The Organizational Strategist

November 25, 2009

Appreciative Inquiry: An Introduction to a Fantastic Way to Enact Change


I have found that properly involving people are often an incredibly critical factor, if not the most important factor, to ensuring some sort of organizational change goes along as planned. Understanding the direction of the change should come with the organizational strategy that has been set forth. Knowing the proper timing and ways to involve stakeholders in the change process comes with time and experience. Once those details and the strategy to go forward have been agreed upon, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) has been a favorite method of mine to involve any number of individuals from very small to incredibly large groups toward the implementation of an initiative.

There is an enormous that could be said about AI. In this post, I’ll just stick to the basics to help readers get a flavor of what it is. Further articles will mention more specific aspects of AI.

-Description of Appreciative Inquiry-

Appreciative Inquiry is fun to facilitate, energizes all of the participants, constructs and cultivates at the same time and is many other helpful attributes. It centers on finding the good, the strength, and the positive in an organization or individual, which forms the appreciation. The process to find that information is the inquiry. Hence, that combination becomes appreciative inquiry.

I came to know of AI from the Organizational Behavior (OB) department in Weatherhead. Those who taught me the most are Professors David Cooperrider and Ron Fry, who are both very well known for their consulting work and writing. They can both be recognized by their calm tone, easy going attitudes, and well pronounced mustaches. As a side note, it did seem that many of the distinguished characters in the OB department all had mustaches. Ladies, don’t worry, I have known many fantastic AI practitioners that are women.

In the MPOD (Master of Science in Positive Organizational Development and Change) program, AI changed the program so radically that it evolved into MPOD instead of simply MOD. With the addition of the “P” for Positive, often people ask “was organizational development negative previously?” The answer would be “no” because organizational development is meant to help build or implement changes. The approach in doing so would likely not have been as upbeat or optimistic because of the way that AI purposefully centers on the positive in an organization.

The positive focus is often referred to as a strengths based approach. In using AI, it pulls upon the good aspects that are already present or have been enacted in an organization. The inquiry is the information gathering that helps elicit the stories, descriptions, and other imaginings of what can be possible from the people involved. Due to the nature of pulling out the good aspects present in an organization, it makes it easier, more engaging, uplifting, energizing and more to be a part of the process. Unlike a problem-centric change initiative, one where the objective is to “fix” something, AI tries to create, build, cultivate and otherwise inspire growth in the system of influenced people. Often the energy and enthusiasm brought up in the AI process will produce new dialogue, conversations and fast paced team formation to further enact change.

-How AI Works-

I won’t get into the details of the 4D cycle of AI here yet or other specifics. Those juicy bits of information can wait for follow up posts.

As said above, AI involves a lot of interviewing and storytelling. That is the most crucial aspect of AI since that information and energy from the conversation fuels the rest of the effort. How the interviews are implemented can be done in many different fashions to meet the needs of the change intervention and other potential constraints (time, money, etc). The two methods that I know to be the most influential are cascading interviews and summits.

Cascading interviews

Cascading interviews are where a core group starts as interviewers to gather data, create energy, and discover ideas. Each interviewer would undergo a handful of interviews. The interviewees would then become interviewers and would interview another handful of people who have not been interviewed yet. Through the breadth and depth of the interviewing from gradually spreading out the AI interviews, the cascading effect is obtained. This method allows for the change process to occur at a more natural pace and does not necessitate people to be pulled away from their normal jobs in such a way that an offsite or series of multi-hour long meetings would.


AI Summits are multi-day workshops that include AI interviews, activities for planning and coordination, and project team formation. The intent with summits is to bring in as many of the key people as possible to try and enact a holistic change process.. AI, being a very energizing method, helps tremendously to provide the steam to the engine of change.

-AI in Action-

Here are some avenues that I have found AI to be helpful:

  • Job interviews
  • OD interventions on the topics of empowerment and performance management
  • Sustainability collaboration
  • Workshop facilitation
  • Best practice sharing
  • Personal development and coaching
  • Case study interviews
  • MBA curriculum design applications and ideas
  • Data gathering for a study on Gen Y values, motivation, and retention
  • AI strengths-based performance management reviews

Some Examples Where I know AI has been used very successfully:

  • Higher Education
  • Utilities (Coal and Water energy)
  • Aerospace & Defense
  • Fortune 100 companies
  • US Armed Forces
  • Manufacturing companies
  • United Nations Conferences
  • Engineering companies


AI rapidly became one of my favorite ways of implementing a phase or an entire change project. The AI interventions can rapidly grow with their own vitality in such a way that it’s both shocking and inspiring. Needless to say, I highly recommend finding your own vehicle for trying it out.

November 18, 2009

Sustaining the First Mover Advantage – How organizations can maximize their capabilities and resources over time

First Mover Advantage article 2 of 2


My previous article on securing a 1st Mover Advantage discussed how a new market space can be secured and the advantages capitalized upon. The initial first mover advantage has many potential benefits, but it is often just a matter of time before other entrants aim to seize market share or to take some or all of the advantages away.

-Maintaining First Mover Advantage-

When other entrants are considering or trying to also grapple onto the market space, maintaining and up keeping the first mover advantages becomes a very important activity for the initial mover. Here are points that could help prevent other entrants from capturing some or all of the market space:

Continuing to secure the first mover advantages as they become more available over time

  • Examples include:
    • Bringing in new customers as more people become aware of the new product or service delivered by the first mover
    • Acquiring more of the limited resources as they become available

Enacting switching costs for any customers or resources gained

  • Examples include:
    • Enacting long term contracts and steep cancelation fees
    • Creating a suite of offerings that would become full-service or full-product spectrum to make it easier to stay with initial mover

Promotion of the branding to make it ubiquitous

  • Examples include:
    • Creating niche offerings for different customer segments
    • Communicating the brand identity far and wide with an advertising campaign

Creating barriers to entry and imitation against competition

  • Examples include:
    • Partnering with organizations that would benefit from complementary offerings, thus either preventing them from competing over the same market space and/or utilizing their customers base influence
    • Making the innovation’s patents into a patent cube or extend the patent by furthering the innovation’s applications

Placing high importance upon retaining high customer satisfaction and interest

  • Examples include:
    • Offering renewal deals for those who have been good, long term customers
    • Creating incentives, inside of your organization, to emphasize and reward retention and customer satisfaction

Being flexible and adjusting to customer needs, technologies, processing methods, and other aspects as the market space changes

  • Examples include:
    • Continually innovating and improving to meet what customers want most
    • Searching and finding new ways to further the market advantages by extending it into like areas that are complementary to the original advantages

These are just a handful of possible ways of extending, expanding, and renewing the first mover advantages so that the rewards from capturing the market space are assured.

-Sustained 1st Mover Advantages-

There are many possible avenues to explore in describing first mover advantages. Most large, well known companies will have strong, stable base of products or services that they pioneered. However, there are some that have become so attached to their innovation that they become a part of everyday language.

In doctor offices and your bathroom, these products are well known and commonplace. The simple small stick with a bit of cotton at the end has become so ever-present that a person will simply call it a Q-Tip. Even if you end up buying the generic package at Walgreens, Walmart, or another store, you might put Q-Tips on your shopping list. These products came from the original invention’s commercial release and became so well known that the brand has become associated with the product, in all forms of distribution.

In another product example, the patent lifespan and commercial usage were so well received that the product is known by the original name for the sticky, yellow paper square. Post-Its are what we call those little memos and reminders in our offices, even if we bought the products from someone else besides 3M, the original company that created Post-Its.

-Mover Advantage in question-

One product type that has caught my eye recently, which is being contested by several entrants, is the electronic reader or e-reader. The Amazon Kindle product, to my knowledge, is the first mover into this market space. Sony and Barnes and Noble also have e-readers to compete with Amazon’s Kindle. Gartner, the IT research firm, predicts increasing sales and that the price point will be a critical measure for the future of the e-reader market. Amazon recently lowered its Kindle price to be $259. The Technology Blog at Dallas’ Morning News writes:

Priced at an identical $259 and coming out at the end of November, the Nook seems to have a couple advantages over the Kindle.

First, it’s got a small, secondary, full color LCD screen at the bottom for browsing new books, in addition to the main E Ink display at the top.

Second, you’ll actually be able to test out the Nook in B&N stores, whereas you pretty much have to buy the Kindle sight unseen.

Third, you’ll be able to lend you Nook e-books to other Nook owners, or anyone with an iPhone, iPod touch, select BlackBerry and Motorola smartphones, PC or Mac. There are some limitations to the lending process, but it’s still a cool feature.

I expect that Amazon has several advantages from being the first mover in the e-reader market space. Here are some advantages that I envision are have been considered or already captured:

  • Positive brand reputation for being the trailblazing innovator
  • The initial tech-enthusiasts will have bought a Kindle and may not need or want a different e-reader
  • Exclusive contracts with authors and publishers
  • Advanced product quality from developing and improving new generations of the Kindle
  • Partnering with organizations that would highly value an e-reader product like research organizations, schools, libraries, and more

The breadth and depth of these advantages will vary as will the impact to the competition. There are other advantages the Kindle may have due to Amazon’s distribution, brand popularity and so forth, which will augment the first mover advantages as well.

With these new and noteworthy entrants into the e-reader market, will Amazon’s Kindle be able to hold on to the first mover advantages that it received? It’s clear that the barriers to entry were not enough to prevent other notable companies to create similar products. Another question comes to mind; will Amazon’s Kindle be able to sustain its first mover advantage so that it will remain the market leadership over time?


There are many, many facets to an organization’s strategy. Once a win in the market is achieved, it’s very important to cultivate and renew the reward achieved through the implementation of strategy. The success of maintaining the rewards of a first mover advantage are great and so might be the loss if an entrant overtakes the initial mover.

-Hyperlinked articles-

Gartner predicting e-reader sales:

The Technology Blog from Dallas’ Morning News Kindle story:

November 13, 2009

The keys necessary to secure a 1st Mover Advantage

Part 1 of 2 articles on 1st Mover Advantage


                The energy and promise of a new innovation in a company’s services or products can be almost tangible. Such discoveries make business and marketing colleagues dream of market space potential and positive forecasts of sales, revenues, and profits. The entrepreneurial spirit brings a sparkle to the eye of everyone involved.

                That spirit has been present in many of the roles I’ve been in. I always aspire to generate and highlight the potential opportunities that an organization has. I have found that inspiring others to see a new vision, create a new venture, and work to realize possibility is a very engaging activity. Utilizing Appreciative Inquiry (AI), one of the many subjects that I immensely enjoyed learning during my time at Weatherhead, is a wonderful method for inspiring, creating, and engaging. More on AI will come in a later post though. I know that I’m not alone in constantly being eager to overcome challenges, live in the adventure, and realize the openings that innovations bring.

-Securing the First Mover Advantage-

                Innovations can come in many forms. At times, an improvement is realized and a market space is sustained. Other times, entirely new product or service domains, which have their own market spaces, are created. A new market space may be due to a product or service becoming available in a previously inaccessible geography, demographic or other realm. By moving into the new market space, the first mover advantage can be secured. The term “first mover advantage” refers to the mover being able to capture the resources or whatever potential the market space initially offers. This will mean that the vast majority of most receptive customers, valuable resources, brand notoriety and reputation, and any other available benefits go to the first mover. The sparkle in the entrepreneur’s eye is envisioning these kinds of potential benefits. Any other mover that tries to enter into the same market space will not be able to as easily or capture the same advantages. Exactly how much of the advantage remains after other movers enter into the same market space depends upon how the first mover utilizes the advantages of being the first entrant.

To make the most of the first mover advantage, the following points will help:

  • Harnessing the enthusiastic customers that could use the product or service to the most benefit
  • Obtaining the most precious or critical resources available in the market space
  • Cultivating new customers through communication of benefits
  • Ensuring sufficient infrastructure is in place to realize all potential market space advantages
  • Becoming well known for the innovation and being the first mover to the market space

                It should be noted that trying to take a first mover advantage, but not fully capturing the advantage or maintaining it can pave the way for other entrants to then over run the initial mover(s). The iPod product is a good example of this. The iPod is an mp3 music player, but it was not the first mp3 player on the market. The market was actually inundated with all of the different types of mp3 players and devices. The iPod was extraordinary in that market space for many reasons. For example, a very important factor was that it included the iTunes software, which helped overcome some of the challenges consumers had with song transferring, uploading, and organizing. That was a part of the infrastructure that Apple put into the holistic product package to address more of the consumer needs. The slick aesthetic and revolutionary design of the interface certainly helped too.


                Keep up the spirit of ingenuity, adventure, and entrepreneurship. When you happen upon a new market space, be quick to take the initiative. However, do not be so quick that the due diligence is not done to ensure the first mover advantage is not just a passing phase for your new venture.

November 3, 2009

Clean Tech: Working Smarter, not Harder


The long held notions to reduce, reuse, and recycle will help our environment and preserve our limited resources still hold true. Consumers and companies are making more of an effort to care for our planet’s sustainability. However, the paths for achieving that aim have been evolving and diversifying. Using less material, fuel, electricity or other inputs (reduction) are still a primary pursuit. Yet, it seems to be that the biggest thing going on right now are innovations to harness and utilize energy through a smarter means instead of a more rigorous means. Essentially, the sustainability pursuits for organizations must work smarter, not harder, to keep up with the latest trends and technology.

-Sustainable Alternative Energy Avenues-

Smart grid is an example of this kind of sustainability pursuit that many companies, including Boeing, IBM, Oracle, Google, and more are getting into. Fundamentally it’s a means of working through the base economic principle of supply versus demand applied to mass scale electricity usage. As demand grows and supply isn’t as available, the price for energy (particularly electricity) goes up. The smart grid technologies and implementations would help manage the supply versus demand so that there isn’t as much stress on the plants creating the energy. Working smarter via smart grid technology and infrastructure would save money, reduce stress on energy generators, lessen the possibility of a power outage, and potentially allow for companies or households to sell back power. To learn more about how smart grids work, what components go into them, and the current evaluation of the potential benefits, check out this Strategy and Business article. To keep up with smart grid press, you may want to bookmark Greentech Media’s greentechgrid site, which can be found here. That last site has a lot of articles and resources to cover what all is happening, both from the technical and organizational involvement sides of smart grid development.

Solar panels, hydro-electric, and wind power and others take advantage of energy in its natural forms of movement and/or heat. These are other sustainable clean technology pursuits that have vast potential to provide the energy consumers need as well. These power sources take energy from a naturally occurring source and transform it into another, easily accessible and consumable means for our usage. Wind turbines and hydroelectric dams use the kinetic force of wind or gravity, respectively, to harness energy. Solar energy is harnessing the heat from the sun’s rays to polarize the photo-voltaic cells, among other solar power harnessing means. McKinsey did a neat interactive post on solar technologies. The article can be found here, which will explain the definitions as well as compare their strengths and challenges.

These technologies are all harnessing energy that is already out there; we just need to capture it. Once we’ve done that we can use it to our advantage. In some ways, these sources of energy are like finding a twenty dollar bill in your ski jacket that you had saved for emergency snacks and you are surprised to find it when you pull it out of your winter clothes bin. These are energy opportunities that are at your feet and we need to simply find a way to pick it up. Instead of doing the hard tasks of mining and burning to create energy as coal plants do, we can be smarter by using what we have all around us. These are ways we can work smarter, instead of harder.

-Organizational Clean Tech Use-

Better energy usage, capturing the energy that’s right in front of us and innovation to breakthrough into new energy avenues has caught the attention of organizations from government to businesses. Being smart about energy has definitely caught on. The gas-electricity hybrid Prius automobile from Toyota has been extremely popular and become a symbol of that company’s innovation. President Obama’s administration wants to make the US a leader in clean energy pursuits. An article from the San Jose Mercury News states that the new “Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy… has received $400 million through the federal stimulus act.” That money is going to be used to help fund new ideas to create the next generation of clean technologies in the US. Notable companies, Google and Microsoft, have long been looking for sustainability measures in their products and operations. As mentioned in this Financial Times article both of those companies are investigating wind energy and Microsoft has put a server farm in Dublin to take advantage of the natural cooling the weather there provides.

On the product side, I found that Microsoft’s Windows 7 Operating System has some clean tech examples. Windows 7 has improved power management and boot time, mentioned in this ComputerWorld article, which reduces power usage and the shortened boot time answers many prayers. A recent Microsoft’s Software Enables Earth sustainability blog post states that the power management features include automatically powering down when idle, handling system component power usage better (i.e. not powering a component when not needed/in use), and new diagnostic tools to help with power management. Another post from the same blog states that there’s a 91% carbon emission reduction from using digital downloads instead of producing CDs/DVDs. Most of these are management tools that enable more control of emissions and resource usage. While not revolutionary in their approach, smart and helpful decision making can help ensure a company has a lessened negative environmental impact, decreased energy costs, and increase operating performance.


The Triple Bottom Line Sustainability, defined and described in a previous article of mine here, can be achieved by many means. Energy usage has become an important topic and will likely continue to become even more important in the future. Clean tech, thus far, seems to be focused on better managing resources. The improved resource management and usage is done by working smarter, instead of working harder.

Pursuing improved management offers better awareness, control, security, and lessened risks. Leadership goes beyond management and inspires change. A question that I have been pondering after researching clean tech and the improved management of energy resources is what would it mean to be a leader in the clean technology realm?


-Hyperlinked Sites-

Smart Grid explanation site:

Greentechgrid site:

McKinsey Interactive article:

ARPA-E receives $400 million for clean tech grants:

Financial Times article mentioning Microsoft and Google looking into wind energy:

Computerworld article on Windows 7:

Microsoft Software Enabled Earth blog post on Windows 7:

Microsoft Software Enabled Earth blog post on carbon reductions by using downloads:

Triple Bottom Line Sustainability post:

Augmented Reality: This looks cool, literally

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , — Whit @ 4:34 pm

I just read about Augmented Reality (AR) in this Business Week article. Not having heard of AR previously, I was drawn in by the examples from the Star Wars and Terminator movies. The future implications of how AR could be used sound fantastic. I’m good at quickly recognizing people visually, yet names often take a while to recall. Having a tip to help me remember a person’s name based on facial recognition software would be great. Business networking at a conference would be extraordinarily easy in finding the right people to talk to for a particular interest.

Knowing about the Monocle iPhone application makes me want a smart phone even more now. This is one tech that I plan on following for future applications.


Business Week AR Article:

Blog at