Around the world, Innovation Superclusters are on the rise. But what, exactly, are Innovation Superclusters and why do they matter?  


While often misunderstood due to various policies, structures, funding models, strategies and capabilities, we find that Clusters and increasingly Innovation Superclusters can be identified and understood through six key points.  A Cluster initiative on Taiwan, in Korea or the Thai Supercluster program, will be different in context, industry need, and government program, but the six principles are equally valid across geographies and culture.  

1. Engines of Growth

Successful Innovation Supercluster is first and foremost Engines of economic growth, by connecting 100’s of members and partners. From a policy- and GDP-development point of view, Clusters are expected to produce value that far exceeds the national averages across all industries.  

2. Collaboration Networks

Second, Superclusters are immense collaboration networks built around the industries of the future. These clusters exist to build out larger, more connected networks around future key industries. By pulling together industry executives, academics, investors, startups and government leaders, the Superclusters aims to build close and personal ties across domains, roles, hierarchies, and traditional silos.  

3. Private-Public Partnerships

Third, Superclusters ae large-scale private-public partnerships, developed by design. While they do require certain foundational capabilities in terms of local industry, local talent and local investors, it is really the co-development of private and public partners that make the cluster initiative a success.  

4. Trust-based

Forth, Superclusters are trust-based collaboration platforms. While the level of trust and preferred route to develop trust may vary, the essence is that industry leaders, researchers, startups and other members in the cluster should work to create trust across the entire cluster base. This translates into collaborating on projects, sharing research data, pool company data into cluster collaboration projects (Seafood industry sharing fish health data for machine learning development).  

5. Solution Creators

Fifth, great clusters are solving industry-level challenges & opportunities. Think, open innovation across a close community of stakeholders. Using our open innovation software platform, clusters can identify industry-wide challenges, challenges that then can be addressed by the cluster through joint innovation projects or innovation working groups. Over time, Superclusters should be able to take on and solve “challenges that are too big for anyone of us”, in the words of an industry CEO.  

6. Magnets

Finally, strong Superclusters become magnets. Think of magnets that attract talent, capital, researchers, and companies into the region and cluster membership base. In Canada, the Digital Supercluster is already seeing a growing number of corporates and startups relocating into the greater Vancouver region to be a part of the rapidly developing Digital Supercluster. 


We are seeing a rising interest in and understanding of building a new breed of Innovation Clusters. Governments from Canada to Thailand already have Supercluster programs in place. The EU, the Nordics, South-East Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East are all in various stages of exploring their own Supercluster Initiatives.  

Whatever model and policy they may choose, they will all need to follow the six principles listed here to Build Successful Innovation Superclusters.  

Five years ago we attended our first Drucker Forum, aptly titled The Great Transformation. Little did we know at the time that the experiences from the Forum would result in the creation of Transform! a powerful experiential learning simulation, potentially changing how we teach, train and build deep transformational capacities.  


“No, that could never happen”, shouted one of the participants.
“Well, actually it could”, sighted her CFO teammate.  

The pair, acting as management of case company Rail1 – a European railway operator, was just getting acquired.  

“We have partnered with Juppz, secured a 500M funding structure, and can now execute a hostile take-over”, said the deal manager, CFO of Flight – the electric scooter company, as he officially announced the deal to the table. Working closely with the ride-sharing company Juppz, Flight was now implementing its innovation strategy; having recently shifted from a collaborative partner-approach to the more aggressively buy-strategy.  

Having previously acquired CarWagon; Rail1 had built a broad business model portfolio beyond its legacy core business of operating trains in Europe, secured financing for new ventures and hit a 23,3BN market cap, all on its way to transform into a mobility winner of the future.  

Collectively, the four companies were battling it out in a highly competitive mobility arena. Their mission: transform a legacy company stuck with two low-margin business models into a thriving company with a healthy mix of business models across the Core-Growth-Explore framework. At the same time, build an innovation strategy, secure financing, lay a transformation roadmap, deal with Booms and Busts, all while making 100’s of micro-decisions effectively replacing any well-planned strategy with split-second decisions. What could possibly go wrong?  


The group, a part of Open Innovation Lab Norway, was running Transform! a highly engaging learning simulation, designed to help people learn how to build transformational companies and execute successful transformation strategies. Transform! is built on the research and development work by Christian Rangen and the team at Engage // Innovate and Strategy Tools.  

Built on top of eight visual strategy tools, Transform! is designed to be a learning and development simulation to teach people and companies how to build transformational capacities. In essence, it aims to solve the problem of teaching smart people how to learn and develop a stronger absorptive capacity in light of ever-faster industry shifts.  


Inspired by the work of Swedish Professors Johan Roos (Lego Serious Play) and Karl Erik Sveiby, coupled with the latest thinking in strategy from Rita McGrath, Scott D. Anthony, Roger L. Martin, Henry Chesbrough, Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Gary Hamel and Clay Christensen, the Transform! simulation is designed to be a highly engaging and powerful learning experience.  

By combining new strategy thinking, new visual strategy tools, and a table-based, role-based simulation, the participants combine a number of different learning elements into a single multi-faceted learning experience. 

Having run close to 85 sessions across three different simulators over the past eleven months, it has become clear to us exactly how powerful the power of simulation-based learning can be. From Board members, CEOs, Policymakers, Professors, innovation agencies; every single participant quickly get absorbed into the competitive dynamics of strategy simulation. Designed to transfer new learning, new tools, and a new strategy mindset, the simulation teaches strategy, innovation, transformation, finance, corporate venturing, decision-making and mental models in one single session. The Transform simulation helped us explore and uncover some big strategic mental models to our company, said one Danish CFO we worked with on a large scale transformation strategy.   


“On average, 2,3, maybe” summarized one of the participants in Oslo. 
The group of eight has just answered the two key questions. 
“Over the next ten years, how significant a transformation will we require?” 
As a group, they averaged 7,9 out of 10, with executives from larger firms tending towards 9 and 10.  

The follow-up question, however, got a different response. 
On how ready are we for this transformation?” the group barely scored 2,3 out of 10. A number that drew a loud sigh from the participants.  

“What does this mean”, I asked.
“It’s the transformation gap”, came the instant reply from the corporate innovation manager. 
“It is the massive gap between our aspirations, our intellectual need for transformation in light of external industry shifts, and our internal ability, our capability to actually do it”, she continued, to the active nodding of several of her group members, and a not too concealed tone of frustration in her voice.   

The Transformation Gap. The gap between our fully understood need for large-scale transformation vs. our ability, our organizational capacity for transformation. We find the Transformation Gap virtually everywhere we go. In fact, it has been a passion, a driver and a source of deep motivation for us over the past seven years, trying to better understand this gap. Is has fueled questions, conversations, and research across countries, industries and organizational hierarchies.  

Today, with the first year of Transform! experiences behind us, we believe hands-on experiential learning can significantly close this Transformation Gap. The a-ha moments, the deep individual reflections, the new tools, the group-wide insights, and new collective thinking absorbed through the gamification mode and the many new conversations that start during a simulation, only to carry over into real-life company context all combine into building company-wide transformational capacities. 


Professor Rita McGrath once said, “We are working with outdated tools & assumptions”. Referring to how most companies work on strategy, McGrath asks if companies are set up to work, successfully on strategy in the light of a new strategy paradigm.  

We share McGrath’s concern. From energy, mobility, technology, finance, healthcare, we see industries shift into arenas and companies facing a brand new strategy landscape. Traditional strategic thinking is no longer sufficient. Competing on transformation will be the new rally cry.  

The conversations that started at the Drucker Forum in 2014 still resonates, perhaps as important and relevant as ever. The insights and inspiration we gained in 2014 have fueled new strategy tools, insights and transformation programs. Now, as we prepare to depart for Vienna yet again, we look forward to a new set of conversations, this time on how companies can master new ecosystems and continue to accelerate their transformation.

Surely, we will need it. 

four roles of the strategy officer christian rangen

four roles of the strategy officer christian rangen

The role of the strategy officer is rapidly evolving. Expectations are rising, yet changing industry landscapes, emerging disruptors and well-funded startups with aggressive business models puts significant pressure on the role. It is vital for companies to understand the four different roles for the Strategy Officer. Does your company?

In our work with hundreds of companies and dozens of strategy officers, we have come to identify four significant roles for the strategy officer. We believe it is critical for companies to understand how their specific strategy function works and how they can improve it in the face of emerging competition and significant change.


The Four Roles Explained



The Influencer succeeds by creating internal momentum for strategy. This might include sparking key conversations, framing new strategic questions, instilling a sense of urgency, of curiosity within all levels of management ranks.

He acts as a coach, a facilitator and networker internally. Strategy workshops might have very experimental formats, few slides and never have any answered prepared in advance to be presented. He cares deeply about creating shared understanding across complex issues, often simplifying the complex into easy-to-grasp key issues.

The influencer is a master of conversations.

Fred, a long-time client of ours, often prepared his management strategy workshops by asking three advance questions, often framing the questions in a highly challenging context. “What would happen if our market fell by 45% in 90 days?”, or “What if Russia shuts us out?”. While strongly divergent from daily operational issues, the reframing of potential strategic issues, helped expand the thinking and open for radical threats, scenarios and, eventually, strategic moves by the company’s legacy business units.




The Big Systems Thinker has her focus far outside the home organization. She lives by strong external orientation. She spends 80% of her time on external partnerships, alliances, mapping out M&A prospects and closing deals. She has strong relationships with key stakeholders across the landscape, sensing changes and disruptive trends long before they fully develop.

She excels at sensing potential industry scenarios 20-30 years ahead. Mapping industry shifts and strategic inflection points are just a normal part of her job, giving rise to her role as a complex, Big Systems Thinker. She works closely with emerging startups, VCs and technology investors to have a first row seat to the next generation of companies to watch.

The Big Systems Thinker is a master at sensing the future.

A European media company brought in a former VC and technology founder to help develop an aggressive growth strategy. His network and access to emerging startups on the US west coast, was a large part of why he was hired. Starting in the role, it became apparent his thinking was just too far ahead from the main engine and current focus of the company, eventually leading to his departure in less than 15 months.




The Analyst is the brainy, educated, numbers person. He is driven by getting tangible facts, allowing for conclusions and clear recommendations. The analyst writes complete business cases to be presented in complex and lengthy slide decks. He might be oblivious to social influence and stakeholder management as a long as he’s getting his analysis right.

If leading the strategy process itself, the analyst’s focus is getting all the facts into organized slides. The analyst is also likely to hold the role of Balanced Scorecard Manager, having a highly numbers- and metrics-driven approach to strategy execution.

The analyst is a master of getting the current facts and numbers right.

We frequently encounter Analysts, tasked with writing the perfect business case for the top management’s consideration. Basic concepts like customer discovery, business model testing and lean startup principles are understood by the people we meet, but far removed from how they work. Often, they experience months of analysis and a strong recommendation, only to be shot down by management. It is frustrating in many organizations to see the effort going into the “strategy as analysis”, while an evolving, involving, learning approach would be far more effective.




The Scout is responsible for early outside development of new ideas and new networks. Attending conferences and events outside his own industry domain, he gets a peek at upcoming developments across many areas and disciplines. He is likely an avid reader of multiple sources and books. He would be comfortable hanging out at Uber Elevate Summit, Uber’s annual summit for their flying car project, without it having any significant relevance to his company’s day-to-day strategy.

The Scout is adept at scouting future trends and emerging customer behaviors. He early identified the sharing economy and Blockchain as key trends with massive potential.

The Scout might see the future, but he struggles to create internal interest and support. He has limited or zero mandate, funding and execution capability. The Scout suffers from limited impact, over time creating frustration and departure from the organization.

The Scout is a master of seeing early trends but struggles to convert into internal action.





Their roles are usually very different, as are their working methods.

The Scout will often be working alone or in a very small team, allowing little ability to engage and activate the organization.

The Analyst usually has a team around him, often with more analysts. Combined, they have some reach, but in reality, limited ability to influence and engage with organization.

The Big System Thinker often has a larger team under her, while she personally is both visible and highly influential within the company. Often, she carries a strong vision for the future of the company, balancing the need to serve the CEO vs. becoming the thought leader herself.

Finally, the Influencer uses his network for maximum effect. He might build and operate formal, active strategy networks internally, creating strong reach across the strategy discipline. Equally important is his informal, invisible networks at all levels of the company. He might not push his vision for the company, but through his strategic questions and re-framing of key issues, he actively helps shape the future.



In our work with Strategy Officers and their strategy teams across multiple industries, we are often perplexed by the lack of tools they have at their disposal or they choose to use. Through our seven-year R&D project, Strategy, we have developed an open source suite of 15+ strategy & innovation tools. A large part of our work has been understanding the context, need and developing the right tool for the job. What we have seen, first-hand, is the effect of having the right Strategy Tools for the job.





The Strategic Innovation Canvas can be applied in multiple ways. First and foremost, it is a great conversation starter on the overall strategic priorities of the firm. Built around the classic Three Horizons, the canvas forces a strategic discussion on short-term vs. long-term thinking.

With a good facilitator, the canvas frequently kick-starts a wide strategy review, opening mindsets and perspectives to a much welcome, more expansive strategy thinking for all participants.




The Industry Shifts Map lets groups and individuals map out and better understand industry-level changes and the company’s ability to successfully respond. Columbia Professor Rita McGrath emphasizes the importance of grasping industry level strategic inflection points, something we likely to see at an accelerated pace in the coming decades.

The Map can create a shared understanding of important shifts, in turn driving new strategic thinking.

We recently hosted the CEO of a global services company, based in the US, with operations around the world. Taking him through the Industry Shifts Map helped clarify and visualize the level of change coming within his industry, and at the same time revealing how poorly equipped his firm was for the impeding shifts. He had widely read and reflected on these issues, but working through the Map by himself cemented the coming changes in a clear and visual way.





The Strategy Intro is often our baseline, entry level Strategy Tool. For Analysts, it gives a basic framework to balance current core business, new growth and exploring future growth areas. With the right KPIs in place, the Analyst can delight in the Strategy Intro framework. The important thing here, is being able to balance current core with exploring new growth. For most Analysts, this is challenging; most numbers, financial figures and good data is historical in nature, making any future or internal seed projects seem small and insignificant. Yet, successful transformations have taught us to strive for the optimal balance between legacy core and next, potential core areas. With the Strategy Intro, even the Analysts have a tool supporting this ambition; balance today for new growth tomorrow.





The Market Opportunities Canvas gives the Scout a one-page framework for mapping, grasping and communicating emerging trends that might provide new, strategic market opportunities. Whether from global megatrends, new technologies or customer needs, the tool allows a simple framework for grasping emerging opportunities. The Market Opportunities Canvas is a easy-to-use tool for Scouts in any type of organization.





What’s next? The coming evolution of the Strategy Officer’s role


Whether you are an aspiring young strategy manager or an experienced influencer, one thing seems certain; the role of the Strategy Officer is rapidly evolving. For companies experiencing increasing levels of industry changes, new business model innovations from well-funded startups or a massive industry convergence, the role of the Strategy Officer is set to grow ever more important. Driving faster organizational agility, bringing new strategy tools to the job, growing a high-impact portfolio of strategic initiatives, setting up new venture CompanyX-unit and implementing strong M&A capabilities around future needs; the expectations are only set to rise.

Worldwide, Strategy Officers have an ever increasing important yet challenging job ahead. We believe understanding the Four Roles of the Strategy Officer is a starting point. Yet, the real potential for higher strategy impact, agile change and a successful future growth strategy requires a visionary Strategy Officer with the ability to activate and bring the organization along for the journey into the future


Which role do you play the most as the strategy officer? Share with me your thoughts and comments below.




Christian Rangen is a strategy & transformation advisor to top management, boards and strategy teams. His clients range from Malaysia, Middle East and Europe. He is Co-Founder of Engage // Innovate, a strategy & innovation consulting company and Strategy – the modern strategist’s toolkit. He is management educator and faculty at BI – Norwegian Business School. His recent projects include Malaysian Innovation Superclusters, Corporate Innovation Bootcamps and Accelerating National Transformation projects.

He can be reached at        


strategy traps 2018

If December is the season “to be jolly”, then January is the month where most CEOs finally “Strategize”. We look at the top five strategy traps CEOs and management teams might stumble into during their upcoming strategy processes.

By: Christian Rangen, Co-Founder Engage // Innovate, Strategy Tools, and X2 Inc

strategy traps 2018



Most Board of Directors are actively looking for growth opportunities, new growth platforms and disruptive business models. At least, that’s what they tell their CEOs. They follow industry trends of increasingly shorter life-spans, understand that standing still is not an option and witness the rise of unlikely business models across multiple industries. So, the CEO is expected to come up with the appropriate response.

He (or in a few cases, she), assembles a strategy & growth team. Together, they explore emerging industry trends, go visit a number of potential partners, find new market needs, identify emerging technology solutions, map out potential startups for investments and acquisitions and finally they do rapid-market testing of a portfolio of new business models. The early results are very positive, and it is time to take these new growth ventures, with the potential to radically expand the service offering of the firm, back to the Board.

And that’s when the trouble starts.

The Board, despite its overall support, suddenly find the CEO’s new growth strategy “too ambitious”, “too radical”, “too risky” and, frequently, “perhaps a little bit more than we were looking for….”. The words, “Why don’t we just do something we are more familiar with, something we are more comfortable with or something that doesn’t require this much investments so soon”, are heard, yet unspoken. The cold hand of “let’s cling on to our legacy core business model a little longer…”, can be felt as the CEO’s growth program is positively rejected in the Board room.


The Trap?

Don’t drop a bomb of radical ideas onto the Board in one board session. Think of the various board members as core partners to any new growth venture. Take them through parts of the same learning experience as any new growth team. Make sure they get a taste of the same industry shifts, the same customer demands and emerging business models as your growth team does. Don’t spring the future on the Board members in one sitting. Let them listen, learn and evolve their strategic thinking as a part of your team, not as distant members.

If not, your new growth strategy is running into the biggest strategy trap there is, a status quo-seeking Board of Directors.





OK, so you made it past the Board of Directors. A new, ambitious strategy for 2018 is shaping up. But you also have an existing operating model running at full steam. The existing model currently eats up some 98% of all resources, and it has its own momentum, so we should not tinker too much with it. Perhaps the new growth areas will be fine with just 2% of total resources, right?

Most likely not.

Countless times we have witnessed new, high-growth strategy programs stall and stop due to lack of internal resources (people, time, funding, management attention). From high-margin software business models, smart city programs, solar energy ventures and high-end consulting services; they all got choked to a slow death due to lack of resources.

Our dear friend, Professor Rita McGrath has long argued that resource allocation is one of the top management challenges when it comes to growing and scaling new ventures. We have witnessed firsthand, again and again, how challenging it is for a very operational management team to find, allocate and – importantly – protect resources for any new growth venture.


The trap?

Don’t believe the excitement of new ideas and high hopes of untold potential is sufficient to develop any new corporate venture. The pull of the past and the suck of the present core business are two forces acutely stacked against any resources flowing into new, unproven ventures. If you are developing a new growth strategy, put your best people on it, allocate a smart stepping stone resource allocation model and give it both the time, people and funding required to prove the market potential and – potentially – scale.




John, a high-ranking Strategy Director at global offshore technology company recently told us they wanted more innovation; they wanted more innovative ideas from their staff; they wanted more creativity. When we pressed him politely on the overall ambitions and targets, his response was that he hoped it could be solved in a one-day workshop.

John, like many of the executives we meet want instant innovation. When pressed, few of them are able to explain any overarching Innovation Strategy, a larger plan in place for all these “innovations”.

It is easy to get excited by the many prospects of innovation. Corporates should partner with startups (yes, frequently they should). Corporates should run in-house accelerator programs (yes, probably they should) and of course, any corporate should have a venture fund in place (yes, possibly they should).


The trap?

Jumping into all these (potentially) great activities should be avoided until you have a MIS (Minimum Innovation Strategy) in place. A MIS can be mapped out on a one-page tool and easily shared and discussed with management and team members. The MIS will quickly give you a shared, visual understanding of your overall Innovation Strategy.

As you jump into exciting innovative ideas for 2018, just make sure you have an overarching, Minimum Innovation Strategy in place for it. If you don’t there is a strong chance your innovation efforts fizzle out in lots of activities and little in impact.

Click here to download the Minimum Innovation Strategy Canvas and how-to guide for free. 


One of the biggest trends we have witnessed in the field of strategy in the past decade is the understanding that your biggest competitors are unlikely to come from within your existing industry. Even more, they are unlikely to even be one of your current competitors, and possibly, your biggest competitor is a company you have never heard of, in an industry you never bothered to look at.

Banks no longer fear other banks. They fear fintech startups and the big software companies, notably Google, Apple and Facebook.

Oil & gas companies no longer look to hard at other O&G companies; they look at clean energy software companies, EV manufacturers and Smart City Programs.

If you run a railway company, your competitors are less likely to be other railway and train companies, but very likely to be the rise of apps, mobility-as-a-service and ridesharing. Most of your company might still think you are a railway company, but don’t be fooled by popular paradigms, you are suddenly very much a mobility service provider yourself, going head-to-head with the likes of Uber, Lyft and GM’s coming Robotaxi.

Rita McGrath calls this the shift from industry analysis to understanding arenas. Most executives are familiar with Porter’s tools for traditional industry analysis. But a lot fewer have grasped the shift into competitive arenas, where traditional industry analysis matters a lot less, and an entirely new competitive landscape arise.


The trap?

If you speed through the same industry understanding and competitor analysis as you have been over the past three years, there is a strong chance you are missing the world as it is shifting under your feet.

By applying a different lens and different tools, you can identify new trends and get a better understanding of a rapidly shifting industry. We frequently recommend using the Industry Shifts Map to better understand how your industry is shifting. Assume, if you will, that the competitors you know are largely irrelevant (if only, just for a moment), assume that your profit pockets will be exposed to digital disruption from global innovation superpowers and assume that you have missed several technology trends that put you way behind the curve on new opportunities. What will this industry and competitor analysis look like?

Just make sure you do not fall in the trap of rinsing and repeating the same competitor analysis as you did three years ago.



Most of the client projects we have taken on during the past five years have been various strategy and transformation projects. Yet, virtually all clients have had a singular, core business oriented approach to strategy. They have, for lack of a better word, just One Strategy – when duality and portfolios are required. This One Strategy has sucked in all energy and over time, killed off most new ventures that did not naturally fit into the One Strategy.

Over the past few years several management authors have published excellent work on successfully leading large-scale transformations. Our friends at Innosight in their recent best-seller, Dual Transformation as well as their excellent online ranking T10. The team at Strategyzer, led by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur with their recent Business Portfolio Map, and Columbia Professor Rita McGrath with her The End of Competitive Advantage. Two of the big takeaways from this work is the need for constant reinvention (vs. Big Bang change) and building a portfolio of multiple business models.


How to design strategies for the future?

In our strategy work, we work with top management to design strategies – not just one strategy – for many possible futures and many parallel business models. This is complex. It is challenging both from an organizational structure, resource allocation, communications and execution – but we firmly believe top management has no choice but to embrace this approach to strategy. Strategy will be a balancing act between your “legacy core business”, “growth business” and “Explore”. Each of them will have its own strategy, KPIs and – importantly – Board level expectations.

The trap?

If you are facing a changing landscape, new technologies and new competitors armed with new business models, you are probably ripe for transformation. Do not fall in the trap of believing this can be solved by focusing on your current core business and incrementally adapting it. History and management research shows us that to survive and thrive in the face of transformation, a portfolio approach to strategy is required.


Do some things you are completely safe and comfortable with. Do some moves that are safely growing your business. But, make sure you invest enough into developing a radical portfolio of moonshots and disruptive business model experiments. It might feel foreign at first, but One Strategy in the face of Transformation is no longer a viable strategy at all.


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Founder, CEO, Engage // Innovate – strategy & innovation consulting company
Founder, Strategy Tools – the modern toolkit for strategy & innovation
Business School Faculty – BI Norwegian Business School.
Global speaker, facilitator and advisor on strategy, innovation and transformation.
He can be reached at


Click here to download the Minimum Innovation Strategy Canvas and how-to guide for free.