It will be helpful if I spend a minute to define what strategy is, explain why it is important and even central to successful modern life, and illustrate how strategies and strategy-making at all levels can be done simply and optimally.
That should make for a pretty good post, don’t you think?
First, a definition of strategy. I went to Wikipedia to see our collective wisdom on this topic. What’s there is technically correct, but also kind of blah-blah. For me, this way of thinking about strategy reflects and reinforces the idea that strategy-making is high and dry, dull and difficult. It needlessly turns people away from the crucial topic of strategy and not toward it. Both are enormous and costly mistakes for us all!
In fact, strategy is interesting and creative, inspiring and heartfelt, at least when it is done right or thought about correctly. And when we get strategy right, it is powerful and usually transformative, remaking the quality of our lives and enterprises. To proceed without a good strategy is to resign ourselves to results often far below our potential, and yet most people and many organizations today operate without a clear or optimal strategy.
So a not so high and dry definition of strategy, and ideally one that will make you and others more likely to engage in it? Strategy is deciding what we want and how we will pursue it. Pretty simple, and maybe just a little intriguing too!
I hope this simple and slightly piquant definition makes the idea of strategy more accessible and inviting to you…that it makes you think you can and should do strategy as a regular part of your life and work. If you need more convincing, read on…
Why Strategy Is Essential
I’ve hinted that strategy-making is critical to our personal and collective success, and perhaps my definition helps you to see why this is so. But the truth is that proceeding without a good strategy is not the only way that people and groups can under-perform. The other way is proceeding with a bad strategy!
Yes, in strategy-making we are allowed and even encouraged to say good and bad, though thoughtfully and attentively (with awareness that we are judging). Strategy is not a feel-good practice where all ideas are valid and on equal footing, at least once examined. Strategy involves making judgements, ideally informed and optimal ones, about – repeat after me – what we want and how we will pursue it.
Strategy is about judging and choosing, about closing doors today to open new ones tomorrow, in a re-made modern world where our freedom generally exceeds our time and even our natural intelligence.
And while this might sound easy, it often proves difficult for people and organizations, since we intuitively believe that more options and features are good and that saying no is limiting or impolite. But this is rarely true amidst modern influences, complexity, and affluence.
Fortunately, there is a way of making the necessary judgements and choices of strategy and modern life not only easier, but more accurate and valid over time. Before discussing this, to give you a better sense of the power of strategy-making, let’s first do a simple one-minute exercise.
For the exercise, I would like you to stop reading when I say go and have no plans for one minute. I want you to be for a minute with nothing to do. Ready? Go!
So, how did you spend your minute? Maybe it was an unusually productive and enriching minute of your life. But more likely, the minute felt empty and formless, and perhaps unsatisfying.
Now multiply that minute by the life of a person or group. This will give you an immediate feel for what is like to have no strategy, no purpose or mission, no sense of deliberately wanting and pursuing things that are valuable to you or others.
I’ll let you imagine the math of a bad strategy…one minute of acting against your best judgements, or of intentionally not deciding between pressing options…again multiplied across your or a group’s life.
In the spirit of full disclosure I should add that having empty and unstructured time can be very valuable. It can be a way to heighten our appreciation of our surroundings – sensing the world in terms of what it is rather than what it can do for us – and can encourage valuable new insights.
But life without aims and a natural forwardness is ultimately not really life, in my view at least.
Optimizing Our Strategies
Strategy – simple in principle, critical to optimal success, and often absent or awful in practice. Do I have your attention?
I’ll make a leap and assume I’ve sold the point that you or your organization needs to focus more on strategy. But how can we do strategy, simply and reliably, and without ending up with a bad strategy and doing more harm than good?
The answer to this important question is actually simple, but a bit subtle. You can see the solution at work in many successful people and groups, and in the two most successful enterprises on earth – evolving natural life and evolving human science. You can also see the solution absent in most strategic flops…whether in business, government, philanthropy, or our individual lives and careers.
All of these examples point to the need for a quite specific approach to strategy-making, one that has at least four critical elements: 1) A strong focus on gathering new information, 2) Probing and experimentation, 3) Rapid-cycling and idea validation, 4) Frequent and progressive re-strategizing.
If I have tipped over toward the high and dry with this important but somewhat abstract list, here is a fairly simple chart from my workshops that you can review and use to think about how you might do strategy more deliberately and perhaps better than you do today:
Taking Action Today
I hope this brief Strategy 101 discussion has given you something to think about – focusing attention on your need to bring added focus on strategy to your life and work, or your need to get out of a personal or group strategy that is not working as well as it might.
If you would like a follow-on assignment to build on and reinforce our discussion, here it is: List out the 3-5 things you most want and the top actions you are taking to get each item. You can give each action a plus, neutral, or change rating if you want, depending on how successful you think the action is today.
Definitely live with your list for a while, and keep in mind that the quality of our want list is often more important than our do list. After all, there is little point in moving decisively or effectively on goals that will ultimately prove to be not what we really wanted.
Keep your list handy…I’ll have more posts and ideas on how to improve both your goals and goal-seeking.
Health & best wishes,
Tell others about Mark and the transformative Natural Strategy method!