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Hmm? or Wow! Strategy

Hmm_or_Wow_StrategyStrategy is tough stuff. Richard Rumelt (author of Good Strategy, Bad Strategy) makes it sound easy: undertake good diagnosis, develop guiding policy, and implement coherent action. This is excellent advice, but getting it right has us looking skywards for diagnosis, policy and action, as we bumble through ‘ah-ha’… and ‘mmm’.

 Big words and grand visions pepper failed strategies. Motherhood and apple pie don’t crack the code. They’re what Rumelt calls bad strategy or fluff. The trouble is that we are all good at bad strategy and fluff. Not least because strategy is a craft not a science.

 Even if we do achieve an approximate diagnosis, we then have to craft a policy that can be communicated, since no amount of wishful thinking will get us there without commitment from the people out there doing stuff. Many so-called strategies, even well articulated ones cause the recipient to react with a “Hmm…”, when what we want is a reaction more like a “Wow!” because the policy is inspirational or sexy. A ‘Wow’ policy can often come over as a “yep” one, which feels luke-warm. A ‘Yep’ policy may still get implemented, but probably not with the same verve as a ‘Wow!’ one. The ‘Yep’ policy may be less risky than a ‘Wow!’ one, and while it may be ready to go, at least it will not be scary.

 If the guiding policy comes over as ‘Nah’ – that’ll never fly, beware. The ‘Nah’ may also be risky. Risky and scary. I suggest that as you review strategy you use the compass I have designed. It will help you with all those inner feelings that strategies evoke – and you will be better able to discern if you are on the right track. It’s a visual way of what Peter Drucker used to ask of organizations. He would inquire a) what the organization is now, b) what it will be, and c) what it should be.

 Of course the ‘Wow!’ strategy I hope you will achieve, is more demanding of everyone who has a role in its implementation, because inertia and resistance will bedevil the daring play. The timid strategy will tend to feel more comfortable. The trouble is that nothing will ever go quite as planned because we are not in control of outcomes. Things will emerge that look like derailing what we have set as our strategy. But as Henry Mintzberg points out, strategy will emerge, whatever we do. So maybe it’s better to aim high than to aim safe, hence the body of people, and especially entrepreneurs who are prone to action anyway, who will say ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’, rather than ‘Ready, Aim, Fire’. That’s what Lean Startup is all about: fail fast and fail often. Losing can help you win, but aiming to lose certainly won’t.


PLEASE NOTE: There is tons of useful stuff on Startup Owl, a site that’s been going for a dozen years. So keep browsing, but know that the founder, Will, now devotes most of his time and energy to his new website that you should definitely visit:

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