The important thing is not how much we don’t know,
as how wrong we are in what we think we do know.

Mark Twain

Covid – 19 – a terrible enemy, but not a wicked problem. Wait for the real surprising challenge. 

|Monday, 11 May 2020

Every life lost to Covid-19 is a tragedy.  Physical and mental sufferings are carving deep wounds. Individual, corporate and national economies are in a free fall. And this will go on for some time, with different pace in different parts of the world. But, unfortunately, this is an easy problem, and still we are suffering too much. 

Few surprises 

Covid-19 has caused a pandemic which has very few surprising elements, if one does not count some political leaders’ statements. Epidemiologists, who are supposed to be on top of things, do not seem to be surprised. When calibrating the parameters of their models, the virus seems to behave as expected. There is a good fit between model estimates and empirical facts. Scientists are also very confident to have a vaccine available later in the year. They know perfectly well how to proceed. During long nights, the lights are on in many laboratories.  

Economists make predictions of the effects of lockdowns, and opening measures, stimulus packages, national debt etc. Although the outcomes of the work do not paint any bright picture, the professionals seem to be sure that they know what they are doing. And in the welfare sector, professionals are very clear about the negative consequences the pandemic, and all the restrictions superimposed on citizens will result in. From the kids in nurseries to the elderly in care homesall will have woundsFew seems to run into any bigger challenge understanding how this works.  

A wicked problem? 

Wicked problems are hard to solve as we mostly lack understanding of the complexity of the issue, knowledge can be incomplete or available information is contradictory. Many stakeholders and interconnected socio-economic systems are regular qualities of wicked problems. Solutions are never easy to find. But the corona epidemic, as indicated above, is not really a wicked problem. Policy makers know how to tackle it and know the price. If costs are too high, policies are fine-tuned and one accepts some more casualties, if moral and ethics allow for that. So, by the end of the day, it is an optimization problem, how cruel it ever may sound. Optimization of bad outcomes. Or less bluntlyit is about solving dilemmas. 

Why are we in this situation? 

How could we end up in this horrible situation if the problem is solvable? Instead of participating in the popular blame game, one has to understand how we perceive things happening around us, how we make judgement, what kind of heuristics is applied, what designs the option space we are applying looking for solutions. Think about the leaders that are responsible for our societies. Decision makers like good news. Our minds are geared to the positive. The seminal works of Kahneman and Tversky clearly show our bias towards the more positive outcomes in decision making. We do not properly perceive and interpret signals of unwanted developments. We discarded facts about Covid-19, interpreted the threat as a flue that will go over very quickly. Initial responses are often based on an automated judgement for fixing the known, although the problem has many unknown elements to the decision maker. Those who allow their system 2, in the Kahneman terminology, to help to understand the complexity, and all consequences of available options, might come to other decisions, than those how to handle a flu.  

A journey to the future, and back. 

Decision makers dealing with covid-19 have probably a very limited set of “memories of the future” applicable to what is happening now. They have had very few reasons to make the journey into alternative plausible futures shaped by different responses to and developments of pandemics. Accordingly, their judgment system is under severe stress to interpret signals and information, sort out conflicting views and align all the issues with their value system. Having been on a trip to the future, would probably make decision making less painful. 

For decades scenario planners have included pandemics in different scenarios. A proper use of scenarios also includes preparing for scenarios that are not welcome developments. It is a no-brainer to build up reserves of e.g. PPE. When we prepared the population for the nuclear war, everybody knew how to store supplies and find shelter. Now frontline personnel in many countries feel the consequences of decision makers not paying proper attention to pandemic scenarios. 

Covid-19 does cause tragedies. The number of too early fatalities will be too big. And every single death makes us feel sorrow. But, now we are fighting a virus which we know how to conquer. Wait until we will face a new threat, with properties that we do not understand. Before this wicked problem hits us, let’s engage in building scenario narratives that gets traction with decision makers. 

 


Mikael Paltschik
Senior Advisor
050 344 6953
mikael.paltschik(at)capful.fi

 

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Master’s Thesis: Generation of strategic growth alternatives – Empirical evidence from large companies listed on NASDAQ OMX Helsinki

Tuomas Paananen, Aalto University School of Business|Thursday, 22 December 2016

“The investor of today does not profit from yesterday’s growth.” – Warren Buffett

In order to serve the underlying purpose of any business, to make a profit for its shareholders, companies regardless of size, industry or geographical location need to consider and seek growth. However, creating growth is not a simple task but requires thorough thinking and decision making from top executives steering their businesses.

Objective of the study

The objective of this study is to find out the factors or approaches that companies take into consideration when generating strategic growth alternatives. Also the sources of these inputs are examined. In addition, the study aims to address the ways in which the growth alternatives are communicated to the decision makers.

Methodology

The theoretical foundation of this thesis lies on rational strategic decision making and strategic growth alternatives. The empirical data for the study was gathered from 13 semi-structured thematic interviews with top level executives responsible for strategy in their organizations. At the time of the research, all the companies were listed on NASDAQ OMX Helsinki and had a market capitalization in excess of 250 million euros. The interviewed strategy executives represented the following companies: TeliaSonera, Neste Oil, Elisa, Cargotec, Valmet, Tieto, Sanoma, Aktia, Oriola-KD, Basware, F-Secure, Finnair and Lemminkäinen. The interviews were interpreted through thematic analysis using a systematic coding process. Data collection and data analysis were conducted as an iterative process building on the theoretical framework constructed based on earlier research on the topic.

Findings

Generation of strategic growth alternatives is a multi-dimensional process including various inputs. Based on the findings, the outside-in approach, in which external operating environment is essential, is emphasized when creating strategic growth alternatives. Especially customers are seen as an invaluable source for growth opportunities. High priority factors from the external environment are also market growth and the competitive field. In addition, the relevance of widely discussed static positioning strategies seems to be eroding. Core competencies, capabilities and even organizational culture are replacing the older underpinnings when it comes to new business development. Growth generation needs to be continuous – not tied to the calendar year.

 

Keywords: strategic management, strategic decision making, new business development, strategic
growth alternatives, growth, NASDAQ OMX Helsinki

Download the full article.

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