How Serious Are You About Strategy?

By William “Wes” Waldo

The word “strategy” has its beginnings from the Greek strategos—a leader, both military general and politician, with far reaching powers and responsibilities. If, at the end of their service, it was determined they had done a poor job, they faced punishment, including the possibility of execution. Now that’s a high-stakes job.

When I first read about the history of strategos, I thought of how a strategos couldn’t be a short-term planner; they had to develop and execute a successful strategy for today and every day into the future.

When business leaders go about creating strategy, some stress a more analytical approach, with relentless attention to revenue forecasts, customer buying patterns and other current state information.

Others insist on an approach centered more on creativity and inspiration, looking to see what customers do not yet know they need and exploring what the organization can be regardless of the best benchmark. In reality, both ends of the spectrum are necessary, and by themselves, neither is sufficient.

To be a successful strategos, we have to do both—and more. To be well prepared and proficient at both, every leader needs to create a process, unique to themselves, for the collection of lots of information. Here is a summary of four aspects that should be part of the process. Read expanded descriptions of each in my full post on “How Serious Are You About Getting Better at Strategy?” on LinkedIn.

1. Start With What You Don’t Know

Leaders who recognize what they don’t know work hard to fill the gap by acquiring the most valuable information. Such self-awareness is vitally important.

Strategic thinkers learn to collect and analyze information with an empathetic intuition.

2. Know Thy Enemy and Thyself

The brilliant strategist Sun-tzu once said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Strategic thinkers learn to collect and analyze information from a variety of sources with an empathetic intuition.

3. Unfamiliar Is Not Improbable

Before a business strategy can be developed, the strategic thinker has to create insights—new, valuable ways of looking at an opportunity, seeing information from new perspectives and making connections that were previously not known or imagined. In other words, insight is seeing the same world that everyone else sees but somehow drawing unique conclusions that can change the entire paradigm.

Insight is seeing the same world that everyone else sees but somehow drawing unique conclusions that can change the entire paradigm.

4. Intuition Needs a Fertile Field

This ability to create insights is often called intuition, but in most instances this simplification undervalues and underappreciates the efforts and capabilities of true strategic thinkers. You can create an environment where intuition is likely.

Strategy is about creating the future instead of just letting it happen. Becoming a strategic thinker, a strategos, means getting better at creating insights and then turning those insights into competitive advantage. What would you add to the list to become better at strategy?

Wes Waldo is COO and President, Americas at the Lean Methods Group. He is also the author of A Team Leader’s Guide to Lean Kaizen Events.