Blog: CIOs & Key Staff: Learn to Think about the Business Clearly

Blog: CIOs & Key Staff: Learn to Think about the Business Clearly

One of the challenges facing most enterprises today is that no matter how many information resources are made available, the organization fails, most of the time, to make good use of them. Part of the reason this is so is that few people have the talent necessary to pose good questions. (That this is a major failing of our educational systems is true, but, sadly, business leaders will have to deal with the consequences for decades even if the educational system was changed overnight.)

The challenge in posing questions is to do two things, neither of which is a well-developed skill:

Learn how to focus not on the immediate answer, but upon the derivative questions and answers to those. It matters less, for instance, how many units are moving than on what it means for the company to be supply-constrained (with a hit product) or demand-constrained (with a product that missed the market), what that does to the ecosystem surrounding the company's product and therefore what kind of "fix" will be needed to overcome the legacy of losses the sales pattern has created. (Yes, even with a smashing success, there are losses being created in the ecosystem.)

Learning how to focus on the unasked question: the one that really does get at the heart of the matter. This is less a matter of data than of suppositions, hints and projection onto a canvas — more a matter of art than or science.

Let's make these real with an example: the near-simultaneous product launches of the Nintendo Wii (Wii) and Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) in the fall of 2006.

The PS3 was originally supply-constrained, expensive and not backward compatible. The decision to buy a PS3, therefore, opened up the question of whether to switch platforms. Derivative consequences have played out in the loss of momentum for game makers: those that bet on the PS3 lost share; for peripheral makers: fewer PS3s mean fewer people to sell add-ons to; and for Sony itself: the dominance of the PS2 means that for the ecosystem continuing to support the PS2 means profits, even while it delays a potential PS3 purchase that accrues to Sony.

The Wii was originally readily available (it is now supply-constrained), and half the price of a PS3. The decision to innovate in terms of controllers while maintaining backward compatibility made this a safer choice: older GameCube accessories and games still had value. (Indeed, unlike the N64 to GameCube transition, the older console could be packed up and put away or sold off; the Wii could replace it without loss of assets.) As a result, the Wii ecosystem has prospered, and a staged reacquisition of game titles (to use the new controllers) makes sense. Nintendo has therefore overcome the constraints on its business created by the PS2 and the Microsoft Xbox family.

But the really interesting question here is: what moves past a Wii controller? What does this mean for the Xbox and PlayStation's next generations? What does it mean for game designers? The potential for a new market entrant to rethink the console market has never been better: none of the incumbents are "safe" given the unmet demand the Wii is creating in the market by showing that there is more to game play than memorizing which buttons combine into which actions.

These are but one example. What's changing the markets your business operates in? Posing better questions is a skill that must be acquired to avoid being blind-sided by change. Opening the enterprise via customer interaction using Web 2.0 tools is a good way to start priming the pump.

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