In the past few months I’ve been trying to make my writing more practical and useful.
However the thing about strategy is that this approach only ever gets you so far. You can only boil things down to simple instructions up to a point… after which you have no choice but to leap into the abstract and weird.
This piece, I’m afraid, is a bit like that.
But I still think it’s useful. Because, when all’s said and done, it’s what I actually do. It’s how I work. It might not work for everyone, but it works for me. So I’m gonna chuck it out there anyway.
It’s about this:
How do you know when the strategy is right?
How do you know when you’ve found the answer? How do you know “this is it”? When you don’t need to work it any more? When the hard graft is over?
When is the strategy “enough”?
I’ve written a lot about various technical tests you can use to check if a strategy is sufficient, so I’m not going to labour them here.
(There’s an entire section about this in my Pip Deck in fact).
But there is another layer to checking the suitability of a strategy, that is more abstract, and more powerful than all of those put together:
Is the strategy beautiful?
I’ve probably lost half of you already, but I’ll try to explain this the best I can.
The legendary physicist Paul Dirac, Nobel Prize winner and father of quantum mechanics, was driving at this same point when he said:
“A theory of beauty is more likely to be correct than an ugly one that fits some experimental data”.
What does this mean, a theory of beauty? How do we evaluate that? For me, you can understand it as something that just “clicks”. Something with elegance. Even, dare I say, a sense of musicality.
When something feels this way, what you’re experiencing is a kind of deep inexpressible processing than has joined the dots, and sent you a green light. You’ll never be able to unpack those dots and the connections between them. That’s beyond your conscious mind. All you’ll be able to experience is this “beauty”, and you have to trust it.
Let me give you an example that happened to me just the other day.
I was giving some advice to Apart of Me, a charity that helps young people dealing with grief. Now there are quite a few charities in this area, so just like with any other brand we needed to figure out their unique value offer. They’d already partially sussed it: focusing on helping kids from disadvantaged backgrounds deal with grief. Such kids require a unique approach, because they are much less likely to feel comfortable opening up to a therapist than others might be, which is the normal method of treatment in such situations.
So the next question is: OK, how exactly do you help those kids?
The basic insight advanced by the founder, Louis, was that such kids respond better to their peers than to professionals. As a result they have various methods of putting such kids together with each other in a therapeutic environment.
Helping disadvantaged kids suffering from grief.
Using a peer to peer model.
Something like this.
This is very nearly a strategy. But it’s not quite “it”. There’s something lacking. Something missing. A level of specificity perhaps. A level of surprise. But most of all, a level of beauty. It’s clunky. You can feel it.
But then we got it.
You see, if you approach these kids, and tell them you want to help them, they clam up. They resist. But if you ask them to help others like them, and put them in the position of helper, not victim, they open.
Do you feel that?
Do you see the glimmer?
Do you perceive that there’s something extra here?
How about when we summarise it:
Helping disadvantaged kids suffering from grief.
By inviting them to help others like them.
There’s an idea there.
A powerful one.
You don’t need to rationalise it.
You know it.
Of course, there are leaps being taken here. I’ve never worked in this sector, I have no idea if this actually is an effective treatment model. But basic “will it work” queries are easy to answer, and are covered by the knowledge and experience of Louis and his team.
The point here isn’t the content. The point is the power. The feeling of life; the feeling that there’s something there that might bloom.
And like I said, we experience this as beauty.
Now this might mean nothing to you. And you might not even see anything special about that example. It might not speak to you at all, and so the entire theory may seem like nonsense.
And if so, that’s fine. There are more than enough technical methods of judgement to do the strategic task, and do it well.
But I’m just telling you openly and honestly what works for me.
This is the thing I’m searching for in a project. The thing that gives me pleasure. The reason I do this in the first place. Whether you’re a chef, an artist, a gardener, a writer, a physicist, or indeed a “strategist”, beauty is ultimately the goal. And beauty is ultimately the judge.
You don’t have to listen to it.
But it’s easier if you do.
If this speaks to you, let me know.