Asked & Answered: What Is Strategy Made Of?
My friends in grad school used to joke that if you didn’t know what you wanted to do with your life, you should just major in “strategy.” It sounded professional, it sound cool but it was a nebulous enough concept that anyone could be good at it.
Flash forward to real life and it turns out that’s not the case. Not only is strategy not a given skill set in business, it turns out that much more thought and process goes into constructing good (READ: effective) strategy. I sat down and tried to outline what strategy was made of and came up with two distinct parts:
Part #1 – The Vision Thing
The first element of good strategy is a vision of what could be. This vision is honed through research, analysis and a detailed consideration of the market conditions surrounding a business. Great strategists spend hours pouring over every piece of data and background documentation they can find.
The goal is to cultivate an understanding of the risks and players in a situation that is so in-depth that the opportunities leap off the page. If this sounds a little hokey that’s because it is. Great strategists are masters of opportunity. Osmosis with information, as strange and as intangible as it may seem, triggers a honed set of judgement criteria. When the “holes align” a strategist’s mind sees the opportunity and that’s what you call “The Vision Thing.”
Part #2 – Organizing & Articulating That Vision
The second part of good strategy is the ability to take that vision and put it into not just words but a relatable model. More good strategy goes to waste because the concepts don’t resonate or can’t be understood by their intended audience. Great strategists know how to explain a vision in both words and pictures in a way that can not only be easily understood but easily applied.
Though I deplore the over-use of Microsoft “SmartArt,” it is a powerful tool for communicating strategy. Using hierarchy, relationships and processes, great strategists can piece together a vision for how to capitalize on an opportunity and a road map for getting there.
Ultimately, not everyone was cut out to be a strategist. Some minds may have one part of what strategy is made of but not the other. That doesn’t mean it can’t be learned. If you want both sides, find out what you’re good at and identify the areas you need to work on. Then, go out and find inspiration. Read books about strategy, visit a museum to see how artists communicate an idea, do anything that allows you to step out of yourself.
Just remember that strategy is not a skill set that comes overnight. It’s a set of skills, put together, that are honed over many many years and the only way you improve is by doing.