When it comes to business strategy, what you know is not as important as what you don't know.
One of the biggest values a strategy consultant brings to a client is insight. When I help a client with their corporate strategy, they're counting on me to contribute information they don't already know about their competitive landscape. This is where data science really comes in handy.
Use the Johari window as a template
The Johari window serves as a terrific template to help understand the blind spots in your business strategy. The Johari window is a technique used in psychology to help people understand their relationship to others. I use it when I help data science teams integrate better with their end users.
In short, the participant's perception of himself or herself is compared with how others perceive them, using a preset domain of characteristics. Observations are divided into four areas known as: the arena, the facade, the unknown, and the blind spot. Observations in the arena are known to both the participant and others; observations in the facade are only known to the participant; observations in the unknown area are known by neither the participant nor the others; and observations in the blind spot are known by others, but not known by the participant. When considering your corporate strategy, there's an interesting parallel that helps frame your position in the marketplace.
If we overlay the Johari window with your corporate strategy, you have products and services within a market that sit in your arena: You and your competition are aware of the opportunity. Then, there is your facade where your corporate secrets (proprietary algorithms, confidential market analyses, and secret-squirrel product development) reside. There's an interesting area, which is unknown to both you and your competition; this is where blue ocean opportunities may be sitting. And, finally, there is your blind spot — an extremely dangerous area that your competition knows about, but you don't. This is the "T" in a classic SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis.
The first response to tackling blind spots is to employ the services of a strategy consultant; however, if you're lucky enough to have a data science team, you have another great option to pursue.
Turn data scientists loose to find blind spots
Focusing your data science team in the direction of your competition is a great way to uncover blind spots. Although your competition has corporate firewalls that you won't have access to, it's very difficult to operate in a vacuum. Companies interface with customers, suppliers, and government agencies. Furthermore, they're probably conducting analyses on their competition (including you), and it's very hard to make a move without leaving a digital trail of where you've been and what you're up to. This is just the kind of fodder your data scientists love to graze on.
To understand what's in your blind spot, look for places where your competition will leave a digital trail. First, look to the obvious: your competition's direct communication channels. Sometimes a company will signal what they intend to do by their marketing messages.
You should have your data scientists comb through the information on competitors' pages on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms to see if they can pick up on something you may be missing. Even a simple sentiment analysis may uncover a shift in market preferences that you missed.
It's also important to identify leading indicators that may tip you off to a blind spot. For instance, you can profile their suppliers to see if there's an increase in production from one or a few related suppliers.
The Johari window provides a good framework for understanding your strategic blind spots. When your competition knows about a product, service, or market that you haven't considered, there may be a blindside in your future.
Although strategy consultants are extremely useful in identifying what's in your blind spot, you shouldn't have to rely on them if you have a data science team at your disposal. Install collectors where your competition and their strategic ecosystem (e.g., customers and suppliers) leave digital clues, and then have your data science team go to work. You can't get blindsided if you don't have any blind spots.
John Weathington is President and CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc., a management consultancy that helps executives turn chaotic information into profitable wisdom.