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Navigating Strategy, Innovation, and Change in the Technology Landscape

Magnus Udbjørg

CTO at TESTAVIVA

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Introduction

In today’s rapidly evolving technology landscape, having a cohesive and coherent strategy is crucial for companies to stay competitive and thrive. As a CTO, your role extends beyond technical leadership and involves guiding the organisation’s strategic vision. This article will provide insights on developing a strategy, incorporating principles from renowned works, and emphasising the importance of continuous and collaborative strategy-making.

The Strategy

Creating a cohesive strategy that integrates business, engineering, and product considerations is essential.

Leveraging Customer Feedback and Market Validation

Understanding customer needs and staying aligned with market demands is essential for a successful strategy. You can make data-driven decisions and refine your strategic direction by actively seeking customer feedback and validating your product-market fit.

Application:

  1. Seek customer feedback: Engage with customers through surveys, interviews, or focus groups to gain insights into their needs, preferences, and pain points. Use this feedback to shape your product roadmap and strategic priorities.
  2. Validate product-market fit: Test your product or service through prototypes, beta testing, or minimum viable products (MVPs) to confirm that your offering addresses the target customers’ needs and has sustainable market demand.
  3. Track competitor activities: Regularly monitor competitors’ offerings, marketing campaigns, and strategic moves to stay informed about industry trends and developments. Use this knowledge to identify gaps in the market and capitalise on opportunities to differentiate your company.
  4. Continuously iterate and refine: Based on insights from customer feedback, market validation, and competitor analysis, continually refine your product offering and strategic direction to stay aligned with the evolving market landscape. Encourage a culture of continuous improvement, and empower your teams to make data-driven decisions in their daily work.

By incorporating customer feedback and market validation into your strategic process, you can ensure your company remains responsive to customer needs and adapts to the dynamic market landscape.

Balancing Exploration and Exploitation

Maintaining agility and adaptability is crucial in the fast-paced technology landscape. By balancing innovation and growth (exploration) with efficiency and stability (exploitation), your company can effectively manage resources and navigate the competitive market. This balance ensures you stay at the forefront of innovation while maintaining a solid foundation in your core operations.

Application:

  • Allocate resources for exploring new market opportunities and refining existing products or services.
  • Encourage a culture of experimentation and learning, where teams can take calculated risks without fear of failure.
  • Monitor and measure the impact of exploration and exploitation initiatives to adjust your strategy as needed.

Clear Communication and Decentralized Decision-Making

Empowering teams to make better decisions, take ownership, and drive results is vital for a responsive organisation. By implementing clear communication channels and fostering decentralised decision-making, you can build a more adaptive organisation that can quickly execute your strategy.

Application:

  • Establish transparent communication processes and tools, ensuring information flows seamlessly across all levels.
  • Train and empower team leaders to make informed decisions, fostering a sense of autonomy and responsibility.
  • Encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing among teams, breaking down silos and promoting cross-functional cooperation.

Building Cross-Functional Teams

To develop a more holistic, collaborative approach to strategy-making, create cross-functional teams that combine product, design, and engineering expertise. This structure encourages the entire organisation to work together toward common goals, creating a synergy that enables the successful execution of your strategy.

Application:

  • Organise your workforce into multi-disciplinary teams with diverse skill sets.
  • Provide opportunities for team members to develop their skills and knowledge across various domains, fostering a more agile and adaptable workforce.
  • Facilitate regular team meetings and workshops to encourage communication, collaboration, and idea-sharing.

Promote Cross-Functional Collaboration

Foster a collaborative environment encouraging teams to collaborate and share knowledge across different domains. Cross-functional collaboration helps drive innovation and ensures that your strategy aligns with the needs and goals of the entire organisation.

Application:

  • Organise cross-functional workshops or meetings, allowing teams to share knowledge, discuss challenges, and brainstorm solutions.
  • Establish channels for communication and knowledge-sharing across teams, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, or other collaboration tools.
  • Implement joint objectives and key results (OKRs) to align teams and encourage collaboration towards shared goals.

Empower Teams and Individuals

Empower your teams and individual team members to take ownership of strategic initiatives, make decisions, and contribute to the overall strategy. This approach fosters a sense of autonomy and responsibility, resulting in more engaged and motivated employees.

Application:

  • Delegate decision-making authority to team leaders, allowing them to make informed decisions based on their expertise and knowledge.
  • Provide resources and training to help team members develop strategic thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Recognise and reward strategic contributions, encouraging employees to actively shape the organisation’s strategic direction.

Achieving Organizational Agility: A Continuous Learning Approach to Strategic Planning

Strategic planning should be an ongoing process where organisations constantly evaluate their strategies, learn from their experiences, and adapt to the changing business environment. By incorporating continuous learning into your strategic planning process, you can ensure that your organisation remains agile and better prepared to respond to unforeseen challenges and opportunities.

Double-Loop Learning: Challenging Underlying Assumptions

To truly embrace organisational agility, businesses must engage in double-loop learning. This involves learning from past experiences, adjusting actions accordingly, and questioning and challenging underlying assumptions and beliefs. You can identify potential flaws or biases in your thinking by evaluating and re-examining the fundamental premises that drive your strategic decisions, leading to more informed and effective strategies.

Experimentation and Testing: A Hypothesis-Driven Approach

A critical component of strategic planning is the willingness to experiment and test various strategies. Adopting a hypothesis-driven approach allows organisations to treat their strategies as testable assumptions, which can be validated or refuted through experimentation and analysis. By learning from the results and iterating on their plans, businesses can continuously refine their strategies and adapt to the changing market conditions.

In conclusion, incorporating continuous learning, double-loop learning, and a hypothesis-driven approach into your strategic planning process can significantly enhance your organisation’s ability to navigate the complex and rapidly changing business environment. By fostering a culture of learning and experimentation, you can ensure that your organisation remains agile and well-equipped to seize new opportunities and overcome challenges as they arise.

Embrace an Agile Mindset

Adopting an agile mindset is crucial for continuous strategy-making. It involves being open to change, focusing on iterative improvement, and promoting a culture of experimentation and learning.

Continuous and Collaborative Strategy-Making

To create an agile, continuous, and collaborative strategy-making framework, CTOs must integrate strategic thinking, decision-making, and execution into their daily operations. This approach allows for quick adaptation to market changes and fosters a culture of innovation and collaboration.

Establish an Ongoing Strategy Review Process

In today’s fast-paced business environment, strategic planning must be an ongoing process that continuously evaluates, learns and adapts to stay ahead of the competition. Embracing continuous learning, double-loop learning, and a hypothesis-driven approach can significantly enhance an organisation’s ability to navigate this complex landscape. By fostering a culture of learning, experimentation, and agility, businesses can ensure they are well-equipped to seize new opportunities and overcome challenges as they arise. To help organisations create a continuous and collaborative strategy-making framework. This guide will help you establish an ongoing strategy review process, ensuring your strategy remains relevant and effective in a constantly changing environment.

  1. Cultivate a Learning and Agile Mindset
  • Promote open communication, curiosity, and a willingness to learn.
  • Encourage the use of agile methodologies and foster a fail-fast culture.
  1. Establish Regular Strategy Reviews and KPIs
  • Schedule periodic reviews to evaluate progress and identify challenges.
  • Develop key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of initiatives.
  1. Engage Stakeholders and Challenge Assumptions
  • Create feedback loops with stakeholders to gain insights and inform decision-making.
  • Encourage questioning and challenging underlying assumptions and beliefs.
  1. Adopt a Hypothesis-Driven Approach and Iterate
  • Treat strategic plans as testable hypotheses and use experiments to gather data.
  • Continuously iterate and adapt strategies based on feedback and changing conditions.
  1. Measure Progress and Promote Collaboration
  • Monitor progress using clear metrics and KPIs, and make data-driven decisions.
  • Foster cross-functional collaboration and knowledge-sharing across teams.

In conclusion, adopting a continuous learning approach in your strategic planning process is crucial for staying agile and competitive in today’s dynamic business landscape. As you refine your strategies based on the insights gained through double-loop learning and hypothesis-driven experimentation, your organisation will be better positioned to adapt to market shifts and seize new opportunities. Remember, success in today’s rapidly evolving business environment requires an unwavering commitment to continuous learning, growth, and adaptation. By embracing these principles, your organisation will be well-equipped to navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Embrace Holacracy and Sociocracy Principles

Holacracy and Sociocracy focus on distributed authority, transparent decision-making, and iterative learning. Incorporating these principles into your agile strategy-making process can empower teams to respond more effectively to changing market conditions and drive innovation.

Application:

  • Implement circle structures: Create cross-functional circles or teams with specific strategic objectives, allowing for decentralised decision-making and autonomy. Each circle operates independently, with members taking on roles and responsibilities that align with their skills and expertise.
  • Use consent-based decision-making: Rather than relying on consensus or top-down directives, adopt a consent-based decision-making process. This approach allows team members to voice objections and propose alternatives, ensuring that all perspectives are considered and fostering a culture of collaboration.
  • Foster continuous learning and adaptation: Encourage teams to regularly evaluate their processes and outcomes, identify opportunities for improvement, and adapt their strategies accordingly. This iterative approach promotes a culture of learning and growth, enabling your organisation to remain agile in a dynamic market landscape.

Emphasising Diversity and Inclusion in Strategy-Making

The importance of diversity and inclusion in strategy-making cannot be overstated, as numerous studies have shown that diverse teams are more innovative and make better decisions. Organisations can foster a more inclusive and creative environment by bringing together individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences, enhancing their strategic decision-making process.

Research has consistently demonstrated the value of diverse teams. For instance, a study by McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and gender diversity were likelier to have above-average financial performance. Another study published in the Harvard Business Review revealed that diverse teams were better at solving complex problems and making more accurate decisions.

There are several reasons why diverse teams can contribute to better strategy-making:

  1. Increased creativity and innovation: Diverse teams bring together a more comprehensive range of perspectives, ideas, and experiences, which can lead to more creative and innovative solutions. By fostering an inclusive environment, organisations can encourage the open exchange of ideas and drive innovation in their strategic planning process.
  2. Improved decision-making: A diverse team is more likely to consider a broader range of viewpoints and information, leading to more informed and balanced decision-making. Improved decision-making can be particularly valuable in a rapidly changing technology landscape, where CTOs must make strategic decisions based on complex and dynamic information.
  3. Enhanced problem-solving: Research shows that diverse teams can solve complex problems more effectively than homogeneous groups. Organisations can identify potential challenges and opportunities that might be overlooked by including diverse perspectives in the strategy-making process.
  4. A better understanding of customers and markets: Diverse teams are more likely to have a deeper understanding of different customer segments and markets. Better understanding can help organisations create more targeted and relevant strategies that address the needs of a diverse customer base.

To promote diversity and inclusion in strategy-making, CTOs and other organisational leaders can:

  • Ensure their strategic planning teams comprise individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.
  • Foster an inclusive culture that encourages open communication and collaboration, allowing team members to share their unique insights and ideas.
  • Provide training and resources to help employees develop their cultural competence and understanding of diversity and inclusion issues.
  • Set diversity and inclusion goals and track progress towards these objectives, making adjustments as necessary to ensure continuous improvement.

Incorporating diversity and inclusion into the strategy-making process is beneficial from a social and ethical standpoint and drives better business outcomes. By embracing diverse perspectives and fostering an inclusive environment, CTOs can create more innovative, agile, and practical strategies that lead to long-term success.

Adapting and Tailoring Your Strategy as a CTO

As a CTO, you are critical in shaping your company’s strategic direction. While the principles and practices outlined in this article provide a strong foundation, it’s essential to recognise that not every aspect may be applicable or relevant to your situation. Instead, you should critically assess each point and choose the ones that make the most sense for your organisation. Most importantly, you should always maintain an active interest in strategy, as a company building software is, by definition, a software company.

  1. Reflect on your unique context: As a CTO, it’s essential to understand the unique challenges and opportunities your organisation faces. Review your company’s size, industry, culture, and competitive landscape to determine which aspects of the strategies and practices outlined in this article are most relevant and beneficial.
  2. Prioritise your strategic objectives: Given the dynamic nature of the technology landscape, you may only be able to address some strategic issues simultaneously. Instead, prioritise your strategic objectives based on their potential impact, urgency, and alignment with your organisation’s goals. Focus your efforts on the most critical issues first and build a roadmap for addressing the others over time.
  3. Experiment and iterate: Only some strategic initiatives succeed or deliver the desired results. Be prepared to experiment, learn from your experiences, and iterate on your strategies as needed. By fostering a culture of learning and continuous improvement, you can better navigate the uncertainties and complexities of the technology landscape.
  4. Engage with your team and stakeholders: As a CTO, you should actively engage with your team members, colleagues, and stakeholders to gather insights and feedback on your strategic plans. Encourage open communication and collaboration, and be receptive to alternative perspectives and ideas. You can create a more robust and effective strategy by incorporating diverse viewpoints.
  5. Stay informed and adaptable: The technology landscape is constantly evolving, and it’s crucial to stay informed of the latest trends, developments, and best practices. Keep an open mind and be prepared to adapt your strategies and techniques as new opportunities and challenges arise.

In conclusion, as a CTO, your role in shaping your company’s strategic direction is vital. You can create a tailored approach that drives your organisation’s success by critically assessing the strategies and practices outlined in this article and adapting them to your specific context. Always remember that your active interest in strategy is essential, as it directly impacts your company’s growth and competitiveness in the software industry.

Renowned Strategy Frameworks

In addition to the principles and approaches outlined in this article, CTOs can also draw upon well-established strategy frameworks to help shape their strategic vision. Porter’s Five Forces, Blue Ocean Strategy, and the Business Model Canvas are three frameworks.

Porter’s Five Forces:

Developed by Michael Porter, this framework helps organisations analyse the competitive forces within their industry. The five forces are the threat of new entrants, the bargaining power of buyers and suppliers, the threat of substitute products or services, and the intensity of competitive rivalry. By understanding these forces, CTOs can identify their organisation’s competitive advantages and potential threats, enabling them to craft a more informed and resilient strategy.

Blue Ocean Strategy:

Introduced by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, Blue Ocean Strategy focuses on creating uncontested market space by identifying and serving new customer needs. Instead of competing in saturated markets (red oceans), organisations should look for untapped opportunities (blue oceans) by redefining their value proposition and targeting underserved segments. CTOs can use this framework to drive innovation and differentiate their organisation from competitors, ensuring long-term success and growth.

Business Model Canvas:

Created by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, the Business Model Canvas is a visual template that helps organisations map out their key components, such as customer segments, value propositions, channels, customer relationships, revenue streams, key resources, key activities, key partnerships, and cost structure. Using this canvas, CTOs can gain a holistic view of their organisation’s business model and identify areas for improvement or innovation. This tool can also help CTOs align their technology strategy with the broader business strategy, ensuring a cohesive and coherent approach.

By incorporating these renowned strategy frameworks into their strategy-making process, CTOs can benefit from a more comprehensive understanding of their organisation’s competitive landscape and unique value proposition. Furthermore, combining these frameworks with the agile, customer-centric, and adaptive principles discussed earlier will equip CTOs with the tools and insights necessary to develop a robust and effective strategy.

Inspiration from Thought Leaders’ Ideas

To further enhance their strategy-making process, CTOs can gain valuable insights from books and articles by thought leaders in strategy and innovation. Some influential works include “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt, “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries, and “Competing Against Luck” by Clayton Christensen.

Here’s how their ideas can be applied in the context of a strategy-making process:

“Good Strategy/Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt:

In this book, Rumelt emphasises the importance of having a clear and coherent strategy, highlighting the difference between good and bad strategies. According to Rumelt, a good strategy should have a diagnosis of the situation, a guiding policy, and a set of coherent actions. CTOs can apply these principles by first understanding their organisation’s current challenges, establishing clear objectives and guidelines, and finally developing a roadmap of actions to address those challenges.

“The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries:

Ries introduces the concept of the “Lean Startup” methodology, which focuses on rapid, iterative learning and validation of ideas through a build-measure-learn feedback loop. This approach encourages organisations to create minimum viable products (MVPs) and conduct experiments to test their hypotheses, allowing for quick adjustments based on market feedback. CTOs can apply these principles by adopting an agile, customer-centric approach to product development and innovation, ensuring that their technology strategy remains aligned with market needs and evolves based on real-world data.

“Competing Against Luck” by Clayton Christensen:

In this book, Christensen introduces the “Jobs to Be Done” theory, which posits that customers hire products and services to fulfil specific jobs in their lives. By understanding the underlying jobs customers are trying to accomplish, organisations can create more targeted, innovative solutions that address their needs. CTOs can apply this framework by focusing on the needs and challenges of their target customers, identifying opportunities for technology solutions that address those jobs, and ensuring that their product roadmap aligns with those customer-centric goals.

By incorporating the insights and ideas from these thought leaders into their strategy-making process, CTOs can create a more informed, robust, and adaptable strategy. Furthermore, combining these perspectives with the agile, customer-centric, and adaptive principles discussed earlier will provide CTOs with a comprehensive toolkit for navigating the complex, dynamic technology landscape and driving their organisation’s success.

Creating a Strategy

Set Clear Objectives:

  1. Define the overarching goals and objectives for your organisation. Make sure they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

Conduct Market Research and SWOT Analysis:

  1. Perform research to understand market trends, opportunities, and competition. Analyse your organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT).
  2. I have added a small guide to Market Research at the end of the article.

Align Product Development and Innovation:

  1. Based on your research and SWOT analysis, identify areas where your organisation can innovate or improve its products and services to meet market needs.

Develop a Go-to-Market Strategy:

  1. Outline how your organisation will promote its products and services, attract new customers, and retain existing ones. This may include marketing campaigns, partnerships, pricing strategies, and customer support initiatives.

Foster Collaboration and Decentralized Decision-Making:

  1. Establish clear communication channels and empower teams to make informed decisions autonomously. Encourage cross-functional collaboration to break down silos and promote knowledge sharing.

Build Cross-Functional Teams:

  1. Organise your workforce into multi-disciplinary teams with diverse skill sets. Encourage team members to develop their skills and knowledge across various domains.

Implement Continuous Improvement and Adaptation:

  1. Establish a feedback loop to monitor customer feedback, market changes, and internal performance data. Use this information to update your strategy and make necessary adjustments.

Balance Exploration and Exploitation:

  1. Allocate resources to explore new market opportunities (innovation) and refine existing products or services (efficiency). Then, monitor the impact of these initiatives and adjust your strategy accordingly.

By following these steps and incorporating the principles discussed in the article, you can create a concise and effective strategy that aligns with your organisation’s goals, embraces agility and adaptability, and fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

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Example - CarrotSaaS, Inc.

CarrotSaaS Inc. is a software company that provides precision agriculture solutions to carrot farmers. The company aims to expand its market share and increase it is Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) by targeting medium-sized carrot farmers in the United States. The following is a step-by-step approach to creating a strategy for CarrotSaaS Inc.

Defining Objectives:

Objective: Increase MRR by 25% within 12 months by acquiring new customers in the medium-sized carrot farming segment.

Conducting Market Research and SWOT Analysis:

  • Strengths: Advanced data analytics, robust customer support, and a user-friendly software interface.
  • Weaknesses: Limited brand recognition among medium-sized carrot farmers and need for localised content.
  • Opportunities: Growing demand for precision agriculture solutions in the medium-sized carrot farming segment and potential partnerships with local agricultural organisations.
  • Threats: Competing SaaS providers and regulatory changes impacting the carrot farming industry.

Align Product Development and Innovation:

Develop new features tailored to the needs of medium-sized carrot farmers based on the insights gained from market research and SWOT analysis.

Develop a Go-to-Market Strategy:

  • Launch a targeted marketing campaign in agricultural publications and online forums frequented by medium-sized carrot farmers.
  • Partner with local agricultural organisations to offer exclusive discounts and training sessions.
  • Offer a tiered subscription pricing model based on the size of the carrot farm, with a free trial option to attract new customers.

Foster a Collaborative Culture:

Hold regular cross-functional meetings with product, engineering, and marketing teams to discuss progress, challenges, and opportunities related to the company’s strategic objectives. Implement an internal communication platform to facilitate information sharing and collaboration.

Implement Continuous Improvement and Adaptation:

Monitor customer feedback and usage data from the newly developed features. Identify areas for improvement and update the product based on user feedback and market changes.

Balance Exploration and Exploitation:

Allocate resources to developing new features for the medium-sized carrot farming segment (exploration) and optimising the core product for the existing customer base (exploitation).

Conclusion:

As a CTO, your role in shaping your organisation’s strategy is crucial for its long-term success. By adopting a comprehensive strategy framework and fostering a continuous, collaborative strategy-making culture, you can ensure your company remains agile, resilient, and poised for growth. In addition, involving the entire organisation in the strategy-making process and leveraging insights from the resources mentioned in this article will refine and strengthen your strategic vision.

Summary

This guide for CTOs discusses the importance of developing a cohesive strategy that integrates business, engineering, and product considerations. The article draws from various resources and consolidates their key principles into a strategy. It focuses on balancing exploration and exploitation, clear communication, decentralised decision-making, building cross-functional teams, and continuous, collaborative strategy-making. The guide provides a step-by-step example of creating a strategy for a fictitious software company, CarrotSaaS Inc., to demonstrate the process. The key to a successful strategy lies in involving the entire organisation, being agile and adaptive, and being open to feedback and market changes.

Resources:

  • The Ambidextrous Organisation by Charles A. O’Reilly III and Michael L. Tushman
  • The Art of Action by Stephen Bungay
  • EMPOWERED: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products by Marty Cagan
  • Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
  • Competitive Strategy by Michael E. Porter
  • The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life by Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff

Market Research Guide for CTOs

Define Your Research Objectives:

  1. Clearly outline the purpose of your market research. Identify the key questions you want to answer and the information you hope to gather. Examples of research objectives include understanding customer needs, identifying market trends, or evaluating competitors.

Choose Your Research Methodology:

  1. Decide whether you will use primary research (collecting new data) or secondary research (analysing existing data). Primary research methods include surveys, interviews, focus groups, and observations. Secondary research methods involve reviewing data sources such as market reports, academic studies, and industry publications.

Identify Your Target Audience:

  1. Determine the group of people or organisations you want to gather information from. This may include current customers, potential customers, or competitors. Be specific about the demographics or other characteristics that define your target audience.

Develop Your Research Instruments:

  1. Create the tools you will use to collect data. For example, primary research may involve designing surveys, interview guides, or focus group scripts. For secondary research, compile a list of relevant data sources and develop a system for organising and analysing the information.

Collect and Analyze Data:

  1. Execute your research plan by gathering data from your target audience or data sources. For primary research, ensure a representative sample size to ensure valid results. For secondary research, evaluate the credibility of your data sources and look for patterns or trends in the information.

Interpret and Present Findings:

  1. Analyse the data collected and draw conclusions based on your research objectives. Look for patterns, trends, and insights that can inform your strategy. Finally, present your findings clearly and concisely, highlighting the most relevant and actionable information for your organisation.

Apply Findings to Your Strategy:

  1. Use the insights gained from your market research to inform your organisation’s strategic decisions. Using insight will involve updating your product development roadmap, adjusting your marketing strategy, or reevaluating your competitive positioning.

By following this guide, CTOs can effectively conduct market research that provides valuable insights to inform their organisation’s strategy, ensuring they remain competitive and meet the needs of their target market.


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Magnus Udbjørg

CTO at TESTAVIVA


Leadership DevelopmentOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentTechnical ExpertiseTechnical SkillsCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionSkill DevelopmentLeadership & Strategy

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