Strategy Imagination Forums


picture of Will Mitchell
Will Mitchell
University of Toronto
picture of George Stalk Jr
George Stalk Jr
The Boston Consulting Group

About the Series

The Strategic Management Society is delighted to present the Strategy Imagination Forums. These Imagination Forums share cutting-edge thinking on current strategy issues and topics presented by accomplished strategy thinkers from academia, business, and consulting. 

The Forums are open to all current Strategic Management Society members, as well as to members of the consulting and business communities.  Each Forum is 60-90 minutes, consisting of a presentation followed by Q&A. We look forward to you joining us for these exciting discussions.

The work of strategy consultants is often dismissed with the adage that consultants “borrow your watch to tell you the time.” Or that the analysis was thorough but didn’t provide any new insights. Strategists, whether in a consulting firm or an internal strategy group, can quibble over the extent to which these critiques are fair, but there is no question they are out there in the ether. Roger Martin—writer, strategy advisor, and 2017’s #1 management thinker according to Thinkers50— asserts that these concerns are responsible for the rise in prominence of the design firms, who are increasingly seen as more creative substitutes for mainstream strategy firms. That is, if one wants thorough analysis, one should hire a strategy firm and if one wants creativity, hire a design firm.

That trade-off doesn’t need to be forced on clients (whether internal or external). The process for making strategy choices can feature both rigor and creativity.  In this Strategy Imagination Forum session, Roger Martin will lay out an end-to-end process for creating strategy that infuses it with insights from both design thinking and integrative thinking.

picture of Roger Martin
Roger Martin
... is a writer, strategy advisor and in 2017 was named the #1 management thinker in the world by Thinkers50. He is also former Dean and Institute Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada. Roger...

The inaugural forum featured Martin Reeves, Chairman of the BCG Henderson Institute, speaking on “The Imagination Machine”. This virtual event was held on Wednesday, July 29, 2020 at 10 am EDT. Click here to watch the session recording. We are excited to share that Martin has provided written answers to some of the questions submitted during the live session! Click here to view his responses.

As business environments become more changeable and long-term growth rates decline, companies increasingly need to innovate - across their operations, offerings, and business models. We know the powerful effects of innovation, but what is upstream of innovation? How can we understand and shape the murky mental territory that leads to good ideas: the realm of imagination? How can we harness this uniquely human capacity in an age when more routine cognitive tasks are being substituted by machine learning?

Big businesses often struggle to make use of imagination. They may try to make it a mechanical process and end up with routinization and incrementalism. Or they may treat it like a magical power, celebrated in tales of great innovators, in the hope that good ideas will appear as needed without any special efforts. As companies grow, it becomes harder for them to be imaginative. Larger companies tend to focus on exploiting what they know and what originally gave them scale. Corporate vitality - the capacity for future growth and reinvention – measurably decreases with size.

Of course, we have the imagination of entrepreneurs to help create new products, services, and business models. Yet, the idea that entrepreneurs take the lead in imagining new businesses and big companies can focus only on managing established ones at scale, is falling apart. All companies – large and small, new and old, local and global, in traditional developed markets and in dynamic emerging markets -- face increasingly unpredictable environments and the prospect of stagnation or disruption if they do not continuously imagine and innovate.

Fortunately, business environments are increasingly malleable, and offer many yet unrealized opportunities to create and capture value, if we can first imagine them. As well as competing on scale efficiency, we must increasingly compete on imagination. We need to get serious about understanding this capacity, how it works individually and collectively, and how to deploy it reliably and powerfully, especially in large mature businesses that have been successful through one way of doing and seeing things.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a textbook or a playbook of how corporate imagination works or how to systematically enhance and harness it. Drawing on research for a forthcoming book from Harvard Business Press, we will examine:

  • What imagination is and what it does
  • How imagination works
  • The social dimension of imagination
  • What stops big companies from being imaginative
  • How to build and operate an “imagination machine”

We are excited to partner with the BCG Henderson Institute for this session. Bruce Henderson, for whom the Institute was named, was a founding member of the Strategy Management Society.  He was active with the SMS from its very beginning including helping design the first SMS conference in London, England in 1981 alongside early strategic management luminaries Henry Mintzberg, Derek Channon, Igor Ansoff and Dan Schendel.  Bruce was on the board of the SMS for many of its early years.  He was also an SMS Fellow until his death at 77 in 1992.

picture of Martin Reeves
Martin Reeves
... is a Senior Partner and Managing Director in the San Francisco office of BCG and Chair of the BCG Henderson Institute, BCG’s think tank on business strategy. Martin is currently leading research on imagination and strategy, crisis strategy, resilience, corporate vitality, biological strategy, and business ecosystems. He is also the author of ...