Duncan Simester The Lost Art of Thinking in Large Organizations Many executives in big companies attained their positions by excelling at getting things done. Unfortunately, a bias for doing rather than thinking can leave these executives ill- equipped for their new roles. Reprint #57409
96 MIT SLOAN MANAGEMENT REVIEW SUMMER 2016 PLEASE NOTE THAT GRAY AREAS REFLECT ARTWORK THAT HAS BEEN INTENTIONALLY REMOVED. THE SUBSTANTIVE CONTENT OF THE ARTICLE APPEARS AS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED. IF YOU ASK managers in a large organization to approach a strategic business problem, their focus often quickly narrows to proposing solutions. When asked why, many respond that they don’t have time to think. How did we arrive in a state where managers do not recognize that thinking is part of their job? The answer reflects a relentless focus on execution in many large companies. A company becomes big by finding a successful business model — and then scal- ing it massively. This necessitates building a finely tuned system with highly standardized processes. To get promoted in such an environment requires an almost singular focus on execution. In other words, it requires action more than thinking. However, once executives are promoted to a senior level, these new business leaders must be able to think strategically. Ironically, the very skills in execution that led to their promotions often make these executives ill-equipped for their new roles, since their strategy thinking mus- cles have withered from disuse. How to Find Strategic Insights The goal of strategic thinking is to find strategic in- sights. Strategy is all about choices — about which markets to compete in and which markets to avoid. Strategic insights describe the boundaries separating attractive markets from unattractive markets. For ex- ample, Amazon.com Inc. had the strategic insight that it could marry its investment in computing infrastruc- ture with its unparalleled e-commerce capabilities to develop an attractive new business offering cloud computing services, Amazon Web Services.
- Fall '15
- MIT Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan Management Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, mit sloan management