Dr. Stephen Sweid is a senior business and management consultant, researcher, and trainer with over 20 years consulting and research experience across a wide spectrum of industries. He brings a unique, global perspective, having worked with many organizations from all over the world, including Europe, the U.S., Middle East, and Far East.
He has also published a series of training guides on the topic of developing a “breakthrough strategy,” which are exclusively available on Flevy here. Having a breakthrough strategy is something all competitive organizations strive for, so we decided to interview Dr. Sweid to learn more about this topic and his thoughts on strategy development.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
My core and passion are about strategy, quantum leap change, innovation, marketing, and international dimension and collaboration. I am an EU national, multicultural and multilingual: 4 languages.
I have been involved as an expert, researcher, and trainer in numerous development projects of international donor organizations, such as UNDP, UNIDO, World Bank, and European Commission in different countries. For example, I worked closely with the European Investment Bank EIB. Moreover, I also provided international consulting work in the combination of business and technology strategies to multinationals, such as Siemens, IBM, Nikon and Toshiba, but also to many SMEs in different countries.
I am familiar with your research and thought leadership on quantum leap or breakthrough strategy, which I find very compelling. What defines a breakthrough strategy?
Breakthrough strategy is about an ingenious innovative and comprehensive success formula. It implies an ideal fit with the future. It can be in new products or services or marketing or business model. It is about transformation even in the core competencies. It is not about competing and winning only but about making a big difference in the market and society and about much more giving and collaborating and social responsibility. It is about extreme differentiation to get to the exponential zone of performance. If it is not mostly new it is not a breakthrough strategy. It is actually a process of perpetual transformation. It is a triple “wow” response. It is about realization of the real full potential of the organization. It deals typically with unknown territories or very dynamic environments, where research and forecasting become quite complex. Breakthrough strategy is a journey and adventure.
It is crucial to note that a quantum leap strategy does not have to be more costly than the incremental approach, and indeed it is much more feasible in the economic sense, since it makes the organization much more competitive, certainly in the medium and longer term.
One thing is certain: Breakthrough strategy has become a must in our era of disruptive innovations and extra rapid changes. It is the only way to achieve sustainable success. A breakthrough strategy is needed in at least 30-40% of the business activities and income, whether in a startup SME or an ongoing corporate organization or a government.
Emerging countries in the past used to copy the existing status of advanced economies, but this left them trailing behind all the time and never being able to bridge the widening gap. To catch up, emerging countries needed to do a quantum leap to be able to compete. It is about catching up with the future rather than with the present. I did a lot of work in developing and emerging countries in different regions, including work with China and was intrigued by the countries that pursued a quantum leap stance similar the Asian tigers, China, but also the UAE.
Strategy formulation is not a routine exercise. A breakthrough strategy cannot be worked out in a few hours or even in a few days of discussions. The breakthrough strategy formulation process is quite similar to the innovation process. As in the case of innovation, a breakthrough strategy has to be earned and is not given on a silver plate. The ingenious ideas have to be found first through a phase of divergent thinking. There are definitely great innovative solutions and paradises out there but one has to find them or better create them.
My role is to encourage this type of quantum leap change since it is the way to go in our age and for sustainability.
What are some organizations that have achieved this?
Many SMEs I dealt with. In the majority of cases where success is tangible, there is this element of a quantum leap and blue ocean quite visible.
IBM is an example when it transformed from a mainframe company to a business service firm. Other examples include Google, IKEA, Marks and Spencer in the UK and thousands of other firms everywhere. Dubai is a great example of ongoing quantum leaps of emerging countries. I try to instill breakthrough strategy and a quantum leap in all companies and organizations I deal with and see this as my main role. I invest a lot of effort in developing the initial business concept of a startup into a “wow” value proposition.
In one of your products, you focus on the importance of mindset. What characterizes an ideal mindset for breakthrough strategy?
There is no ideal mindset for breakthrough success, but a combination of mindsets, as with any success.
The mindset is the driving force. It is the most important thing. It is the magic of the whole thing, like in sports or in the battle. There is no realization and no winning without it. Some examples of needed mindsets include taking risk and pushing limit to the extreme. Another is the mindset of innovation and experimenting, but also entrepreneurship and treasure hunt. Another is the mindset of extra giving and sharing, etc. You need also the alien in your team. Such a wide combination of mindsets is needed in your strategic team.
The mindset is especially important for corporate setting, where people tend to stay too close to their comfort zone.
Based on your experience, what are the biggest growth challenges for smaller organizations?
When a startup takes off with a breakthrough formula, it will be driving on a super highway in terms of growth prospect. Actual growth will then depend on how the management is performing, keeping in mind that success can be only realized through a comprehensive combination of elements–a complete formula–while failure can be caused by any missing or defective element in this equation. Many people blame money for lack of growth, but in actual fact, this is often not the case. It is all about the recipe–i.e. the business formula–irrespective of the size of the business. Obviously, one needs to test this formula in the market prior to embarking. When the formula is not “wow” or has missing elements, then it will be an ongoing struggle with everything, including growth, even when money is available. Hence, one has to get the formula right and keep innovating and changing even during growth. It is not only about money and people.
It is estimated that more than 50% of startups fail and cease operation after 4 years, and there can be many reasons for such failures.
What are some ways organizations can increase the level of innovation in their strategic thinking?
Main thing is the “want:” We want an innovative strategy. Obviously, one needs collective work and a diversity of mindsets in the strategy formulation team, including innovative people, but also explorers and entrepreneurs. The mindsets can be stimulated by taking the team to some major conference or exhibition followed by some brainstorming sessions. Research is essential for innovation, including testing and development of concepts in the real world. A two-teams approach is quite conducive to innovation. Close proximity to the customers during strategy formulation is very stimulating. It is all about the right questions in strategy, but indeed the “why” type. It is essential also to allocate sufficient time to be able to develop an innovative strategy, similar to the making of a Damascene sword.
You also co-authored a training guide with John Gelmini called Reinventing Senior Executives, which is aimed at helping aging senior business executives boost their youthfulness, resilience, and outlook. What are some tips you can share with senior business executives who feel the effects of aging?
In actual fact, age is just a number. One can become more creative and more daring every year even after 60. Seniority has many advantages and one should leverage such strong points. Every year, one should add new approaches and gadgets to counteract the effect of aging and to make every year better than the previous one. There is actually no limit to pushing limits, as one might assume, and one can acquire new habits even as a senior executive. It is crucial to become a technology freak with the help of trainers but also an elder and even to do quantum leaps.
This guide includes many new, but tested and guaranteed approaches, and which are embraced and practiced by the authors. I am a globetrotter and long distance walker and pursue quantum leaps constantly in my life and profession.
Dr. Stephen Sweid has published a series of business frameworks on Breakthrough Strategy to Flevy.