Ideas don’t get executed if the organization has an “Air Sandwich”, which is the empty void in an organization between the high-level strategy conjured up in the stratosphere and the realization of that vision down on the ground. That’s why we need a new how. To do collaborative work. Because the future is not created, the future is co-created.

“Most of us hold onto our precious ideas as if in a closed fist, to make sure they stay ours. We want credit, thinking this will advance our aspirations. If we choose certainty and control, we never get what we really want: impact. To get more innovation, we’ve gotta address the human conditions that cause us to repeatedly fail at new ideas.”

“An Air Sandwich is a strategy that has clear vision and future direction on the top layer, day-to-day action on the bottom, and virtually nothing in the middle—no meaty key decisions that connect the two layers, no rich chewy filling to align the new direction with new actions within the company. By doing strategy the old way, we’re missing the substance of the business—the debate of options, the understanding of capabilities, the sharing of the underlying assumptions, the identification of risks, issues that need to be tracked, and all of the rest of the things that need to be managed. The middle is missing a set of shared understandings that would connect the vision to the direction to the reality. When a company has an Air Sandwich, the most valuable details and decisions that enable a strategy to succeed are left out of the strategy.”

Collaborative Strategy: A Q & A With Nilofer Merchant


Look at your organization’s hierarchical approach. Did you know it is the number one way you are killing innovation in your firm? The New How shares the secret sauce you can use to work with teams to create fierce performance that can only lead to great outcomes.

Most organizations have a traditional view that “strategy” belongs to one part of an organization and “execution” another, creating what she calls an AirSandwich inside the organization. An AirSandwich is like a peanut butter sandwich – it is missing all the stuff that matters. In business, those are the decisions, deliberations and understandings when people are engaging an idea – to make that idea a reality in the marketplace.

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