This is the message that the great sci-fi author Ray Bradbury had taped to his typewriter.
He believed that his job, when he sat down to write, wasn’t to have an intellectual experience, but a visceral one.
To live, even. To have the experience of living whilst being sat at the keyboard. What a glorious idea.
This, he believed, is how great work is born. The intellect, far from being the architect of genius and creativity, is in fact its greatest enemy. This is because the intellect is a liar. It rationalises garbage. It censors, it filters. It is cowardly.
Truth on the other hand – the root of all greatness – emerges spontaneously and surprisingly. It shocks you. There is a physical sensation to it.
Thoughts are lies then.
But feelings are truth.
Now, of course there are many caveats to be thrown at this – and I’m not going to waste my time or yours by listing them here. Let’s take them as read, and instead zoom in on the insight here.
Regular readers of mine will know that I’m a great advocate of tapping into the immense power of the intuitive mind when creating strategy.
• I covered this recently with my piece on using embarrassment to help shape strategy.
• And I also touched on it with my thoughts on the surprisingly sloppy and unprofessional process of expert thinkers.
These ideas (and many more besides) all have at their root an outsourcing of thought to the subconscious mind – which for our purposes here can also be called the feeling mind.
Yes, great strategy isn’t something you identify purely via analytical thought. You feel it too. It delivers a spontaneous physical and emotional reaction which will tell you things you’d not be able to explain in words – but which are important nonetheless.
For this reason wanted to use this essay to outline the three key feelings that great strategy should provoke.
I genuinely believe you should trust these more than your lying rational judgements. If you are evaluating a strategy and feel all of them, then go for it. There’s something special there.
But if you feel none? Run a mile. I don’t care how “sensible” the idea seems.
Let’s get on with it.
I. “Huh, I never thought of it that way before”
This first feeling, illustrated by the quote, is the feeling of a genuine insight – the trigger for any good strategy.
Understand, an “insight” is not a piece of knowledge. It is not a fact. It is not a stat. Ugh. No, an insight is a way of looking at something. A perspective that is obviously true, with no need for substantiation, but which nobody happens to have thought of before.
You see the fact is that information is cheap. It’s staggeringly unlikely that you will have any facts that your competitors don’t. But insights on the other hand are rare. If you stumble across a genuine insight, and it triggers this “never thought of it like that” feeling in you, then it’s pretty bloody likely your competitors haven’t either.
And that means it’s leverage.
And leverage is power.
For this reason the thinking process behind any strategy must have this quality within it. There must be that surprise moment. I simply can’t think of how you can have an effective strategy without it.
II. “Ahh, OK, got it”
This next feeling is less about the wisdom of the strategy, and more the construction of it.
One of the most common and egregious strategic sins (as you probably know) is coming up with a strategy that’s really a goal. For example “our strategy is to become the number 1 dog food brand for pensioners by 2026”. Kinda sounds like a strategy because it has a “choice” in it (pensioners). But it’s not a strategy!
The easiest way to know if you’ve fallen into this trap is to see if the strategy provokes further questions. “OK, sounds good, how are we going to do that?”.
This is a major red flag.
A strategy must instead have the feeling of a solution to it. A feeling of finality. A feeling things are resolved.
Therefore if it provokes an “ahh, got it” reaction then you’re in the right place. The tension is released. You can relax. You know that the subsequent questions will answer themselves.
You can rest.
III. “Fuck yeah”
Finally we have this, which should kinda speak for itself.
A disease which plagues the entire strategy industry, in all its guises, is bloodlessness. A total lack of heart, passion, or force.
It’s all so technical.
It’s all so sensible.
It’s all so faux-scientific.
Aside from being boring (already a massive problem), this tendency has the critical issue of undermining one of strategy’s principal jobs:
Strategy is nothing more than a precursor to action, therefore it must do everything it can to provoke that action. Part of this, yes, is deciding what the right action should be. But the other part is lighting the fire in the bellies of the people who are responsible for making that action happen.
How many solid-enough strategies have gone nowhere because they failed to capture the imaginations of the people who had to execute them?
How many have failed due to timid or half-hearted implementation?
Hint: it’s not a minority.
Therefore the final way a strategy must feel couldn’t be better approximated than by the “fuck yeah” feeling. A feeling of being energised. A feeling you can’t wait to get going.
This feeling also has a bonus to it: it implies that your strategy is somehow mischievous and amusing. This is a great sign that you are doing something which is really going to tear up your category, and which your competitors are going to have trouble dealing with.
What more could you want?
End of the day, I don’t want to stop you thinking. Of course not.
But then again, I don’t think you need to be told to think. You’re gonna do that anyway. But you do probably need to be told to feel.
You’ve had it drilled out of you. You’ve been coached in cowardice. So fearlessly embracing your physical and emotional reactions is the only remedy.
And trust me – the truth it reveals will be the most intellectually rigorous and sophisticated you’re able to produce.