Strategy is one of those words that, to a right brain creative like me, every now and then sends ‘this does not compute’ messages through the brain. Not dissimilar to a strategist hearing words such as ‘creativity’, I guess. 

With the definition of science being:

‘a systematically organised body of knowledge on a particular subject’,

and Michael Porter’s definition of strategy in the Harvard Business Review,

‘the creation of a unique position involving a distinct set of activities’

then the term ‘the science of strategy’ would make sense.

But what of the strategist?

Probably best be summed up by Cynthia Montgomery in her book of the same name, by these words,

‘It takes time to develop the skills and sensibilities of a strategist. Part of it is ‘science’ – straight-up analytical ability, but a lot of it is judgment, a lot of it is ‘feel’.

Most people think that strategy is a fixed, done and dusted thing that we spend a couple of days think tanking, analysing and fact finding before we collaborate on solving a problem, and that’s it. Far from it… a strategy is a moving feast – it like a campaign that you run and if need be, you iterate and change it along the way to adapt to the outside forces that might impact you.

Forces such as new technology, new players in the market, fluctuating prices, opportunity for new channels and unreliable suppliers that can impact your direction.

In so many instances, the strategist has been stereotyped as the analytic, the left brain, the objective person when, in actual fact, the subjective, right brain and emotional is also a key player if you want to bring balance to strategising.

To build or expand your competitive advantage you need a combination of both – strategic AND creative – or a diverse perspective we can refer to as ‘strative’.

Inspiration is a key lead in to strategy:

Clarity around your purpose, and raison d’etre, having that purpose baked into your very fibre creates an energy that will inspire others, which is extremely creative. It’s what strong leadership entails. Inspiration can come from purpose driven questions that sit atop any strategy:

  • If your role no longer existed, who would miss you?
  • What is the reason your role exists – forget the job description, focus on the impact your role or your business has on the greater community?
  • What is the specific need your business fills, or what is unique about the way your business fills that need?

How well can you articulate this type of question, especially at a ‘strative’ level? How easily can you step away from the bits and bytes, and the numbers, and let go of the need to know ‘how’ to do something? How easily can you give your brain permission to dream of ‘what might be’. True strategists are visionaries who can trigger new ideas by creating space to do so, building new neural connections in themselves and others, all the while inspiring others to action in the process.

When you realise what a difference that makes, you do it more.

Curiosity to help you create strategy through questions such as:

  • How do you align yourself or your people to get real great at positioning themselves and the company?
  • How do you help counter potentially negative influences?
  • How do you know whether to walk away from an opportunity or not?
  • How is the competition coping in this environment?
  • How can the brand reach the level you want it to get to?
  • How can we improve communication internally and externally to achieve that?

The Science of Strategy - What Steve Jobs and I Have in Common
What is missing in so many situations, is the ability for people to continue to ask questions or show up with the right level of curiosity. Because circumstances change and evolve, curiosity will not just kill the cat but the strategist in you, if not practiced.

Companies today need to foster the art of curiosity as one of their own strategies to help embed solid strategies within. Leaders need to come to the table with a ‘beginners mind’ to discern what information is worth holding onto, what is worth acting upon, and what is not worthwhile, and that takes more than knowing the numbers, it takes an understanding of your own mental abilities.

When you realise what a difference that makes, you do it more.

Courage is something else a strategist must have:

  • To lead the field and stay the course
  • To believe in the purpose and the direction, and inspire others to adopt it, is key to rolling out a strategy
  • To provide enough insight and ‘challenge’ a customer, or anyone, to accept a new idea that you believe will be the best thing for them, and to be able to explain why, whilst getting buy in
  • To have the level of conviction to try something new is great, as is understanding whether your team members or clients are emotionally and mentally prepared to do the tasks or whether they might sabotage a task component of your strategy by you not knowing what makes them tick
  • To buy into the function of the brain and execute – by accessing both the executive function and the amygdala, and identify what activates the primary reward or threat circuitry so that you can better determine strategic or tactical outcomes.

When you realise what a difference that makes, you do it more.

I mentioned Steve Jobs and I have something in common.
The Science of Strategy - What Steve Jobs and I Have in Common
We do.

Both of us have been accused of ‘not being a strategist’ in our roles.

Steve Jobs made stacks of mistakes – one being hiring John Sculley who eventually ousted him from his own company, he introduced flawed products like the Lisa and Macintosh TV, created his business on passion and creative artistry and made so many other decisions that negatively impacted the value creation process of the company.

And, I too, have made plenty of mistakes – I’ve been too impulsive, aligned with the wrong people, got the numbers wrong and the list can go on.

So, for myself and Steve Jobs, it’s not about, nor was it about, learning to become a strategist, but learning to become more of a strategist by balancing our brain’s function.

Today, all of us have to unlearn what we have learnt and relearn new skills. We have to continually reinvent ourselves in order to become more strategic and more creative, together.

We can only do that when we understand what that real difference is that we provide and what matters the most about that very difference?

As Cynthia Montgomery also says,

‘Being a strategist is a way of seeing, a way of thinking, a way of acting. One learns to do it well through practice.’

I must be close to doing it very well then 😉

Be Bold, Brave and Brilliant




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