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Re-telling the business model narrative to capture new value: the CEO as revisionist narrator

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2019 at 1:01 pm

WWII is high up the media schedules with this summer’s 75th Anniversary of D-Day. Listening to British journalist Richard Dimbleby reporting during the early hours of 6th June 1944 as British 6th Airborne Division aircraft take the first paratroops into action is breathtaking sound and text. The story of that war remains up for re-telling. And how little at times we know about our own history. The 2017 film re-telling of Dunkirk for me caught the truth of a nation unprepared. It forcibly reminded Britain was hours from being knocked out of the war at its outset.

Politics had gambled and lost leaving young lives to pay. Christopher Nolan’s version was intellectually more honest than 60s’ Hollywood. So honest I had to see it a second time as the first viewing leaves you wrought. I argue that these better re-tellings are due in part to courageous British historian A. J. P. Taylor. Taylor dented the Nuremberg Thesis on WWII origins in his masterpiece The Origins of the Second World War. Long story short, Germany was no different from other Western Powers in their aspirations for power. WWII grew out of the Western power struggle rather than nefarious and cunning planning by Hitler. Dry reasoning maybe. Such as the inadequacy of the Versailles Treaty in neither crushing nor successfully re-building a settled society. Taylor offered these awkward nuances contrary to the popular narrative of a demoniacal Fuhrer. (I and my family happened across A. J. P. Taylor’s son, no less, and family whilst on a holiday campsite in France many years back and we joined together to form a pub quiz team one night. Not one history question! Not one!)

Taylor annoyed popularists by re-telling WWII in the necessary and ongoing work of revision. Narratives surrounding markets and industries require similar re-telling. Often opening up new revenue streams based on established capabilities.

But Taylor-Snr’s work arrested popular myth and invited a new search for critical meaning. It’s this ability to re-tell and concentrate narratives which appear critical to strategic leadership as we balance industrial and post-industrial strategies in the UK’s new economies. And this is particularly critical for the North West, which has diverse revenues. From tourism, via its rural expanses, to world leading major global manufacturing and chemical production. Not forgetting the biggest media hub outside of London. And especially not forgetting the micro-businesses who possess growing confidence. (And who are taking to education via new programmes of study aimed at their type of business.)

Companies in this region have built on core competencies in engineering, chemicals, textiles and shipping by diversifying into modern high technology industries. Due strongly to senior leadership being able to offer narratives about change. These have travelled well through organisations and sectors. Good narration creates intellectual handrails for investors and stakeholders to see how any new business will evolve. And how core competencies can stretch onto new markets in the next season.  Thereby a business model is a combination of appropriate goals and objectives, but, critically, articulated as a narrative that investors can believe in.

This is not to deny old sources of senior leader authority such as personal charisma, position-power, experience, qualifications, support by the masses, an acute assessment of reality, a richer ‘big picture’, and gifted language use. However, in shifting a business model both good numbers and articulation remain key tools for CEOs.

Furthermore, in the new economies, the CEO must be willing to position their change strategies into a much wider pool of meaning. Not unlike Taylor’s revisionist history the board can and should change its narrative when needed. Headline thinking must be followed by diligent attention to subtle shifts in trading landscapes. A poor business plan will miss critical signals. Markets are not bounded entities in the way traditional demographic analysis used to infer. Take the staggering losses of the American car industry. It’s possible to see now how poor interpretation hamstrung this industry’s evolution, potentially for decades. Grabbing a window of change is the board’s key role, and its CEO is there to enable early adoption of difficult narratives. This is no longer the realm of the ‘how to’ airport text but of working in the ‘difficult middle ground’ between competing company visions. The CEO works between her directors’ complex and often contradictory needs, and searches for common ground that facilitates competing elements of an organisation’s activity. Of course the CEO can overpower all, necessary sometimes in a crisis, but often deeply destructive of value when a mature business needs revision during key periods in its lifecyle.

Taylor’s role now in the WWII narrative is one of iconoclast. Criticised for relying on German emigrees for his thesis. However, his assault on the sacred ground of WWII origins opened the door to a more grown-up debate. We accept now that the Soviet Union was the only coalition capable of depleting Axis power. It puts the West into a more honest frame of mind. Plus a quandary. Stalin was our ally.

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