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Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company's Future.

Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company's Future

Nathan Furr, Kyle Nel, and Thomas Zoega Ramsoy (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2018)

What happens when you use science fiction stories, comicbooks, robots, and virtual reality goggles to change the way a major retailer interacts with its customers and presents its products? That is the story these authors are presenting from their experience developing an entirely new product showcase for customers at Lowe's Home Improvement, the big-box hardware chain with over 2,000 stores in North America and more than $68 billion in annual revenue.

Kyle Nel, at the time Executive Director of Lowe's Innovation Labs; Nathan Furr, a professor of strategy at INSEAD; and Thomas Ramsoy, a researcher at Copenhagen Business School, embarked on a journey to assist Lowe's in reinvigorating a growth path that had become stagnant and was threatening to leave the company in a lagging position in its core market. Following their success at Lowe's, Furr, Nel, and Ramsoy extended and enhanced their techniques and offered them as a consulting service to other large retailers, like Pepsi, IKEA, and Walmart. Leading Transformation lays out their playbook for a very unorthodox approach to strategy development and disruptive innovation within large, established, and perhaps staid organizations. The tools are designed to break through human behavior barriers and stimulate unique paths for thinking, planning, and acting.

The first step in the process at Lowe's was to hire a collection of science fiction writers and commission each to create a story that described the role of Lowe's in a future world. The writers were given guidelines to orient their stories toward a functional and potentially reachable future, one that avoided dystopian world destruction, encounters with space aliens, and the discovery of alternative dimensions.

When the stories were delivered, the authors and Lowe's staff culled them down to those that contained the seeds for something that could be pursued immediately. Many of the stories included shopping via virtual reality, which became a central theme of the group's first project. The next step was to create a strategic narrative for the virtual reality project, which followed a traditional story arc with characters, conflict, and a resolution. Unconventionally, the group chose to create a comic book that featured the stores, products, and customers. This tool actually convinced Lowe's executive leaders to approve a plan to build virtual reality arenas in a limited number of stores, adopt robots that could inventory merchandise in the evenings and serve as roving product catalogs for customers during the day, and experiment with exoskeletons to assist associates in lifting and moving heavy products.

With the Lowe's experience as a foundation, the authors sought to develop a framework to make the process replicable: Furr's strategic management expertise provided structures, nomenclatures, and archetypes from the literature that could be deployed to generalize the Lowe's experience and create a roadmap that other businesses could follow. Ramsoy's neuroscience expertise drove an effort to explore the behavioral aspects of the method via functional MRIs (fMRIs), EEGs, and eye trackers, which could provide a measure of the cognitive load, motivation to action, emotional arousal, and focused attention of human subjects or customers. The consulting service does not use these multimillion-dollar machines directly in its projects but applies the published research to support the advice given to clients on engaging with customers.

The book is as much a narrative of the authors' personal experiences on the Lowe's project as it is a guide to the methods that emerged from that experience. Its point is that unconventional tools like science fiction and comic books can stimulate strategic decisions that would be very difficult to consider via traditional media, such as slide presentations and spreadsheets. The authors also explain how the academic tools of behavioral science can assist with the process.

Roger Smith is the CTO of Florida Hospital Nicholson Center. roger.smith@
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Author:Smith, Roger
Publication:Research-Technology Management
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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