Three ways to know if you’re lying to yourself in your strategy

I’ve often felt that you can boil strategy down to an attempt to simply be as honest as possible.

About your business.
About yourself.
About the world.

The closer you get to absolute truth, the more effective your actions.  With God-like omniscience anything can be done.  You of course know a lot less – but the closer you can get to that ideal the more powerful you’ll be.

Needless to say the flip side of this is also true:

Bad strategies are built on lies.

And they are the worst kind of lies, because they are the ones you tell yourself – which means you can’t easily spot them.  They are the things you insert in some subconscious attempt to flatter or protect yourself, or to play politics, or to look clever, or to align with some prejudice or other.

Whatever the reason, the point is you have some ingredient that isn’t true.  And so the strategy is doomed from the start.

Now the easy way to reveal these lies is to get an honest, straight talking, external set of eyes on things- because frankly they’ll often be pretty obvious to people with no skin in the game.  But in the absence of that you can sometimes weed them out yourself.


Well you can start with these three questions…

I. Are you insulting the competition?

One of the most common lies basically boils down to “our competition is shit, so we will win by not being shit”.  Of course it’s never framed that way, but that’s the thrust.

This fails on two levels: first, because the competition is almost never actually shit, at least not in the view of the market who are presumably paying them.  And second, because this belief drives you into an ineffective “better” strategy that does nothing to open up new market space.

The way to weed this out is simple.  Just examine your strategy to see if you are building it on anything that is insulting to the competition.  On anything that implies the competition are unskilled, or lazy, or greedy, or malevolent, or stupid.  They might be all those things, but that’s by the by, because you need to be offering a good faith alternative – one which assumes that they do one totally legitimate thing, and you do another.

(All that being said, there are exceptions.  Octopus Energy in the UK have done fantastically well due to their competition genuinely being awful – but it’s extremely rare you’ll get such an open goal like that!)

II. Does your strategy cost you something?

Real decisions come at a price.  They demand you give up something.  They must hurt, at least a little.  So the question here is: does yours?

What are you giving up?  What are you sacrificing?  What money are you leaving on the table?  What makes this move in some way bold or brave or risky?

If the answer is “nothing really”, then there is probably some kind of fantasy assumption at play here.  One where you’re telling yourself – falsely – that you can eat your cake and have it too.  Another very likely possibility is that your strategy has no cost because it doesn’t really even do anything in the first place.  The lie here isn’t so much in the substance of the strategy as it is in the labelling of it as a “strategy” in the first place!

You know what they say, “the truth hurts”, so frankly you should expect a decent strategy to do the same.

III. Are you validating prior decisions?

You could say, at a pinch, that a great strategy makes your old decisions look foolish.  After all, something must have been going wrong, or else why are you bothering?  By the same token then, a bad strategy makes your old decision look wise.

A bad strategy says “look, here’s why we were right about all this stuff!”.

Now I’m not saying that a strategy needs to tear everything down.  Far from it.  A big part of the strategic game is identifying the stuff that’s working, and doing it more.  But it does need to tear something down.  It does need to invalidate some prior point of view.

You could do worse than creating a section on your strategy doc titled something like:

“What we thought was right but isn’t”.

That shows a change in direction.  That shows growth!  And isn’t that basically what we’re after here?  Growth?


When it comes to this stuff, I’m as guilty as the next guy.  A lot of the principles I share are basically guardrails against these natural slippery tendencies we all have in common.

But like with anything, admitting you have a problem is half the battle.  Do that, and scan for your deceptions, and your powers won’t exactly become “Godlike”… but they’ll certainly be a lot better.

Get weekly articles that will enable you to see things others don’t. 

Connect with Alex on Linkedin for daily ideas and discussion


Thank You

Check your inbox for your first mail.