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In extremely uncertain environments shaping strategies may deliver higher returns with lower risk than they do in less uncertain times Shape or adapt For years executives have regarded the question as perhaps their most fundamental strategic choice Is it better for a companys competitive position to try to influence or even determine the outcome of crucial and currently uncertain elements of an industrys structure and conduct Or is the wiser course to scope out defensible positions within an industrys existing structure and then to move with speed and agility to recognize and capture new opportunities when the market changes As globalization digitization and unfettered capital markets raise levels of uncertainty and rewrite definitions of opportunities and risks this basic strategic choice has morphed into a more complex and high-stakes dilemma The right strategic bets can return far higher payoffs far more quickly the wrong ones carry a much higher risk of systemic failure Betting big today may fundamentally reshape a market on a global scale to the advantage of a company or quickly produce losses that can throw it into bankruptcy A company may avoid foolhardy mistakes by waiting for uncertainty to diminish or it may squander the chance to lay claim to first-mover advantages The truth is that no dominant solution exists You might argue that any good strategy should attempt to shape and adapt by specifying actions designed to increase the probability of some outcomes while simultaneously preparing for others That approach may work in some cases Yet the actions a company must take to shape the market are often inconsistent with those needed to adapt Consider Qualcomm For the past few years it has been trying to move the wireless-telephone industry toward its CDMA Code Division Multiple Access technology CDMA a technical standard that determines how information travels and communicates through a wireless network is competing with other technologies to become the industry standard for next-generation mobile phones Qualcomm
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