Monday, October 1, 2012

To look forward, look backward (even Harvard says so)

"A company's history can also be instructive. What was the vision of the founders? What were the products and customers that made the company? Looking backward, one can reexamine the original strategy to see if it is still valid. Can the historical positioning be implemented in a modern way, one consistent with today's technologies and practices?

"This sort of thinking may lead to a commitment to renew the strategy and may challenge the organization to recover its distinctiveness. Such a challenge can be galvanizing and can instill the confidence to make the needed tradeoffs."

These words by Harvard Business School Professor Michael E. Porter can be found in his essay "What Is Strategy?" It's part of HBR's 10 Must Reads on Strategy (copyright 2011, Harvard Business Review Press, available in print and on Nook).

Using history to galvanize and recover an organization's distinctiveness is a message I try to communicate all the time. Looking backward isn't a mere exercise; it's a vital component of the future. Besides teaching and writing, Porter chairs HBS's program for newly appointed CEOs of large corporations. I hope his executive students are listening to the history message.