A “Possibilities” Based Approach

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I listened to a fascinating webinar yesterday that featured Roger Martin (Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business) and A.G. Lafley (former CEO of Proctor and Gamble).  Their talk focused on a way of thinking about possible strategies.  After the webinar I downloaded a paper from HBR that detailed some of their ideas.

A possibilities-based approach requires at least three fundamental shifts in mind-set:

“First, in the early steps, they must avoid asking “What should we do?” and instead ask “What might we do?”  This is an intriguing start, don’t you think?  What if when thinking about ministry strategy we shifted our thinking from “should” to “might?”  For example, instead of asking, “What should be offer to connect people?” we’d begin asking, “What might we offer to connect people?”  Sounds simple, but the shift from should to might is a very significant beginning.

Second, in the middle steps, managers must shift from asking “What do I believe?” to asking “What would I have to believe?”  Once you’ve collected a handful of interesting possibilities (what might we do?), you begin to ask the question, “What would I have to believe (about each of the possibilities)?”  I’ve referenced Roger Martin’s great question previously: “What would have to be true in order for this idea to be a fantastic choice?”  This is a version of that question and the thinking behind it.  Possibilities-based approach relies on assembling a set of conditions that would have to be true about each of the strategies posed.

Third, the possibilities-based approach forces managers to move away from asking “What is the right answer?” and concentrate instead on “What are the right questions? What specifically must we know in order to make a good decision?”  It has long been my understanding that great questions, the right questions, are much more important than the right answers.  It is possible to have the right answers to the wrong questions and not realize it until too late.

What do you think?  Have a question? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.


Want to dive into the topic?  You can learn a lot more from their paper, Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy.  Also, Roger Martin’s book, The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage is one of my favorite books and very helpful for strategic thinkers.  His newest, along with A.G. Lafley is Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works.  My copy is in the mail…I can’t wait to dive into it!

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