“I have a way? Is that better than a plan?” The Truth About Strategy

I’ve spent a lot of time these last few months thinking about strategy, and talking to various people about strategy, and developing strategies.  In seems that within the culture and creative sector Strategy has become something of a buzzword. Strategy is right up there with “well being”, “co-working” and “entrepreneur”, “growth mindset” and “multi-disciplinary”  etc.  Its a word that’s used in a lot of contexts but its actually very difficult to get agreement on what the word actually means (It’s very revealing to ask a roomful of business students or a board of directors to define strategy).

Strategy is also a power word. It seems to belong to certain people (usually rational, well-dressed folk who lean back in chairs and ask you what your strategy is). And it can be used to undermine and undervalue: your strategy lacks detail, your strategy is not very realistic, you really need to develop a strategy, your strategy isn’t complete.

But when we talk about strategy we have to ask, are we talking about the idea of rational planning, or are we talking about a resource based strategy, or are we talking about an industry analysis approach to strategy, or should we be developing an evolutionary strategy, or what about the complexity model, or the emergent or garbage can approach?  And are you actually talking about strategy or are you having a conversation about tactics? Or are you really designing an operational plan or a project plan.

So lets clear this mess up.

Strategy is about decision making.

Strategy is like the operating system in a computer.

Strategy is Culture.

Strategy is fluid – it emerges and changes over time.

Its possible to have a strategy and not be aware of it.

Strategy is how you dance

When we develop a strategy we are constructing a model – which is another way of saying we’re telling a story . We are telling a story that describes the world we work in.  Some parts of that world we will like and other parts of it we would like to change; some parts of that world can support us and other parts will block us.  Once we’re clear about the world and our place in it, then we can imagine a better version of the world we work in (better for who is entirely up to you); we need to decide how we will make it better; and we need to decide the kinds of behaviours  we will and will not engage in. Context; Vision; Mission; Values.

And that in essence is strategy.  Because strategy is not a plan – it is a decision making framework. It allows you to accept or reject specific ideas, projects or courses of action, and it can inform your thinking as you develop specific ideas, projects or courses of action. It is brief. It is memorable. It is something everybody in the organisation can understand, believe in, and further.

Strategy is not a list of projects, of things you will do.  Strategy is how  you engage with the work; strategy is how you dance; strategy is your way – not your plan.

(P.S. Yes a plan is useful and sometimes important, but unless it is informed by a real strategy it’s just another thing that you do)





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