Strategy is hard. Innovation is harder

By now, you should know that I don’t sugarcoat it. No recipes, frameworks, or any other method with promises of a silver bullet. No BS here about how easy it is. With that said, here is another anecdote for you…

Yesterday we visited a prospect, we talked about how we could help them make some improvements in they way they collaborate with their value chain. After our meeting was done, the CEO asked me why we needed to be so thorough to make a strategy. I simply said: Strategy isn’t supposed to be easy. There is no silver bullet that applies to everyone. Whoever tells you differently is not a strategist.

I basically let him know that we don’t carry templates that apply to everyone. And, it isn’t about over-thinking either, it is simply going through a process of understanding assumptions that blind us from seeing alternatives to the status-quo. Many call this a diagnostic, and many are lucky to conduct one. And some are more lucky to actually implement “assumption busting ideas”.

Easy is avoiding hard

I’ve talked about strategy a lot on this blog, and how many organizations don’t have one. They practice what uber strategist Richard Rummelt calls “Bad Strategy“. They have aspirations and tactics. But not strategy. Same goes for innovation. Many have suggestion boxes, but no innovation strategy (assuming there is no culture).

For me, the main problem with strategy comes down to making a “decision” after a diagnostic. You see, there is no shortage of strategy tools that we can use to analyze a business/market and make conclusions from. What is lacking, is courage ask oneself tough questions that forces you to look at things differently, and then act on them. That is why I say that a template might help bring clarity, but it will not fill you with courage.

The only template that matters, is one that is custom made for you by you.

A Good Strategy then, is a guide for behavior. It is about how to play, where and why to play. And innovation flows from those decisions. But, if you don’t make a decision, you’ll essentially play not to lose. In making these distinctions then, innovation gets harder if you are practicing Bad Strategy because there is no focus. Both go hand-in-hand.

Another key insight you must remember, is that whether we take the easy road to developing strategy (point and shoot), or the thoughtful one, we still face the paradox of uncertainty: it probably won’t work.

Because to change is to move into uncharted territory. And as Michael Raynor says, the strategies likeliest to succeed are also likeliest to fail. That is the strategy paradox.

Bottom line: No strategy is foolproof. As I stated a few days ago, innovation inertia happens because people make decisions based on analysis and gut. Both, are biased. To counter this, you can force yourself and your company to make better decisions by having a process to check your assumptions at the door.


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