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37/2 April 2004



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Special Issue

George S. Day and Paul J.H. Schoemaker Theme Editors

Peripheral Vision: Sensing and Acting on Weak Signals

Charles Baden-Fuller Editorial

I am delighted to introduce the Special Issue on Peripheral Vision edited by Professors George Day and Paul Schoemaker of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. George and Paul will be known to many of our readers: George is an internationally acclaimed academic in the field of marketing with a prodigious output that includes The Market Driven Organisation, published by Free Press (1999). Paul has a background in Decision Sciences and has published on a wide variety of issues including Profiting from Uncertainty, published by the Free Press (2002).

This special issue was inspired by a conference organised by the Mack Centre for Technological Innovation, where George and Paul work closely together. It was clear to all of three of us that this conference had great potential for a wider audience, and I was delighted that George and Paul agreed that LRP should be host for a special issue on the theme. They did more than take the presentations from the conference: with the help of Robert Gunther and the authors they have produced a magnificent set of papers that reach across the practice-theory divide. We have some of the foremost thinkers of strategy: C.K. Prahalad and Sid Winter along with George Day and Paul Schoemaker mixing with some of the most articulate of the practitioner writers, John Seely-Brown, Stephan Haeckel, Larry Huston, Anil Menon and Andrew Tomkins. Their pieces can be read standing alone or as a conversation.

What is the theme about? The title is clear and I will not spoil the reader’s appetite by trying to summarise the content. I only say that the question of how to deal with Peripheral Events is a long standing issue for both individuals and organisations. Ignore these events at your peril but spending too much time on them also leads to failure. This is a magnificent issue that not only draws our attention to this vital subject but goes a long way towards answering the question of ‘what to do’ using intellectual frameworks and practical insights.

On behalf of LRP I thank the editors: George and Paul, and I encourage you to read on.

George S. Day and Paul J.H. Schoemaker Introduction dayg@wharton.upenn.edu, schoemaker@thinkdsi.com

Executive Summaries

George S. Day and Paul J.H. Schoemaker Driving Through the Fog: Managing At The Edge dayg@wharton.upenn.edu

The periphery can be a source of opportunities, the area of strategic attack or a source of blunders, but the key thing is to learn from it. This paper tell us where we should be looking; how to scan the periphery; how to disseminate and interpret the information; and how to assess whether the information should be used, stored or ignored. The authors offer a roadmap for companies to improve their peripheral vision and say that practice will be key.

Larry Huston Mining the Periphery for New Products huston.la@pg.com

This article says managers need to peruse the periphery for new product ideas because this is often where the breakthrough innovations, that could drive the company’s future business, will be found. It suggests three strategies for recognising or creating new ideas at the periphery and bringing them into the centre.

John Seely-Brown Minding and Mining the Periphery jsb@johnseelybrown.com

This paper cites examples of where peripheral events have caused ripples that reached right to the centre of an organisation. It suggests a variety of strategies and tools that enable to attend better to the periphery and concludes by saying managers need to create the ‘ambidextrous’ corporation, whereby they use these tools for probing the periphery without making them a distraction from the central business.

Stephan H. Haeckel Making Meaning Out of Apparent Noise: The Need for a New Managerial Framework haeckel@optonline.net

Doing business in the face of constant change requires a fundamental shift from a ‘make-and-sell’ to a ‘sense-and-respond’ framework. Giving up predictability requires attention to what would have been considered the ‘periphery’ of the traditional make-and-sell company. This paper says that investment in peripheral vision is key to survival and a company must now invest in improving its vision.

C.K. Prahalad The Blinders of Dominant Logic ck@praja.com

The dominant logic of a company is embedded in the operating procedures and shapes not only how members of the organisation act, but how they think as well. Over time this limits the ability of people in the organisation to drive innovation or see new opportunities and threats. This paper suggests that instead of focusing on ‘best practices’, managers need to look at developing ‘next practices’. It cites examples of companies that have attempted to overcome their dominant logic, with varying degrees of success, to recognise the threats and opportunities on their peripheries.

Anil Menon and Andrew Tomkins Learning About the Marketís Periphery: IBMís WebFountain amenon@us.ibm.com; tomkins@almaden.ibm.com

This paper explores how companies can harness the internet to gain insights that could help them identify threats and opportunities. What prevents companies from making use of this information is not a lack of data, but the problem of identifying the questions to ask. This paper looks at the potential of such as IBM’s WebFountain that is designed to help extract trends, detect patterns and relationships from vast amounts of raw data.

Sidney G. Winter Specialised Perception, Selection, and Strategic Surprise: Learning from the Moths and Bees winter@wharton.upenn.edu

Just as moths and bees adapt their sensors to specific purposes, organisations can adapt their own sensing systems to specific conditions. A moth can hear the sonar of a bat, and take evasive action, but it has no system that warns it of an impending blow from a rolled-up newspaper. Similarly, bees have a vision system that is evolved to recognise opportunities among certain flowers. Just as with insects, a company may have evolved sensors that are mismatched with the current environment. The paper outlines systems that can help improve a company’s peripheral vision.


This issue is available in full on-line at www.sciencedirect.com

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