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Thucydides' Trap: From Geopolitical Tensions to Relevant Business Innovation

"The Thucydides Trap", a concept introduced by Harvard professor Graham Allison, explores the risk of conflict when an emerging power threatens to destabilize a dominant power. The classic example comes from the war between Sparta and Athens, but this scenario is not just a relic of ancient history. It repeats itself in modern times, reflecting the complex dynamics of power relations at both global and regional levels.

The economic and technological conflict between the United States and China is a contemporary example of the Thucydides Trap on a global scale. As China rapidly solidifies its position on the world stage, tensions rise, creating an environment of uncertainty and strategic competitiveness. Regionally, conflicts between Ukraine and Russia, as well as tensions between Israel, backed by the USA, UK & EU, on one side, and Gaza, supported by Iran, Arab countries, and more recently Turkey, on the other side, illustrate somewhat the same power dynamics. Emerging or quasi-emerging powers challenge the status quo, leading to conflicts and instability. In the business world, this dynamic is reflected when a newcomer to the market or a 'challenger' starts gaining ground and threatens the dominant position of traditional companies. More often than not, these traditional companies react rather confrontationally by:

  • Reducing prices: competitive pricing strategies that can help maintain market share;

  • Aggressive competition: aggressive tactics and initiatives that can be used to try to eliminate competition;

  • Mergers and acquisitions: integrating or acquiring emerging companies that can consolidate the leadership position.

However, these reactions often only deepen the effects of the "Thucydides Trap" and accelerate the spiral towards conflict. We can see similarities in how world powers respond to perceived threats, often exacerbating the situation instead of resolving it. Is there a better way to approach it? I believe the answer lies in innovating the way we think, and more precisely, in relevant innovation. Both in the geopolitical sphere and in the business world, innovation seems to be the solution to avoid the potential pitfalls of rivalries. Although I am not an expert in geopolitics to propose innovative solutions, I feel confident in discussing innovation in business.

Following a detailed dialogue with ChatGPT-4, I extracted 14 essential criteria to evaluate innovation processes and identify relevance. Among the most important are 'customer centricity', success rate, predictability, and efficiency. Subsequently, I prompted ChatGPT-4 to identify and then evaluate the world's best-known innovation processes based on these criteria, with places 3, 4, and 5 awarded to the following frameworks (on a scale of 1 to 10):

3. Design Thinking - 7.42

4. Lean Startup - 6.78

5. Agile Development - 6.67

In first place, by a large margin, ChatGPT-4 recommends ODI&JTBD (Outcome Driven Innovation & Jobs-To-Be-Done), with a score of 9.06. Through this framework, Tony Ulwick, the creator of ODI and the one who translated Clayton Christensen's JTBD concept into practice (the most influential business idea of the early 21st century from 'the most influential management thinker of his time'-The Economist), enhances Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile Development. By implementing ODI&JTBD beforehand, these innovation processes could achieve significantly improved results. Without making costly pivots.

Relevant innovation has its roots in a deep understanding of people's needs. Understanding and directly addressing their expectations is essential to bring about truly significant changes. Methodologies like Outcome Driven Innovation & Jobs-To-Be-Done (ODI&JTBD) provide the perfect framework to penetrate the core of these needs and innovate in a way that is not only efficient but also intrinsically tied to people's real expectations.

Regardless of the context, whether we are talking about geopolitics or the business market, the ability to innovate in a relevant way is essential. The "Thucydides Trap" reminds us that, in the face of challenges, relevant innovation and the strategic thinking "behind it" are essential to avoid conflict and build a more stable and prosperous future.

The alternative?

Remain in a destructive conflict with undesirable consequences.

The choice is ours.


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