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Visionary Strategy

Your Strategy Needs a Strategy

What

Rare but incredibly effective, a visionary approach empowers a firm to create or recreate an industry with some degree of predictability by seeing an opportunity and pursuing it single-mindedly. Being first confers the advantage of superior size that comes with being ahead of rivals and allows a firm to set industry standards, influence customer preferences, develop a superior cost position, and determine the direction for an entire market. Even though visionary approaches are most frequently associated with entrepreneurial start-ups, large firms increasingly need to familiarize themselves with the approach as well.

When

Deploy a visionary strategy when there is an opportunity to create or recreate an industry—when a firm sees the outcome as predictable and the environment as malleable, even if others don't share that vision. Visionary circumstances can arise when a firm spots an emerging megatrend before someone else sees or acts on it, when technological change opens up the possibility to reshape an industry, or when unaddressed customer dissatisfaction with the dominant offering creates the possibility of a new market.

How

Timing is critical: successful visionary firms capitalize on gaps—among the emergence of an opportunity, the recognition and acceptance of an idea, and the reaction by established players—by envisaging, building, and persisting. First, envisage an opportunity by tapping into a megatrend early, applying a new technology, or addressing customer dissatisfaction or a latent need. Second, be the first to build a company and a product that realize this vision. Finally, persist in pursuing a fixed goal while being flexible about the means to overcome unforeseen obstacles.

Beavers vividly exemplify the behavior of a visionary approach to strategy: they envisage a future environment and then invest and persist in building it, creating advantage for themselves.

Have you ever looked at a beaver’s dam in the middle of a river and thought: where on earth did that come from? Like visionary companies, beavers seem to have a plan before they place the first stick, and they certainly persist in shaping their environment, making large, singular bets in the “white space” of a pond or river and reaping large rewards. The dams keep the beaver’s pond accessible even if the surface freezes over—a necessary advantage because beavers don’t hibernate. Dams also flood the surrounding areas, giving their builders easy and safe access to food while keeping competitors and predators at a distance. Finally, the ponds serve as a means by which beavers signal danger to others by tapping their large, flat tails on the water.

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