Obsessed With Strategy

I keep a photocopy of “Strategy Means Saying ‘No'” an article by David Maister, handy on my desk. It serves as a source of comfort, an antidote to the resistance and fear response of clients to my insistence that they need to be “not for” some people, if they are ever to become known for anything beyond than “we do everything for everyone.”

In fact, of late, I’ve become quite obsessed with strategy. Fueling the fire is a new book “Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works,” by A.G. Lafley, former Chairman, President and CEO, P&G and Roger L. Martin,  Dean, Rotman School of Management.

As creatives, we’re sensitive. Quirky. A little “different.” Maybe we got picked on in school. Sent to the principal’s office for daydreaming. Hollered at for doodling in class instead of paying attention in math.  We might associate winning with being popular. With the football star. Or the cheerleader. Winning implies there has to be a loser, and well, for obvious reasons, that makes us feel bad.

What we all need to realize, however, is that if we don’t really care about winning, our business may or may not be what we want it to be and we may or may not end up with the clients we really want to have.Rather than try to win, which requires us to be exclusive, we’d rather keep our options open and inclusive, and leave things  to chance. If we were talking about a game of foursquare on the playground, that might be okay. But it’s not. We’re talking about our livelihood here, people.

The way to take control back is through a series of specific decisions that ultimately will  limit our activities to those that we think will provide the best chance of getting us where we want to go. (Although, first we need  to decide where we want to go. That’s part of the process. The book refers to it as the “winning aspiration.”) 

If the topic of strategy is of any interest to you, especially if you sell strategy as part of your services, you need to read this book. If you’re fuzzy, it will clear things up. If you think you already know, it will give you additional vocabulary you can use to explain what strategy is and why your client needs one, before you do any implementation, especially those who insist on “keeping all their options open.”



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