People often say that strategy is both “art and science”. I do agree, but I think there’s a better way of putting it:
Strategy is intuition and analysis.
Both are crucial, because each does a job the other can’t.
- Intuition allows you to take a holistic view of the situation, and generate truly original and unpredictable ways of tackling it
- Analysis allows you to check your intuition against basic facts, and prevents you from making stupid errors, or falling in love with your own nonsense
Unfortunately what you typically see is people majoring in one or the other of these, but rarely both. Most proper strategy practitioners are overly analytic and faux-scientific, leading to ideas that are both timid and dull. Whilst the more creative types – typically more in the branding world – create stuff that is so light and airy that it almost blows away.
So how do we do both?
With this simple 3 step system I use on every project I do:
- Zoom out
- Zoom in
Let’s break it down.
The first task is simply research: gathering all the information you possibly can so you have a full view of the situation.
Even if you’re working on your own business, you’ll be surprised at how little you actually know about it and the market it occupies. This is because to do this well you don’t only need basic information; you also need to uncover angles by asking unusual questions, for example:
- Who are we competing against outside of our category?
- What are the major strengths of our competitors?
- What are the differences between the way our customers see us, and the way we see ourselves?
(I’ll have a massive bundle of these sorts of context gathering questions when I drop my course, The Strategy Shortcut System, in Q1 next year…)
The goal here is simply to know what’s going on, on a deep and non-superficial level.
II. Zoom out
Next comes the intuition part of the process.
Here you step back from the info you gathered, and let your gut take over.
What jumps out at you?
Where does your curiosity lead you?
What are your snap judgements?
What feels right?
What feels surprising?
What makes you laugh?
Chew it over, preferably in a casual conversation with a coffee or beer. Relax into it. This is how breakthroughs emerge, and when they do you’ll know it, because your reaction will be something like:
“Huh, I never thought of it that way before”.
III. Zoom in
Finally comes analysis.
This is where you stress test your intuitions against the facts. Are these ideas robust in some way, or were you just attracted to them for random personal reasons?
Do they align with the data we have? Or at the very least, does the data not contradict them? What evidence can we find for their effectiveness? Is there some research we can do to validate or invalidate them?
This is analysis’ job. Not to create ideas (as many people attempt to do), but to shape and strengthen them.
Ultimately we all have our biases in this game.
Some of us are naturally intuitive, some are naturally analytical, and we tend to dismiss the opposite side of the process.
But really, this is foolish. Because these aren’t just opposite sides of the process; they are opposite sides of our brain. Opposite sides of our nature.
And to get the best result, we want to call on all our gifts; all our powers; all our abilities.
Otherwise we’re operating with the handbrake on.
So hopefully now you know how to do it!