Can you have an open source strategy ?

An open source strategy could work as well for some companies as it has in R&D and product development, by bringing in the best external strategic thinking.

It is now generally recognised that strategic thinking is not the exclusive preserve of the CEO, or even top management. Most businesses are so complex that no-one has a complete picture of the business in their head, even the very talented and highly compensated boss.

Instead, businesses only getting close to strategic reality by putting together multiple perspectives from different departments and levels, reaching all the way down to the front line facing customers every day. This is why many companies have created “strategic leadership groups”, combining bold thinkers across many functions and seniorities.

It is possible to go even further than this. Although we have created the most diverse thinking group we can, the weakness of these strategic leadership groups is that all members are employees of the company, and will have common blindspots.

This is the same challenge faced by the product development process, that has led to creating platforms for third party innovation and the movement to open-source innovation, e.g. at P&G). The open-source movement has shown how to harness the talents of hundreds of people to create better solutions to complex problems.

Think how your strategic thinking could be improved by the contributions of customers, suppliers, partners, distributors, even shareholders as well as employees. Any blindspots would evaporate and you could assemble the most complete picture of the future possible. Of course, everyone will have their own axe to grind – but this will add to the diversity of the discussion.

To be clear – the open-source group does not decide your strategy – this will still happen in a smaller circle. The open-source group will discuss key trends, create options, evaluate alternatives. This greatly alleviates any security concerns – only discussions will be available to outsiders, not decisions.

There are challenges in execution – many good community-building ideas dying a death because they never achieve quality discussion and participation. What outsiders should you invite? Do these outsiders (and insiders for that matter) have the right incentive to contribute their best thinking? How to separate key signals from self-interested noise? Who will moderate and curate the discussions? Will employees get worried by discussion of radical alternatives?

The promise of an open source strategy is to draw on the best thinking of everyone inside and outside your company, aligning and empowering them all in the process.