DISCIPLINE #1 Coalesce

To bring together from disparate parts, requires both the sciences and the arts.

In January 1922 at the Royal Theater in Madrid, Juan de la Cierva watched a performance of Don Quixote. During the performance, Cierva’s attention was drawn to a windmill on stage. He observed that the blades of the windmill flapped slightly with each rotation because they were made of flexible slivers of palm-tree wood. Cierva had been working on flight machine prototypes with blades atop the fuselage, and he had run up against one big problem: The propeller blades rolled to the right during testing. His revelation during Don Quixote was that the prototypes featured blades that couldn’t flap, limiting the aircraft to a slow forward hover, which caused the roll over. If instead the blades were made of material that allowed them to flap like the windmill, then the advancing blade could flap upward, providing some lift, while the retreating blade flapped downward, producing extra lift. Cierva’s flash of insight would prove to be the key principle in the flight of all single-main-rotor helicopters today.1

Cierva’s discovery captures the essence of insight. An insight is the combination of two or more pieces of information or data in a unique way that leads to the creation of new value. Strategic thinking, then, is the ability to generate insights that lead to competitive advantage. Using the lens of new value on the ideas, projects, initiatives, and tactics proposed each day provides a powerful filter for eliminating meaningless activities. It forces you to more closely examine why things are being proposed and pursued instead of just what is to be done.

Advanced strategic thinking requires not only the insights generated, but the ability to coalesce these insights into meaningful differentiated value. Coalesce means to bring together, and we see this skill evident in great strategies and the strategists who have devised them. Steve Jobs’s coalescing of insights from the computer, music, and telecommunications industries provided Apple much more than a single product hit. It provided Apple with the means to fuse design, integration, and convenience into a profit-chomping platform of products wrapped in a premium brand.

Strategy is often described as the big picture. Remember back to the connect-the-dots pages of your youth. Black dots were distributed throughout a page, each next to a number. By tracing a pencil in numerical order over the dots, you would create a picture. The more dots you connected, the more fully the picture would emerge. Prior to developing a strategy, the insights (black dots) must be generated and then connected in a meaningful sequence. The result is a holistic view of the current business situation and the path to achieve one’s goals and objectives. Moving forward, we’ll examine a number of different concepts and tools to enhance your ability to coalesce insights into cogent strategy.

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