When you’re developing a strategy for your business, you know who the most helpful person is?
It’s not your co-founder.
It’s not your head of strategy.
It’s not your head of marketing.
It’s not your consultant.
It’s not even your customer.
No, the most helpful person – who nobody ever bothers to involve in the process – is this:
Someone who simply doesn’t care.
It could be your spouse. Your mum. Your mate. Some randomer on the street. It doesn’t really matter who they are, just so long as they have zero interest in your business.
Just corner them.
Explain your strategy.
And see how it goes…
You see, such people are common, but they’re also extremely valuable, because they will give you the only cold read you’ll ever get on your strategy. Everyone else brings baggage, self-interest, sycophancy, or unrealistic levels of knowledge to the table when you discuss your ideas with them.
But the person who doesn’t care?
- If it’s unclear, they won’t understand.
- If it’s boring, they’ll be bored.
- If it doesn’t make sense, they’ll question it.
- If it’s complex, they’ll force you to simplify it.
In short, they probably won’t like it – unless it’s very very good.
Now you might think “sure, but they don’t understand my industry”. And that’s fine. Explain it to them as part of the context. That’s an important part of the strategic exercise – to cut though to the need-to-know info. And you might think “but they don’t understand our particular situation” – but again, that should be baked into the strategy too. Their ignorance is a feature of this technique not a bug.
Your strategy should be simple enough, charismatic enough, and narrative-driven enough to hold the interest of anyone you explain it to. And, just as importantly, your delivery and articulation of it should also be at that level too.
Remember, great strategy is 50% about the idea, and 50% about how you sell it. Only when BOTH of these are maximised can you truly say the strategy is “finished”.
My advice then is to have this conversation, record it, and then listen back to look out for the following:
- In the convo, how do you try to compensate for their lack of knowledge? How do you simplify things? Chances are this is how you should be talking about the strategy all the time, not just in this scenario.
- Where do you start to lose them? And how do you bring it back? This reveals information that is either convoluted, or, more likely, totally superfluous. Lose it.
- Where do they show greatest interest? What is the “hook”? It’s quite likely you are sleeping on the most interesting part of your strategy, and their reaction may reveal something even better lurking within it.
- How do they say it back to you? What is their shorthand articulation? You want to get them to put it into their own words – it’s quite possible they’ll do a better job than you do.
All in all, assuming your strategy is reasonably sound and doesn’t need to be binned off altogether, you should find the optimal phrasing of your strategy within this conversation.
The version that cuts through the crap.
That focuses on what really matters.
That phrases it plainly.
Pretty good value for 20 minutes of your time no?
As a final bonus, I should note that you can use disinterested people for all sorts of other strategic purposes too. One really good one is to ask them if they can perceive your strategy simply by observing your business. In other words, is the thing a casual observer sees when they look at your business, the thing you want them to see?
If not then that’s a pretty good sign the strategy isn’t actually being executed properly.
Another is to use them in situations where you want to compare yourselves to a competitor. Do they really notice the differences you do? Normally the answer is no. Gaps which you see as chasms they will barely notice – showing just how much harder you need to push to truly separate yourselves.
Like I said, they’re tough critics.
So give it a go. It’s free. And it’ll hold your thinking to the highest standard there is. Because if you can convince someone who doesn’t care, you’ll find convincing people who do care (your team, your customers) a piece of cake.