically, we have thought in terms of severe limits on corporate activity and on scope. The main focus has been on economies of scale. Economies of scale have not exactly gone out of fashion but economies of scope are the new mantra – a trend I analysed in Shift – put succinctly it says: do more, a whole lot more, for customers.
For that reason we also have to question the value of traditional management tools like scenarios and scenario thinking and what these deliver to decision makers.
The disruptive activity around us creates uncertainty and uncertainty = unmeasurable risk. Scenarios suggest the unmeasurable is very knowable, that, actually, risk comes down to two or three knowable threats,  and that we can therefore control the future.
That there is no way to control the future is obvious – who for example would have though that software-driven test manipulation at Volkswagen would, possibly, put electric vehicles on the road to being mainstream? Who could have anticipated file-sharing as a disrupter of the music industry? There is no way to draw up these scenarios ahead of time with any degree of comfort around their likelihood. And of course originally scenario thinking wasn’t intended to – it was designed to explore the unthinkable.
Right now though we are in a period of disruption where markets are reforming and restructuring. The new dimension to this is optionality.
For a long time I thought the problem faced by enterprises was an unwillingness to develop optionality because their decision processes were grounded by a devotion to core competency and linear business models. Put another way, they tamed scenario thinking so that it wold keep them in their comfort zone.
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But now something else is happening. Let’s divide the novelty into two parts.
1. The reality is that in a period of disruption companies face too many options.  The fact of being over endowed with options is difficult for people to grasp if they are stuck in the pre-disruption mindset -there you have very limited options.  But my recent conversations inside organizations suggests that there sense too many ways to turn, too many options to chase down, too many technologies to evaluate, too many new skills to learn. So what they need is to find ways to embrace that reality and introduce business discipline to it.
2. The second aspect of this though is the very senior executives live in the pre-options moment. They prefer a limited number of alternatives, the three scenario consultant powerpoint that keeps them close to their core. Yes it does, but it also defers the day when they have to recognize all is changing around them and the core is not a good way of facing the future. Lower down the organisation there is ample awareness of options and the problem lies in this gap – the two broadly different perceptions of what the company faces.
I touched on it in this earlier post – the problem of inter-generational leadership, the need to create leadership teams that embrace different generations of managers.
I’m going to come back to it though because this abundance of options needs new management thinking and technology support.

How to get around on New Year’s and maybe avoid surge pricing

As I noted in Gigaom’s 2014 roundup, this has been the year of the Uber. The company has expanded across the globe and convinced investors far and wide to chuck billions of dollars behind it.

Fittingly, 2014 also heralded Uber’s year of disillusionment. As its reach and power grew, all of a sudden people started worrying about Uber, the company: Its culture, its operational systems, its values. Some decided to stop using Uber to protest  its treatment of drivers, its hypothetical threats against journalists, and its flouting of regulations. Others just got pissed about surge pricing.

But there’s a fast approaching day of year where such high-minded moral decisions will be confronted by tough practical problems: New Year’s Eve. If there’s any point in the year where your anti-Uber resolution might crumble, it’s as you battle other determined party-goers on December 31st.

But have hope. Uber may be the oldest, biggest, and most powerful next-generation transportation networking company, but it’s certainly not the only one.

Uber-for-taxis

Yellow taxi sign at night1) Flywheel: Transportation’s best kept secret. It’s an app that works exactly the same as Uber, allowing you to see how far away the closest car is, request it through the app, and watch it creep ever closer to you. Flywheel has partnered with a myriad of cab companies in different cities, so its supply is almost as plentiful as Uber. The demand for the service, however, is far less since many people don’t know about it or haven’t gotten in the habit of using it. Best part: No surge pricing. In San Francisco, it’s actually offering a $10 flat fare for New Years. Cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle

2) Curb: Another taxi app like Flywheel, but with less taxi companies on it in the Bay Area. It’s in far more places in the US than Flywheel though, so if you’re not an SF resident it could be your saving grace. Cities: 60 cities across America, from Orlando, Florida to Tucson, Arizona.

Car parking apps

3) ZIRX: This is a car parking app. Before you freak out at the idea of paying exorbitant New Years parking garage fees, or having to stay sober, hear me out. ZIRX charges $5 an hour and maxes out at $15. Just like with the Uber app, you drop a pin to tell the ZIRX attendant where to pick up your car, so if you want to hop out right in front of your venue in the middle of Union Square, they’ll be there. When you’re ready to go home you can tell them to meet you anywhere, so if you’ve party hopped over to the Marina, no problem and no extra cost to get your car dropped off there. Here’s the real kicker: If you want to get your drink on and can’t drive home? ZIRX only charges $15 for overnight parking. Cities: San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles.

4) Luxe: It’s very similar to ZIRX and same pricing, but Luxe doesn’t yet do overnight parking, meaning you’ll either need to stay sober or cough up the $50 overnight parking fee. On the upside, Luxe is the tech industry favorite, beloved by both Wall Street Journal and New York Times reporters, so you’re likely to have a good experience. Cities: San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Uber’s archrivals

A Post-Taxi Population Opts For Ride-sharing

5) Sidecar: The obvious alternatives to Uber are, of course, its arch rivals. I’m in Camp Sidecar, if only because there’s no surge pricing — drivers set their own rates and you can pick from the list. That helps mitigate surge pricing hangover, although if the drivers are smart they’ll probably be bumping up their fare that night. Sidecar, however, has far less cars than Uber or Lyft so it can be hard to nab one when it’s busy. Cities: 10 cities in the States, mostly big urban areas like Boston and Charlotte, North Carolina.

6) Lyft: Lyft is another option, one that’s nearly as reliable as Uber without quite as many ethical problems. But look out for “prime time tips,” Lyft’s version of surge pricing. Cities: Too many to count, but it’s worth noting New York City is in it (unlike most of the other apps on this list). Check here.

The old school choice

7) Public transit: It may not be hip, but on New Years it’s bound to be cheap and reliable. In a lot of cities around the world, public transportation agencies are running transit for free, extending their regular hours, or adding more units to carry people. For the SF goers, BART is running until 3 am on New Years. Since most people in their heels and fancy clothes don’t even think to tap public transit, in some places the buses and subways may well be both free and empty.

ATI Returning to Mac With 4000-Series Graphics Cards

Radeon

Poor NVIDIA (s nvda) — it looks like your honeymoon with Apple (s aapl) is over. There hasn’t been an official announcement from Cupertino yet, but a glance at the customization options for high-end iMacs (the ones that use discrete graphics) and Mac Pros reveals that ATI (s ati) Radeon HD 4000-series cards are already available as new configurable alternatives to NVIDIA products.

ATI was shown the door at Apple when the computer maker introduced notebooks and desktops that feature integrated NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics cards. Many suspect that things turned rocky between Apple and NVIDIA, thanks to the faulty GeForce 8600M GT cards that resulted in the Mac maker offering customers an unprecedented warranty extension for problems related to that component. Read More about ATI Returning to Mac With 4000-Series Graphics Cards

Apple Reintroduces 15-inch MacBook Pro Matte Screen Option

Good news for those of you who were holding out for a matte screen option from Apple (s aapl) on something other than the most expensive, 17-inch MacBook Pro, and bad news for image and video professionals who already bit the bullet and picked up a 15-incher recently. Apple now offers a matte screen option on the 15-inch model.

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The new customization option appeared sometime early this morning in Apple’s online store, and allows you to choose an “Antiglare Widescreen Display,” instead of the usual “Glossy” option, for an additional $50. For those unaware, the modification also rids your computer of the pretty black bezel that frames the notebook’s screen, and instead introduces a silver bezel that looks decidedly old school. Aesthetics aside, though, the antiglare option is reportedly a thousand times better for professional usage, and if you find the new glossy optical glass displays distracting. Read More about Apple Reintroduces 15-inch MacBook Pro Matte Screen Option

Bringin’ It Back: Apple Reportedly Showing Renewed Interest in Matte Screen Options

MacBook-Pro-Front-5351

Don’t get me wrong, I love my new 13-inch MacBook Pro. In many, many ways, it is far superior to any older computer I have lying around. I can’t get over how far Apple (s aapl) design and function has come. But I do have to admit to shifting and tilting the device around when I’m sitting on the couch with my window in the background. I suppose I could close the window, or rearrange my living room furniture, but I’d have much preferred just clicking a matte display option when buying my notebook. That option may reappear soon.

Or, I could’ve opted for the 17-inch MacBook Pro, which I’m sure is what Apple was hoping for, considering the $2,500 price tag. Sadly, I am not independently wealthy, nor do I have a job that justifies that kind of computer muscle. I just don’t like glare with my computing. Unlike some, I don’t find the MBP’s screen intolerable, just mildly annoying in certain lighting situations, but choice is still nice. Read More about Bringin’ It Back: Apple Reportedly Showing Renewed Interest in Matte Screen Options