There are some interesting insights about strategy development we can glean from the world of software development. Recently, a friend of mine (the manager of some software development teams) told me he was called to the CEO’s office so the CEO could share an observation and a concern he had about the development teams. He told my friend how alarmed he was that virtually everyone on the teams was over 30 years old!
As my friend continued to relate this story to me, I stopped him and asked why having a team over 30 was an issue in the CEO’s mind. I expected him to tell me how frustrated he was with his boss about this perspective. After all, most people relish the idea of having a solid team of experienced, knowledgeable experts, seasoned in their profession and capable of turning out sound solutions in a timely manner.
But to my surprise, he agreed with his boss. Obviously, I had to ask him to explain why he felt that way. As he explained their reasons, it made perfect sense. He explained that while it was true that having a well-seasoned team of developers was an effective way to generate good solutions quickly, it virtually guaranteed that the solutions would be functional but uninspired and unimaginative.
Experienced developers have large “tool boxes” of modules that they can draw from. These modules are proven, essentially cut-and-paste tools to accomplish the tasks needed. There are a couple of problems with this approach, he pointed out. One problem is that having so many “tools” at hand causes developers to become complacent. The consequence of this complacency is that solutions – although accurate – are uninspired.
The other problem is that being in an industry for so many years leads to a kind of “group think”. Everyone “knows” how the problem should be solved and as a result, simply come up with a variation of an existing tried and true solution. The consequence of this group thinking is that innovation is quashed.
In contrast, young, inexperienced software developers aren’t constrained by preexisting thought patterns. Additionally, they don’t have many “pre-made” tools to draw from. Therefore, in order to solve problems, they need to invent solutions from scratch. It’s not that every new idea is good or better than a generally accepted approach, but the act of looking at problems with fresh eyes can often lead to new and better ways of solving problems.
These same insights apply very nicely to the development of business strategies. When executives have many years within an industry, a kind of “group think” often exists. This usually results in strategic solutions which are good, but not great. In addition, well-seasoned industry professionals are very familiar with “how things are done”, which almost always leads to “blind spots”. These blind spots act to constrain the range of strategic solutions being considered.
Just as with software development, developing great business strategies requires fresh, unbiased perspectives, which are often only found outside of an industry. The best ideas often come from other industries. Fresh, creative solutions, tempered by the experience and insights of seasoned executives, will almost always produce superior results.