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Focus strategy through bifocal lenses

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The Roman god Janus had two sets of eyes so he could look backward and forward at the same time. Leaders need to do the same, making old cash cows while ginning up new ventures.

Example: Ciba Vision, an off shoot of pharmaceutical giant Ciba-Geigy, produced the first FDA-approved bifocal contact lens in the early 1980s. But within a few years, it had lost ground to market leader Johnson & Johnson, which brought out disposable contacts.

Ciba Vision President Glenn Bradley saw that he had to shoot with both hands or the company would die. So in 1991, he started six experiments: four new products and two new processes. To pay for those ventures, he stopped dozens of small R&D projects to improve conventional lenses and told the traditional units they’d have to innovate on their own.

Knowing that the new projects couldn’t thrive under the old structures, Bradley created autonomous units joined only at the top under the vice president for R&D and a common mission statement. Otherwise, each hired its own research, finance and marketing people, and created its own manufacturing and reward systems. Each developed different cultures.

Result: Ciba Vision turned out new types of contact lenses, a drug to treat macular degeneration and a cheaper manufacturing process, while its conventional-lens business held its own.

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