Elevated Thinking and a Platform for Exponential Growth: What happens when ambitious entrepreneurs are exposed to the strategic tools and techniques of world class blue chips?
It’s a question that came to me about two weeks into my MBA programme and plagued me for the next three years: How does any of this learning apply to an entrepreneur in an ambitious small business? Okay, an MBA is really a programme to develop mainstream managers in established, and generally large, organisations. But in an age where almost 98% of European and US businesses meet the Small or Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME) criteria, surely it’s time for some serious revision?
Of course, I’m not the first to question the validity of MBA-type learning for smaller businesses. In fact, Henry Mintzberg considers the applicability of most mainstream managerial thinking to all organisations as little more than a series of “myths” (oh, to be the one that became famous for that observation!)
But what was I prepared to do about it? The answer is that I spent the last 12 months of the MBA adapting the major strategic methodologies to work with ambitious entrepreneurs in early stage businesses. With the help of two colleagues that shared my curiosity, we undertook a major adaptation of the cognitive mapping process to suit the needs and dispositions of small entrepreneurial teams. What we came up with is Making Strategy for Entrepreneurs (MSE). This became the major methodology for Eriskay Associates and we have now used it effectively with over 20 companies.
MSE employs visual mapping software and engages the entrepreneurial management team in the creation of a robust, visual business model. Either using good, old-fashioned Post-Itsä and flip sheets or dedicated Decision Explorer software, the team work through a series of stages exploring the key strategic issues, business goals and its key competencies, assets and resources.
In mapping the strategic issues and exploring and analysing the major linkages, the team is able to create a ‘radar’ of everything that occupies its time and resource. It can be hard work. One management team surfaced 170 issues, across 15 category clusters, and after the initial feeling of catharsis and relief at ‘getting it all out there’, felt quite daunted. However, through exploring the central and most ‘potent’ concepts they were able to focus on the dozen or so major issues, freeing them up from a lot of the minor and non-issues that tends to distract them from their major tasks.
Allan Ross, Managing Director of First Independent Finance, said of MSE “Our complex world has been simplified and we feel we are moving forward at a faster pace than the competition.”
Subsequent stages facilitate the management team in the development of a system of goals and an exploration of the ‘competencies, assets and resources’ that are unique to the business, either individually or in combination. Ultimately, the business model is formulated through identifying the precise relationships between the two groups of concepts which, in the right combination, lead to a sustainable competitive advantage. Put simply, it’s about achieving what you want with what you’ve got (or need to get!). In going through the process of MSE and creating a robust business model, entrepreneurs achieve the confidence and clarity to fulfil their goals and ambitions.
As one client put it, “It’s the visual impact that makes the difference. Seeing our business analysed and represented in that way, we were at once struck by the complexity of the business and the markets we are in and the comparatively simple and effective nature of our new business model – it was a real ‘Eureka!’ moment.” And it’s this elevated thinking that provides ambitious managers with the personal confidence and the platform for exponential growth.
Mark A Taylor
Mark A Taylor