The new psychology of strategic leadership

Harv Bus Rev. 2011 Jul-Aug;89(7-8):118-25, 166.

Abstract

Firms in an industry typically cluster around a few strategic positions, and the intense competition on those occupied "mountaintops" makes it hard for firms to gain attractive returns. Superior opportunities lie on unoccupied mountaintops. Yet because those opportunities are "cognitively distant"--far from the status quo--strategists have trouble recognizing and acting on them. Competition, therefore, is weak. Most managers are trained to analyze economic forces when they want to identify new opportunities. But that approach usually won't uncover the kinds of ideas that overturn the status quo. Recent research on human cognition suggests that leaders would do better to use associative thinking to spot, act on, and legitimize distant opportunities. They should learn to make analogies with businesses in other industries, for example. For example, Charles Merrill launched an extraordinarily successful business when he reimagined banking as a "financial supermarket." This article explores ways to jump-start associational thinking--and to bring stakeholders along on the journey.

MeSH terms

  • Commerce*
  • Creativity*
  • Humans
  • Leadership*
  • United States