When I was 10, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Something about the King Tutankhamen treasures touring the country inspired me, and I desperately wanted to find dinosaur bones. Then at some point, I found out that archaeology involved a lot of fruitless sweating, kneeling in the dirt, and being bitten by insects. I moved on to dream of becoming a children’s book writer, which involved none of those things.
Are you working toward a specific life’s goal, either personally or professionally?
Have you stopped to analyze the reality of achieving your goals?
For example, if one of your career goals is to become a famous speaker, giving keynotes all over the world for big-time fees, have you considered the travel involved? Time away from your family, hotel rooms, TSA inspections? Yep, that’s glamorous.
If your corporate goal is to bring in 10 Fortune 500 clients, have you thought through the realities of servicing an enterprise customer? Massive bureaucracy, expectations, slow decision-making…and reliance on a few large customers can be risky as well.
Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
The homework today is to review your goals, both written and unwritten. Take a half hour to visualize what your life would be like if you achieved them. Is it the life you want?
If not, you need new goals.
Image via Flickr CC: Mediocre2010
By James Ellis
In a previous post, I suggested that strategy was the achievement of our intended purpose in a given context. Strategies can’t be plans or just “smarter thinking” because that relies too much on a specific context. Context changes every second, so a plan that relies on it is doomed.
However, achieving an intention is a vague and perhaps even dubious sentence. It’s all well and good to say you’ll achieve an intention when you don’t have to say how. That’s where tactics come in.
The word “intention” is probably the most important because it allows you to align all your tactics to help you achieve that goal. Or, more interestingly, all your reports to determine the right tactics on their own.
We live in a world where you might have access to a digital specialist, a media specialist (a digital media specialist, maybe), a social specialist, a content specialist, an even specialist and a PR specialist. This world exists because each one of those ideas is a full-time gig requiring a lot of specialized knowledge. No one person can do it all. Not even you. So you need to lean on these experts to help you achieve your intention.
But you can’t just tell these specialists what to do. Remember, they know their jobs better than you know their jobs (that’s why you pay them). So you have to help them understand your intention (strategy) so they can build out tactics.
This feels scary. You are entrusting others to achieve execute strategy. But that’s the only way to achieve your success in the face of such a specialized world with so many interconnected moving pieces.
Why do this instead of just getting them all in a room so you can make a plan? When, aside from the sheer cost of that meeting, that plan will be almost impossible to implement. Remember, your own staff will constitute your context. Implementing a media plan will change the context and affect the plan. Even if you can lay all those moving pieces out, what are the odds that they all execute perfectly? What happens when your live event gets pre-empted or changed because of forces outside of your control? That might render your own plans worthless or even counter-productive.
Managing the strategy still gives you a higher-level view of the situation. You can see that things are shifting and relay information to the rest of the team.
You can’t rely on planning for every contingency because you will never anticipate them all. Instead, focus on your intent, relaying it to your staff, and let them make decisions. They are your experts. A plan locks players in place, without giving them the flexibility to deflect losses or take advantage of unforeseen opportunities. For example, when your social expert sees an opportunity to newsjack a story and build more buzz, You can’t have built a plan around that. And you’ll have to react quickly to take advantage of the opportunity, so bringing the full team together to change the plan around will be the same as throwing money away.
This is why building your team is crucial. Your job isn’t to do their job. Your job is to help them achieve your goal.
By James Ellis
I wish I didn’t know so many people, in places of influence and power, who didn’t know what strategy was. Too often, it is a word used in place of words like “plan” or “tactic.” Some people just use it as a placeholder for the idea that we shouldn’t make a decision instinctively, but to stand back and think about it for second.
This isn’t what strategy is. Strategy could be summarized as “the achievement of our intended purpose in a given context.” MBA words, all of them, but it’s actually pretty simple.
Strategies can’t be a plan, because a plan depends on the context (place, players, situation, your level of motivation, the motivation of your staff, your resources, the position of your competition, etc). All of these things shift at a moment’s notice, so a plan that depends on any of them is doomed if anything changes. Your “strategy” to enter the email service market went up in smoke when Google announced Gmail. The context changes, and so must your plans. Thus, a plan is not a strategy.
Strategies can’t be tied too closely to tactics, because those need to be selected closer to the moment of execution. Like a plan, too many things change. Your “strategy” to launch your product in Boston was great… until last week. Thus, a tactic is not a strategy.
Your strategy is the achievement of an intent. You want to be a challenger in a specific market. You want to be the number one player in that market in five years. That’s a mission or goal. How you achieve that goal is your strategy.
You want to see strategy in action? Watch a two-year old try and get a cookie off the counter. Watch them look at the field of battle, sizing up the height of the counter. Then they look for mom; how far away is she? Can she hear me? Is she distracted? They have a plan. Halfway through executing that plan, mom comes back in. Plan paused. The context has shifted. The plan won’t work. (At this point, how many companies would keep working on the plan, knowing full well it was doomed?)
A new tactic is demanded to achieve the goal. Crying? Maybe. Asking sweetly? Possible. Wait until the field is clear? That could take too long. Throw a toy to the ground and make a mess, causing a distraction? Yes. Boom. Cookie.
That’s the execution of a strategy. It evaluated many tactics, using the one that worked in that context. In a larger organization, where the selection and execution of tactics is selected by lower divisions, things only work when there’s a central strategy to align with.
I highly recommend The Art of Action by Stephen Bungay, the first book that looks properly at strategy as it originated in military thinking, and how it has evolved into how we make smart business decisions. (Don’t let the word “military in that sentence spook you: it’s a great read, even if everything you know about war strategy comes from watching the War Room scene in Dr. Strangelove).
So what’s your strategy? And where’s your cookie?
—keep looking »