Perhaps we need to kill strategy and do this instead

A privilege of my position (albeit a slightly dubious one), is that I get to see a lot of strategies.  

People often send them to me or describe them to me, and so I’m able to form a pretty decent idea of the “strategy zeitgeist” out there.

  • Are they good?
  • Are they bad?
  • What are the common issues?

Naturally I tend to prefer the ones that have been created by people who’ve read my book, but I’ve started to notice that even those often contain a fatal flaw which, despite my best efforts I’ve been unable to fully eradicate.

Indeed this flaw is so all-pervasive I’d say it’s present in almost all strategies, including a lot of really good, well thought out ones.

In fact I’d go further, and say it’s not so much a flaw in the human beings devising the strategy as it is actually a flaw in the concept of strategy itself.

The flaw in question?

A lack of specific action

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Let’s say you had a tyre manufacturer who decided to focus their offering on “safety”.  And let’s say that this was a form of value that was genuinely quite unique and desired by the market.

Perfect, you might think.  Sounds like a good strategy.

Except it isn’t.  Not necessarily.  Because there’s a problem here – namely the absence of the specific move the business is going to make to deliver that value.

  • Have they discovered an entirely new rubber compound with 10x better grip?
  • Are they only going to make tyres for a particular form of car?
  • Are they going to massively sacrifice on longevity, or performance of the tyre?

Indeed is there actually any theoretical way at all that they can offer meaningfully “safer” tyres than the status quo?

Quite possibly not!

Quite possibly they’ve identified a theoretically powerful form of value that actually can’t really be delivered on beyond mere marketing posturing.  Quite possibly they’ve created a strategy that’s nice on paper, but have simply kicked the can down the road by avoiding the REAL decisions that are necessary to make it happen.

This is what strategy looks like devoid of specific action.

And, I’d say, it’s what most strategy looks like.

Now, the reason I say this is a flaw in the very concept of strategy itself, is because “strategy” tends to be seen as a separate thing from action.  It’s more of a precursor – a way of pointing yourself in a certain direction before setting off.  This means that a lot of strategy stops short of outlining the “doing” that’s going to arise from it, beyond some vague generalities like “work to develop a safer tyre” or whatever.

This is a HUGE issue, because a mere “direction” isn’t actually going to do much to deliver results – only a big brash act will do that.  Some crazy move that bends the world in a new way.

So this is what strategy needs to incorporate.  In essence it needs to say:

“We are going to do X specific and unmissable thing”

For this reason, I actually think we’d be well served by rethinking strategy development all together.  We need to stop developing “strategies”, and instead start developing these:

Strategic Acts.

A strategic act is not a strategy.  Instead it is a specific action which we think will have massive positive consequences.

Here are some classic examples of strategic acts:

  • Southwest Airlines cutting business class
  • Starbucks allowing people to sit all day even if they only bought one coffee
  • Enterprise putting car rental depots on industrial estates
  • Who Gives a Crap individually wrapping their rolls of toilet paper
  • Tesla building an electric sports car
  • Liquid Death calling a water… err.. “Liquid Death”

Now of course these are not the only things these businesses did under their strategies.  But they are “hero moves” which exemplify the direction, and which did a lot of the heavy lifting.

I believe that if we shift our goal away from “coming up with a strategy”, and instead towards “coming up with strategic acts” like these, the quality of our reasoning will 10x.  Everything will become more vivid, more bold, more real.

Naturally we will still have to do “strategic thinking”.  These acts are not random.  It’s just that the strategy is folded into them, as the rationale behind them, rather than being a thing in its own right.

And frankly this is just how it should be.

A “strategy” shouldn’t really be a thing.  It should instead be a process by which you create a thing.  It’s a bit like “science”.  You can’t create “a science” in the abstract – instead you use the scientific method to produce something specific.

By the same token strategy is a “method”, which exists only in service to a “strategic act”, which is the true target of our endeavours.

So, I implore you, do not separate them.  Do not split the strategy and the act, because each is impotent without the other.  You are not a “thinker”, you are a “doer” – albeit a thoughtful one.

Only when you’ve made this shift, will things really start to happen.

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