Innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders who want their
ideas to be successful will need to be able to imagine solutions that
people don’t even yet know they want, say Violina Rindova, professor
of management and organization at the University of Southern
California’s Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles, and Luis
Martins, director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship
at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business.
Rindova and Martins point to standout examples of business
success such as Whole Foods Market and Starbucks. Whole
Foods, for example, “required a different imagination of
the future to combine an organic farmers market with
a big grocery store, and a strong focus on conscious
capitalism,” says Martins. Starbucks had the same
transformative approach to coffee when its co-founders
envisioned a future when more people would be willing to
spend six dollars to drink high-quality coffee.
The researchers call this skill “strategic imagination,” and they
argue that most business schools don’t place enough emphasis on
teaching it to students. Instead, most faculty ask students to analyze
past business strategies and adapt those strategies to present
contexts—a process that rarely leads to business breakthroughs.
In his own courses, Martins helps students develop strengths
in three key components of strategic imagination: anticipatory
thinking, analogical reasoning, and design thinking. In the process,
Martins encourages students to imagine how current trends
could lead to completely new goods, services, and markets.
“We are running out of runway for mass-market thinking,”
Martins says. “I think strategic imagination will become an
ever more important aspect of the strategist’s job.”
“The Three Minds of the Strategist: Toward an Agentic
Perspective on Behavioral Strategy” appeared September 10
in Advances in Strategic Management.