Strategy as a cure for modern malaise

OK, this title sounds ridiculous. But hear me out, and by the end of this essay, I think I’ll have won you over.

First, here’s the issue:

The modern world is boring.

Now admittedly it’s many other things too. And many of those things might make you happy to be living in the here and now, rather than say 300 years ago in feudal France or something. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is, indeed, boring.

In the past, the world was an open canvas. Merely leaving your village was an invitation to mystery and danger – never mind venturing overseas, which was like going to a different planet.

The world had no shortage of frontiers to explore – geographic, philosophic, scientific – and to simply be alive was something of an adventure. Or at the very least, adventure was yours if you wanted it.

But as time went by, we traded that all in.

For comfort.
For safety.
For convenience.
For predictability.

For all manner of things which are perfectly reasonable and desirable in their own right, but which nevertheless come at a price. The price of this adventure, and a vital, thrilling life.

Billionaires now circumnavigate the world with balloons, and plot missions into outer space in search of this human birthright, but for the rest of us, it isn’t so easy.

There just aren’t many edges left to explore.

Our lives are templated. Our paths are set. The “answers” have been provided for us. Just order your food, watch your Netflix, get on your Zoom calls, and you’ll be fine.

That is the deal.

And for most of us, it’s a pretty good one.

But still, for some, there is a wistful yearning for something more. To rediscover some of that risk and daring which used to be just how the human experience was. Without it, we feel a sense of malaise. Disenchantment. Even depression.

How can we inject some of this lost magic back into our lives?

The answer – at least in part – is with strategy.

Insane, I know. Not only does that not sound true, it sounds the opposite of true. For most people “strategy” intuitively means a form of control, and risk mitigation. It represents all the stultifying forces which have shaped the modern prison in the first place.

But that is wrong.

For strategy – as I hope my readers at least will know – is not a way to mitigate risk.

Strategy is a way to increase risk.

Strategy – whether applied to your life, your career, or your business – is a process of stepping off the path that has been laid out for you, and forging a new one. It is the process of making a big, audacious, unpredictable move, and living with the consequences.

The non-strategic approach, by definition, is to follow the generic template. And the strategic approach is to abandon it – for better or worse.

There is actually a term for this, coined by Michael Raynor, called “the strategy paradox”. I’ve written about it before but it bears repeating – the strategy paradox is that by adopting a strategy, you actually make it MORE likely you’ll fail, rather than less.

It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Because strategy necessitates taking a risk, rolling the dice, you put yourself directly in harm’s way.

If you don’t want to fail, don’t do strategy! Instead follow the template. The template works. It’s consistent. You’ll probably be fine. Mediocre, sure, but fine. You won’t fail. That is the choice you’re offered – and there’s nothing wrong with the more timid path.

What this all comes down to then is understanding this very peculiar (but true), idea:

Strategy is not about success.
Strategy is about glory.

You are not seeking comfort and prosperity when you make your move. You are seeking that thing modernity has stolen from us: adventure. You are crafting a new frontier in a world that’s run out of them. You are creating a distant shore in your mind – a shore which you can only reach by acting with vitality, bravery, and really truly living.

I know this is somewhat grandiose, and beyond the scope of, say, a strategy textbook.

But honestly I think there’s a higher spiritual purpose to all this. We humans need adventure. It’s our telos. It’s what we were made to pursue, just as bees make honey, and birds somersault through waterfalls.

And if it won’t come to us? Well, we have to make our own.

A strategic business, is business as an adventure.
A strategic career, is career as an adventure.
A strategy life, is life as an adventure.

At least, that’s what I think.

So, don’t do it because it’s sensible. There are other more sensible ways to live. Do it, instead, because it’s not.

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