It has been an exciting couple of weeks as 2017 came to an end and the New Year kicked off with a number of big stories that on the surface may seem unrelated but to the keen observer, one who connects the dots, will see that these stories were all bound to the same core topic… strategy. There were stories about the evil of technology, the FCC’s removal of Net Neutrality and the National Security Strategy. Ok well, the last story actually has “strategy” in the title so no major effort needed to connect that dot. But before we dig into any of these stories, let’s start with a bit of a review on strategy by sharing a story about the first Duke of Wellington. Who, you may be asking? Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, he is the general who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.
One of Wellington’s favorite battle strategies was to attack downhill and thus hide the true size of his force on the opposite downhill. In Wellesley’s mind, the whole art of war consists of getting at what is on the other side of the hill. Wellesley is credited with offering the sage advice… “All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavor to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill.’” Indeed, the strategy requires knowing what is on the other side of the hill if you are to achieve your goals. In war the top strategic goal is clear, defeat your enemy. In business top goals are set by the leadership of the company, this may be the owner or the CEO, or the president of the firm. It is a statement of why the company does what it does, for whom and to what extent. The strategy also includes a statement describing where the organization wants to be. In business, we call these items the mission and vision statements respectively.
Business or organizational strategy is actually comprised of several moving parts. In order to accomplish the strategy (the WHAT or Why) we also need to understand the How and the Who. But before we move onto the How and the Who there are a couple more items related to the top tier strategy, the WHAT. We call these items values, culture and the critical success factors that must be achieved to accomplish the mission and vision. Wellington provides several examples of how these elements come together. Wellington, highly valued his soldier’s lives, consequently he always sought engagements that while successful in defeating the enemy also mitigated the loss of life both his own and his enemies. Wellington also instigated a custom that persists today amongst soldiers, he opted not to use a whig but rather to go with an efficient short haircut (almost a crew cut style haircut.) which was much more efficient in battle. Wellington offers many other examples, but alas this is not an article strictly about Wellington, but rather a story about the role of strategy in recent news articles.
The remainder of this post will focus on the first article that appeared on my radar was the story about Chamath Palihapitiya a former Facebook executive who claimed that social media was tearing civilization apart. The remarks while distributed in late December by the tech website the Verge were actually made in November at an event at the Stanford Business School. Palihapitiya’s comments were made a day after similar comments were made by former Facebook founding president Sean Parker at an Axios event in Philadelphia. The idea that both executives plant in the public’s mind is social media technology is evil. Although it would be fun to explore why these scions of Silicon Valley are making this assertion and whether or not it is coincidental that the remarks were made a day apart, this article and analysis work to get a glimpse of what is over the hill.
Let’s start by reviewing a theory posited by Melvin Kranzburg over 30 years ago regarding the nature of technology. The Six Laws of Technology are simple: 1) Technology is neither good nor bad; it is neutral. 2) The invention is the mother of necessity 3) Technology comes in packages big and small. 4) Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, non-technical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions. 5) All history is relevant but the history of technology is most relevant. 6) Technology is a human activity. How it is used is up to us. Today’s technology is already obsolete. The simple fact is that technology just as it is, is neither good nor bad and by itself is not a strategy rather it is an enabler. It enables a strategy to come to life by the fact that it answers the question How (As a footnote to the six laws of technology, I might add a seventh related to Moore’s Law regarding computing power, cost and time. The seventh law is simply, SQUIRREL! Today’s technology is already obsolete).
Technology provides the organization the capability to accomplish its strategy, it follows the strategy. However, technology can also be an entry point for a strategy discussion. If the way we accomplish our strategy changes, the How has changed and is no longer in alignment with the WHAT. In order to regain alignment then the overarching strategy must also be evaluated. As a result of the change in technology (the HOW), the mission and vision must be reviewed. If there is no alignment between the WHAT and the HOW then either the strategy must be changed or the technology must be changed once again.
Let us recall the laws of technology especially one and six. Technology is neither good nor bad and technology is driven by human interaction. Perhaps this is what Parker and Palihapitiya’s are signaling. The current technology is no longer supporting Facebook’s mission. People, keep using for their own purpose. Perhaps this is why Facebook makes so many changes to the newsfeed, individuals walls, and the overall user experience. Perhaps Facebook is signaling they are not achieving their mission. Will we really ever know what is the real mission of Facebook?