Rook to Queen Four. Checkmate. The game of chess reflects the ultimate battle of strategy. Two opposing forces, each with identical resources, mutually agreeable rules of engagement, and all moves in plain sight.
Strategy is the only approach to seize victory in this clear-cut, two-dimensional challenge. Unfortunately, business is far more messy and complex, rarely falling into such pleasantly defined parameters. Instead, we face brutal competitive attacks that come from the shadows in our rules-free, fist-fighting marketplace. Threats come simultaneously from multiple fronts, and the weapons of battle are hardly equal. In today's world of dizzying speed, exponential complexity, and ruthless competition, strategy alone no longer carries the day.
Imagine yourself heads down in a competitive chess game when you discover that your opponent just created an extra queen. Or a dozen extra queens. What if their breakthrough technology innovation allowed them make four moves for every one of yours? What if you had to use your same limited number of pieces and moves while defending attacks from 17 different chess rivals simultaneously? Welcome to the modern era of competitive business combat.
To win in these challenging times, innovation has become your most powerful source of competitive advantage. Playing yesterday's game--even with brilliant strategy--is no match for the hurricane strength winds of creative disruption. Today, an entirely new set of skills and approaches are required to succeed. Simply put: innovation eats strategy for breakfast.
Change the Rules
Time and time again, innovation trounces strategy. While hundreds of ground transportation companies were huddled away crafting strategy, Uber brought meaningful innovation to the taxi and car service ecosystem and disrupted the entire industry. Blockbuster Video was surely working hard to strategically leverage their retail stores when Netflix dealt a fatal blow of innovation by changing the rules of the game instead of trying to win within existing industry parameters. Twitter didn't steal market share in a head-to-head shootout. Instead, it innovated a new playing field altogether--one it could dominate--and then snagged revenue from tangential competitors.
It's impossible to win by solely managing existing assets when your competitors are busy inventing new ones. With dirt-cheap technology, readily accessible capital, and friction-free markets, innovators are attacking from every angle.
Massoud Hassani grew up in the area just outside Kabul, Afghanistan. As a child, he witnessed far too many horrible tragedies caused by land mines in this desert region. Land mines are a universal safety concern, with more than 110 million planted around the world. Each year, more than 20,000 people are killed and many times more maimed or injured by these horrible devices.
Hassani decided at a very young age that he would somehow help eradicate these evil contraptions. Meanwhile. throughout his childhood he also would often witness tumbleweeds blowing gently across the desert near his home. Years later, this observation would shape his career and save countless lives.
Land mine removal techniques have continued in basically the same manner since the 1960s. Traditional practices are expensive, dangerous, and ineffective. Rather than applying strategy--the act of optimizing current resources and conventional wisdom--Hassani took a creative leap, unleashing innovation to make his mark. He invented the Mine Kafon, meaning mine "exploder" in his native language. His invention defied tradition and was a radical departure from the established best practices.
The Mine Kafon is made of approximately 100 bamboo rods radiating out from a central hub. At the end of each rod, a clay disc is attached. The finished product looks much like a large dandelion that has matured and is ready to blow into the wind. The device is light enough to roll across the desert ground, much like the tumbleweeds Hassani witnessed as a kid, yet the clay discs are heavy enough to safely detonate the land mines hidden under the earth's surface.
A complete departure from existing approaches, the Mine Kafon has proven to be safer, more effective, and over 100 times less expensive than traditional methods. The invention was so remarkable, that it has since been placed on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Use Your Weapons
If you run the world's largest land mine removal company, your strategy sessions have just been rendered impotent. Of course, it's not just about land mines. This same creative disruption is attacking nearly every field. Virtually every industry is in the midst of massive upheaval, and your primary weapons to fight back are creativity, innovation, and imagination. Doing the old approach better has condemned leaders to mediocrity and obsolescence for decades, and that decay is now happening at an ever-increasing rate.
As leaders, our responsibility is to embrace the notion of ongoing reinvention as a core tenant of sustainable success. Rather than waiting until we've been dislodged by the dazzling innovation of others, we must use our resources to be our own source of transformation. Today's rules are simple: Disrupt or be disrupted. Organizations and leaders that prioritize innovation and challenge their most fundamental beliefs are the ones that will win over the long-term. While those that focus on optimizing their existing models run the risk of joining Blockbuster, Pan Am, and Polaroid as case studies of previous innovators that failed to change.
Innovation must be the priority, with strategy playing second fiddle. The good news is that the opportunities for creative disruption have never been greater. By attacking each aspect of your business--from products and services to operations to distribution to brand positioning--you have a blank canvas on which to unleash your creativity. Your masterpiece awaits.