How to use woo-woo magic to get a strategic edge

Look, I happen to think that “woo-woo” works.

By which I mean tapping into esoteric, mystical, even spiritual forces for the purpose of developing strategy.

I know it sounds crazy, and you don’t have to agree, but in fairness I’m in pretty good company.

Steve Jobs had everyone at his funeral issued with Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, a non-fiction book that speaks of things like teleportation and transmogrification as if they were as commonplace as blowing your nose.

Equally a shockingly high number of incredible breakthroughs came to their creators in their dreams – from the brand name Nike right through to the periodic table.

Of course there are more rationalistic ways of explaining a lot of this – the subconscious and such like – but either way it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is simply the “outsourcing” of some of your work to the supra-rational realms, and having faith in the existence of patterns which are beyond your ability to unravel.

(Which to be fair is actually a highly scientific belief, not a fantastical one).

Now, there are varying levels of crazy you can explore with this, but today I want to talk about a really down-to-earth and humble technique that you can use in day-to-day strategy development – both for your business, and your career.

It barely counts as woo-woo to be honest, but it kinda is.  We can call it something like:

Purpose synchronisation.

(And I’m not talking about the whole “business purpose” thing, but rather purpose in the raw sense of the word).

The basic idea is as follows.

Imagine each business or person as having a pre-determined purpose in the world for which they were built.  Crucially, this purpose is not known to either the business or the person – their job instead is to “discover” it.  Once they do, everything will just flow, as there is a sort of “harmony” between them and the “universe”.  A synchronisation.

Long time readers will recognise this as a version of the Dolly Parton principle – “find out who you are and do it on purpose” – where the implication is that we don’t choose our path (or the path of our business), but instead it is chosen for us.  Or indeed perhaps it was there all along…

So the question then becomes: how do we find it?

Well, unfortunately it is extraordinarily hard, for one big and unfortunate reason: we human beings are mimetic creatures.

This means we want things not because they are right for us, or in harmony with our true nature, but rather because we’ve seen other people with them, and so we want them too.

This mimetic tendency isn’t just a factor in our decision making – it’s the default setting.  Almost every un-strategic business (i.e. 95% of them) is following a mimetic path.  Either they are copying their competitors’ moves, or worse, they are like “Mini Mes” of companies their leaders admire.

(How many mini-Patagonias are there out there? Or mini-Apples? Or mini-Innocents?)

And almost every decision we take for ourselves as individuals is the same too.  Why does every other graduate from Harvard go into banking or consulting?  Because this is the perfect life for these specific people?

Of course not, they do it because it’s what everyone else does.

They want it because it’s wanted.

The net result of all this is that we think certain paths are “right” for us simply because we desire them.  We think “I know this is right because I want it so badly, and that proves that it harmonises with my true self”.

But it’s a trick.  Our desire for something only has minimal bearing on its suitability for us, or for our businesses.

So how are we meant to know then?

How are we meant to know what our true purpose is if we are routinely attracted to false purposes that will lead us to friction and maybe ruin?

The answer is this:

You enjoy it even when you’re failing.

You see, false purposes are only enjoyable when they work; when you achieve the ends you were looking for.  But true purposes feel right regardless of outcome.

Let me give you a personal example.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was kicked out of both EY and L’Oréal.  In hindsight this was good for me, and in both cases I didn’t really enjoy what I was doing, and routinely felt a heavy case of the Sunday blues.  However did this mean I was glad when I was ejected?  Hell no!  I was miserable.  I fought hard to keep those jobs.  I really wanted them badly, thus illustrating how we can become attached to something that isn’t right for us.

By contrast, take this newsletter.  I was writing this for years before it was really read in any meaningful numbers.  I couldn’t really call it a “success” until about 6 months ago.  But, in spite of that, there was never a time when it felt difficult, or unpleasant, or like a chore.  I was always vibing off it for its own sake.

And that is the signal: that you can feel the vibes even when the thing isn’t obviously successful.

There is another, more brutal, way of putting this – the way Charles Bukowski put it:

Don’t try.

Don’t do anything that feels like trying.  And to be fair, that guy should know.  He was an unsuccessful writer for decades, working in the post office to no acclaim… and then wound up being considered the greatest poet of his generation.

Decades of work, decades of “failure”, but without ever trying.

Let me tell you, personally, I don’t try to do what I do.  Not at all.  I just do it.  And whether or not I “want” it actually doesn’t even factor into my thinking.  Do birds “want” to fly?  Do fish “want” to swim?  Does fruit “want” to ripen?

Sorry, that’s a bit flowery, but you get my point: “wanting” is the wrong question.

So, move beyond it.  Put aside the myth of your desires and instead seek that effortless synchronicity that makes them redundant.

It might sound like bullshit.  But honestly, underneath it all, it’s how strategy really works.

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