The story begins with this slightly old blog-post written by Ritesh Banglani, a guest faculty at IIMB. Banglani writes:
In the first class of my course at IIM, I asked students a simple question: What is strategy?. The most interesting response came from a rather cynical student: “Start with common sense, then add some jargon. What you get is strategy”.
I didn’t say so at the time, but that is precisely what strategy is not. If anything, strategy is uncommon sense – making choices that may not appear intuitive at the time.
The cynical student in question mentioned this during a conversation earlier today, and I thought the discussion that followed merited a blog post. I thank the cynical student for his contribution to this thought.
Innovation happens when someone gets an insight, which, by definition, is a stud process. The person innovating, naturally, is a stud. For a few years after the innovation, the idea is still in development, and it is still very tough for other people to do what the pioneer stud has done. The first wave of people to do what the pioneer has done will also naturally be studs.
However, after the idea has been established, the market for it grows. The pool of studs that are then involved in the idea won’t be able to service the entire market. Also, being studs, they are prone to get bored easily with whatever they are doing, and will want to move on. The increased size of the market as well as the gaps left by the leaving studs will attract fighters to this idea.
Now, fighters are not natural when it comes to generating insight. However, they are excellent at following processes. And once an idea has been developed beyond the initial stage, it makes itself amenable to processes. And thus, a set of processes get established. Soon enough, thanks to the processes, the fighters are able to do a much better job of implementing this idea as compared to the pioneering studs, and studs get driven out of the industry.
This generalized process that I have just described applies to all fields, or “domains” if you would like to call it that. Let us now leave the generalization and come to one specific profession – strategy consulting. Strategy consulting started off as an insight-driven process, a stud process. Industrialists would go to consultants in order to get insights, and out of the box ideas, in order to take forward their business. Soon, the business became profitable, and the consultants, like any good capitalists wanted to expand.
There was one problem, however – talent. It wasn’t easy for them to attract similarly insightful wannabe consultants to work for them. Similarly insightful people would either not want to work in strategy consulting, or they would start their own consulting shops. Thus, there was a need to bring in the fighters into the mix.
It was to facilitate the entry of the fighters that the various consulting models and frameworks came into being. A large set of processes were drafted, and all that the fighter consultants had to do was to identify the appropriate processes for the situation and then implement them along with the client. Insight and out-of-the-box thinking were thrown out of the window. Hourly billing became the industry standard.
Strategy consulting has come a full circle now. It has been “fighterized”. Clients nowadays don’t expect insight. They expect processes. They expect to be led down the “correct” path, and they want to make sure they don’t make obvious mistakes. And thus, the “strategy” that the consulting firms offer are mostly common sense which has been appropriately packaged. And this has percolated down to business schools. And so the cynical student’s cynicism is valid.