Thursday, May 16, 2013

Strategy and Degrees of Insanity

I have a new plan to make the world indebted to me.

Every time someone offers me a penny for my thoughts, I will give them my two cents worth and will then invoice them for the difference.

Sounds insane, doesn’t it?

But is it any more insane than the various forms of strategy that many people and organizations embrace?

Take for example, the intention of traveling from San Diego to 60 Madison Avenue in New York City and the need to produce a strategy and a tactical roadmap to get me from my point of origin to my destination.

How do some people describe the solution necessary to accomplish this?

Scenario 0 – No Formal Approach At All

It is surprising how many people and organizations still believe that the following is a strategy ….

Or this ….

Or this (wandering blindly, potentially causing them to look like the thing they are trying to pin the tail on) ….

Or this (in absence of everything else) ….

…. when relying on these alone usually produces this.

Hopefully someone else’s lack of appropriate strategy and tactics doesn’t put you on the sacrificial table.

Lewis Carroll expressed this conundrum perfectly in this insightful quote from “Alice in Wonderland”:

“ One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” she asked. “Where do you want to go?” was his response. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter. ”

Scenario 1 – Irrelevance of Solution

Assuming a strategic intention and tactical roadmap exist, a solution may look like this and the owner will display it with great pride.

Unfortunately, the roadmap of China provides zero information of relevance to get me from San Diego to NYC although the details do look very impressive, especially to outsiders or people who have no context for the problem or the desired solution.

Scenario 2 – Overly Generalized View of the Goal

Some people have a general idea of the destination but define it too vaguely to hit it with any level of success.  They may also be ignoring the importance of knowing where they are starting from, thus missing critical contextual information.

Scenario 3 – Overly Detailed / Narrow View of the Goal


Some people have such a myopic view of the destination that they can describe it in incredible detail but have no context for anything else of relevance around it which would help them get to the destination (and in this case, they still don’t have the context of where they are starting from).

Scenario 4 – Solution Too High-Level

Excellent.  I can now see where I am and where I need to go, but what happens in between, the strategic plan and the tactical roadmap, defining the most effective way to get to my destination when and how I need to get there, are invisible.

Scenario 5 – Solution Too Low-Level

I can now see the path that takes me from where I am to where I need to go.  Unfortunately, I am also overwhelmed with a lot of other details that mean nothing to me and in fact may make my journey much more resource intensive or complicated.

Scenario 6 – Improper Resources

Oftentimes when a solution is required that has quick timing requirements or other significant resource needs, many teams need one of these to implement their solution in an appropriate manner ….

…. but are given one of these (wrong delivery medium and / or inappropriate resource availability) while being warned not to let people down.

Scenario 7 – Improper Resources … Again

The converse of scenario 6 also exists, where the solution would have been satisfied with this ….

…. but is complicated when someone insists upon this ….

…. or this ….

…. driving the complexity, time estimates, costs and other resource needs up significantly and unnecessarily.

Scenario 8 – Over Planning

Don’t be like this city that was teased by The Tonight Show. :-) Eventually one must translate intentions and planning into action and results(positive ones, hopefully).

Scenario 9 – Communication

Assuming that a great solution has been designed, communicating it in such a way that it is understood and acted upon appropriately is an essential ingredient to success.

There are many other important elements!

The bottom line is this.

Intelligent strategy and tactical roadmaps don’t happen by accident and even once they are in-hand, having them doesn’t automatically imply that they are appropriate or adequate for the situation at-hand.

Using processes such as backcasting (click on the diagram below) or some other formal, structured, vetted process is essential to success in this arena.


To believe otherwise is setting yourself up for failure …. which inevitably becomes a success opportunity for someone else.

And no matter how beautiful the strategy looks, the following is always true:

"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results" -Winston Churchill

Which side of the failure / success equation would you rather be on?

Do you do what is necessary to accomplish this?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

Intelligent strategy and tactics are an art and a science. 

How do I know?

Offer me a penny for my thoughts and I will tell you. :-)

In service and servanthood,


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