June 21st, 2021
What is a strategy? It’s important to understand and clarify what strategy is. Is strategy a plan? Is strategy a goal? Is it a vision? In this episode we consider five different ways to look at situations strategically to broaden your understanding and deepen your insights
Strategy starts with a single goal
Many people fail because their strategy is to accomplish all of these various goals. But the reality is, an individual strategy is required for each goal you set out to accomplish. Otherwise it’s like getting in your car and saying I’m going to start the car then I’m going to drive to Seattle AND New York. It’s important to focus on one at time because it’s not usually possible to do more than one simultaneously.
Your goal is your destination.
Strategy is the route you take to get there.
If you were going to climb Mount Everest
Your goal is to reach the summit and survive the journey. But in order to survive, you need to think about more deeply. What kind of gear do I need? What kind of shoes? Who is my Guide/Sherpa? How long does it take? How much food will I need? Do I go alone or with a team? Whom should I invite to join me?
Whom should I not partner with?
What training do I need? How do I prepare myself mentally? How can I best prepare my body physically for the challenges of cold, altitude, bad weather, etc.
How do I get back down safely?
Most of the people who have died on Mount Everest did so on the way back down.
Make sure you have the correct goal
They had the wrong goal. They were focused on getting to the summit, but in reality, that was
just the half-way mark. Your goal is to reach the summit, but you’re actual goal is to make it to the top and then get back home safely.
Once you know the answers to all of these things, you can then develop a strategy. Your strategy is your plan to make sure you’ve prepared everything you’ll need to reach your goal.
Strategy deals with HOW.
For most of us, there are many changing variables that are beyond our control, which will impact our ability to reach our goal.
Predicting and thinking ahead.
Strategy requires us to think about things from every possible angle, and develop contingencies for multivariate circumstances and outcomes. The game of chess perfectly summarizes this type of strategic thinking.
The best chess players think several moves ahead. They think “if I move my knight here, and my opponent moves the bishop there, then I can move my queen here and place their king in check. But what if my opponent sees my plan and moves her bishop there, then my queen would be captured so I wouldn’t be able to place my opponent’s king in check. I had better rethink my strategy.”
This type of analytical process where you look at every possible move for every single one of your pieces, followed by your opponent’s potential counter responses to each possible move from each of her own pieces, and then your subsequent range of contingencies in response to those possible moves. For every turn you think ahead, the complexity of possible outcomes multiplies exponentially.
Fortunately, to succeed in business, you don’t need to think through millions of contingencies. Because unlike a chess game, where you’re not allowed to undo the mistakes you’ve made, the world of business is much more forgiving. There is still no undo button, but the rules of like do allow you to have a second chance every day that you wake up. Sometimes mistakes can even lead to innovation.
Play to Win! A winning chess strategy requires you to study each of your pieces, and each of your opponents pieces, and analyze the strengths and opportunities of each piece in relation to it’s position on the board, all of which takes place in the context of your overall strategy: To capture your opponent’s king, resulting in checkmate. You must also defend your own king, and thwart your opponent’s plans to take your king.
Knowing the strengths of each piece is key.
Use the right person for the job
But you do need to understand your strengths, and the strengths of each person on your team. You need to understand the variables that impact your industry and your target market. You need to understand your competitors. You need to have contingencies in place to help you respond quickly in the event of changes in the landscape. “If we execute our growth plan, and there’s a recession in 18 months, how will we survive?” “If our two largest competitors merged, how will we respond.” “If our main competitor suddenly closed down, how would we seize the opportunities to grow?”
The third aspect to help you really have a solid grasp on strategy is to sail a large 17th Century ship across the ocean. Your goal is to reach the harbor safely with your cargo, and make sure your crew stays healthy along the way.
But without roads to follow, you have very little means to determine if you’re still on course.
A successful strategy requires you to frequently calculate your position, then, if you’re off course, make small adjustments to recalibrate your trajectory back toward the direction of your destination.
It’s not an exact science.
You can’t control the ocean. You can’t control the wind. You can’t control the weather. All you can do is check to see if you’re still on course. You ARE going to get blown off course, and that is okay, so spin the wheel a bit, redirect, and get back on track. Reaching your goal is a matter of zigging and zagging across the ocean.
A modernized depiction of the ship sailing across the ocean is the infinitely more complex variation of landing a rocket on the moon.
The strategy lesson to learn here is that there are phases where, even though the destination doesn’t change, and neither does the rocket (outside of how it is designed to function), everything else does.
At different milestones along the journey, you’ll need to adjust your strategy.
Blasting off requires a tremendous amount of (controlled) explosive power where, at first, everything feels like it is happening in slow motion, despite the massive energy being spent on it. Slowly, the rocket begins to ascend and eventually enough momentum is built; you are on pace to
break through the atmosphere. Once you’re on the other side of that barrier, many components of your plan suddenly need to change. Now, like the ship, it’s all about smooth sailing via precise calculation and course correction.
Finally, the last phase requires intense maneuvering in order to land the rocket on the moon. Be prepared to completely flip the game upside down as you are seemingly going in the wrong direction – the rocket is supposed to go the other way. Different systems and different talents, strengths, and skills (i.e. different people) are required to successfully complete this final stage.
A successful strategy, therefore, realizes that you might need different people and different processes to finish the project than the ones who were there to start it. Or, if the people don’t change, their roles might, and they need to be adept in both skill sets.
The best strategies are not simply a one-phase operation, but rather they are crafted by a strategist who expects the unexpected, and prepares contingencies in advance so they can withstand a variety of barriers and challenges, some foreseeable and some unforeseen.
Structure is key
build support systems early on to give you the strength later when you’ll need it most
Count the cost- prepare to finish
Begin with the end in mind
INSPIRATION – “What’s one thing that inspired you this week?”
“Success doesn’t come from what you do occasionally. It comes from what you do consistently.” – Marie Forleo
RESOURCES MENTIONED DURING THE PODCAST
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