Travis John­son declared that Octo­ber 2012 could be con­sid­ered the start of a major com­mer­cial bat­tle. Or, as his post is titled: “Tele­vi­sion 2.0 — ‘The $2.2 Tril­lion War for your Liv­ing Room Begins Now’ ” [link].

As you may know from my recent e‑book [link]e-book icon, Apple is expect­ed to engage in that bat­tle, if not emerge the big win­ner. Yet the larg­er ques­tion for us goes beyond any one indus­try, even one as mam­moth as television.

Instead, let me explain how a com­pa­ny such as Apple — or yours (!) — should approach mat­ters when past-tense suc­cess seems to be fad­ing into present-tense anguish. I’ve been there. I know what it feels like to be among a group of senior man­agers talk­ing about the future of a busi­ness when there are infi­nite­ly more ques­tions than answers, when the future of the com­pa­ny seems to be hang­ing on the out­come of some hard think­ing and some can­did dis­cus­sion. The trou­ble is: too many exec­u­tive teams shrink from the chal­lenge, pre­fer­ring to allow the sta­tus quo to pre­vail until the com­pa­ny is tru­ly desperate.

The goal of our nextsens­ing project is to offer man­agers a bet­ter way to approach such sit­u­a­tions. If you’re now in that spot (as Apple most def­i­nite­ly is), what should you do? Here’s my gen­er­al guide­lines for any organ­i­sa­tion that needs to find its next.

The first step must be for you and your senior lead­er­ship team to ful­ly diag­nose the nature of the chal­lenges you are fac­ing. To do so, you must be able to answer with some con­fi­dence the fol­low­ing questions:

a. What prob­lem is the mar­ket (name­ly, our cus­tomers) ask­ing us to help them solve right now? 

b. Are we fit for that pur­pose? Do we now have, or can we acquire, the com­pe­ten­cies need­ed to address the problem?

c. Beyond the known prob­lem, what oth­er prob­lems are our cus­tomers fac­ing for which there does not seem to be any viable solu­tion in the mar­ket, includ­ing from our company?

d. How can we cap­i­talise on those prob­lems by fram­ing them as opportunities?

Sec­ond, based on your answers to the ques­tion about your cus­tomers’ prob­lem at-hand, the next step must be to then dis­cuss, debate and align around your most impor­tant strate­gic pri­or­i­ties. Where is your com­pa­ny head­ing — and where should it be head­ing? From these dis­cus­sions, you can con­vert your insights into a coher­ent and shared strat­e­gy to address the prob­lem. As Theodore Hes­burgh not­ed, “The very essence of lead­er­ship is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncer­tain trumpet.” 

question markFor your third step, you must eval­u­ate the organ­i­sa­tion’s rel­a­tive capa­bil­i­ties to see if they are a match to the new pri­or­i­ties you have set. Now is the time to study clear­ly the struc­ture, cul­ture, sys­tems and process­es your firm uses to get things done. Before you can win a bat­tle, you must pre­pare to win.

The final step in address­ing a new chal­lenge is to focus the entire organ­i­sa­tion on the strate­gic pri­or­i­ties and empow­er every­one to suc­ceed. Do not dis­count the amount of work need­ed here. You need to lever­age your fir­m’s edu­ca­tion­al sys­tems to pre­pare lead­ers at all lev­els of the organ­i­sa­tion to under­stand the strat­e­gy, know where and how to par­tic­i­pate in it and sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly build a last­ing set of capa­bil­i­ties to dri­ve val­ue cre­ation over time. This prepa­ra­tion must be well-artic­u­lat­ed and explic­it, as your firm most like­ly will require a mix of present-tense capa­bil­i­ties and nov­el future-tense capa­bil­i­ties. In oth­er words, there will more than like­ly be a broad array of per­son­al and organ­i­sa­tion­al devel­op­ment required.

The role of the senior man­age­ment team is to mod­er­ate how the com­pa­ny moves from here to there, from the present to the future.

The mod­er­a­tion process must be based on a struc­tured con­ver­sa­tion with those on the front lines very much like the one you and your senior man­age­ment team have been hav­ing, and these embed­ded con­ver­sa­tions must form an inte­gral part of your strat­e­gy for­mu­la­tion process in real time. In oth­er words, your strat­e­gy needs to be reshaped into a con­tin­u­ous process of ask­ing, then answer­ing, mis­sion-crit­i­cal ques­tions at all lev­els of the organisation.

In my recent e‑book, I fea­tured the Oppor­tu­ni­ty Can­vas that is core to the nextsens­ing process. More than any oth­er tool, it will help you and your senior team to frame these required con­ver­sa­tions, build the process that sur­rounds them so the dia­logue can be expand­ed to oth­ers, and pro­vide sim­ple tools and tem­plates to make the process­es trans­par­ent and acces­si­ble to the entire organisation. 

Addi­tion­al­ly, it will also be mis­sion-crit­i­cal that you can bring to the table all the exist­ing organ­i­sa­tion­al stake­hold­ers and lever­age their col­lec­tive exper­tise to make things hap­pen. Every­one? Absolutely.

You will need HR for the organ­i­sa­tion­al design, needs assess­ments and learn­ing & devel­op­ment com­po­nents. You will need IT for the sys­tems and process­es sup­port. You will need Com­mu­ni­ca­tions to help you build the sto­ries and empow­er you and your senior lead­er­ship team to lead the organ­i­sa­tion for­ward. You will need Finance to estab­lish mis­sion-appro­pri­ate per­for­mance met­rics for future-tense activ­i­ties. And you will need a lead­er­ship team that embraces a new mind­set and cor­re­spond­ing new lead­er­ship approach, one that is com­fort­able with ambi­gu­i­ty and uncer­tain­ty and leads with ques­tions more than with answers.

Recent­ly, Grant McCrack­en in Har­vard Busi­ness Review [link] can project that a new Apple TV will be a “Tro­jan Horse” (once in the door, there will be many surprises):

The new Apple TV will have the form fac­tor of TV but its real and rev­o­lu­tion­ary pur­pose will be telecom­mut­ing so good it’s going to feel like tele­por­ta­tion. The Apple TV will whisk us to work, to school, to con­fer­ences, to the city, to Sec­ond Life, to our mem­o­ry palace and vir­tu­al library, to shared worlds like Eve and Halo. The Apple TV will be a por­tal to worlds now acces­si­ble only by planes, trains and auto­mo­biles. Apple TV will turn our offices and liv­ing rooms into portals.

But keep this in mind: Apple can’t do those things now. If it choos­es, it will have to find its next using the steps I’ve out­lined above. That’s Apple’s tril­lion-dol­lar ques­tion. Will it?

But, you, too, are quite prob­a­bly fac­ing a mega ques­tion deal­ing with the future of your own firm. Will you answer it in a way that steers your com­pa­ny prof­itably into the future?

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