Why your Mid Term strategy is the most critical strategy in your Digital Transformation journey

Aiming for the “Bird’s eye”

From the ancient Indian text of “Mahabharata” :

A Guru is teaching a group of young princes the age old skill of archery. He puts a dummy bird on a tree at a distance from where the kids are standing (with their bows and arrows) and asks them to take their turn trying to shoot the bird.

The rule was that the arrow should strike the eye of the bird

When each of them gets into the position to shoot the arrow at the bird, the guru asks them a question- “What do you see son ?”

Replies come in different flavors. Some say they see a cluster of trees and the bird on one of them. Some say they see one tree and the bird on the tree. Some see leaves , fruits and the bird on the branch.

For all the answers above, the guru stops these kids from shooting their arrows. He indicates that based on their answers, he is confident they will not be successful. Then comes the turn of Prince Arjun.

Guru: Do you see the cluster of trees, the tree on which the bird is placed and the branch on which it is positioned ?

Prince Arjun: No Guru

Guru: What do you see son ?

Prince Arjun: I only see the center of the eye of the bird guru.

Guru gives him the premission to shoot the arrow. Arjun nails the eye of the bird and thereby exhibits a trait that his Guru knows will make him sucessful. The Guru trains him hard, leveraging his strength. Result ? In Hindu epics, he is widely considered the greatest archer in the world.

The relevance of “Bird’s eye” in Digital strategy

Why am I even narrating the story ? Because just like that ancient form of archery, it is extremely critical today that organizations keep one pespective in mind when investing even a single penny in anything related to Digital transformation:

Any initiative that you undertake today must fit into a roadmap of your long term strategy. So consistently plan for the mid term strategy with long term strategy in view. DO NOT…let me repeat, DO NOT make any decisions based on short term trends and hype. Keep your eyes focussed on the Bird’s eye- Your long term strategy, and plan for mid term strategy.

While this seems very intuitive, here is the critical part- things are evolving so fast in today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, that a roadmap developed without an intuition of what “can” happen 3-5 years from now will mean that sometime around 2025, you will be stuck will a digital toolchest that will either be already non relevant, outdated or less effective as compared to your competition. This does not only mean millions of Dollars of investment going to waste. This may mean that you may not survive as a company beyond 2030. Scary but true ! And this is applicable not only for digital solution consumers but solution providers as well. The key is:

Mid term strategy will be critical- with an eye on the long term strategy

Whether you are an individual investor or a company, your success or failure in this decade will be decided entirely by how well you strategize for the mid of decade. Let us take an example. Scott galloway asked a question on LinkedIn the other day- will you invest in Airbnb IPO which is NOT doing so good in the pandemic or Door dash IPO which is doing great in pandemic , if you can invest in just one ? As you can see here, your chances of success are dependent on a certain level of “business intutition”- how will the pandemic wind down and things will look few years from now. (Btw, I would have invested in Airbnb).

This is hypothetical of course since investments are generally portfolio where you can have multiple investments, minimizing your risk. But the core idea is, what you need to do now depends on where you can “feel” things will be say 3 years from now.

Similarly, you can look at corporate world, from a digital context. Say you are investing in building visibility and analytics capabilities. You know what you end goal is- i.e by end of this decade (~2030), you want to be in a position where you AT LEAST have capabilities that would be normal for best in class players (example shown in illustration below).The key is- how do plan next 3-5 years?

Why is that next 3-5 years critical ?

To illustrate that, we will continue the example of the company above. You know that you need to build capabilities. There are a plethora of options available and the illustration below shows how pursuing some paths (just one example) may leave you with a capability that is already on the path of becoming obsolete by say 2025. What is your option then ? Start over to catch-up ? ( Errata : The first box in the illustration below should say ” …….run demand driven warehouse operations”).

Which can be disastrous. Because it is not just about building capabilities. These capabilities will be commoditized at such a rapid pace that if say by 2025, you have something that is headed in the direction of being obsolete or non relevant, there is NO WAY you will be able to catch-up with an organization which is headed in the right direction around that time.

So how do you plan for it ?

Obviously it is a detailed process that needs to be tailored exclusively for each company but here is the gist.

Mid term strategy formulation process will need to be very fluid process, that constantly realigns, every few months, with changes in technology and innovation landscape. This also means that you path needs to be designed in a way such that nither is the cost of “adjusting” to new trends and innovation high, nor is the time and resource that it will take to adjust high.

Understand the technology landscape, impact of tech and innovation on business processes and strategy and continuously evaluate and adjust your mid-term strategy.

Patience, planning and “digital intuition” will be the key to everything. Things are extremely fluid in today’s world. Three years from now, you will see some companies doing very well during the pandemic, struggle. Why ? Because we make decisions in “euphoria”, driven by hype and shiny things. And as a basic human nature, when things are going great, we ignore the “What IFs”. Always plan for the mid term with the long term in mind.

Views expressed are my own.

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