Better strategy helps you make the right decisions, even when everyone else is following the industry leader. Fresh, direct thinking is worth real dollars. Don’t leave the money sitting there. Instead, develop strategic thinking on your team. I’ll tell you how I do it in my classroom, and how I do it in my company.
Note: I was recently asked to be on a really fun panel by my friends at eROI up in Portland called “Change is the Only Constant: Digital Marketing in 2–15.” While I was talking about strategic storytelling, the moderator asked me how we’re training the next generation to deal with digital. This is the conversation that resulted.
Strategy in Hiring: Hire for Curiosity and Diligence
Strategy fails because of a lack of focused curiosity and diligence in finding answers. I straight-up tell students that they don’t deserve to be sitting in my classroom if they’re not both curious and diligent. If they develop methods for unraveling the problem (not a solution, but the problem), they will make fewer assumptions than people more experienced than they are. The weakness will become an advantage in clarity.
In a company, you have what I don’t have as a teacher: the ability to choose your staff. So look for stories, portfolios and past work that seems smart and looks a little different than what everyone else is doing.
And when you get them on staff, encourage them to think outside the box by first understanding the box really, really well. The cleverest, most effective strategic ideas are found by understanding the situation better than anyone else.
Strategy in Debrief/Reviews: Asking “Why?”
Usually, we focus on the fact that we saw success or failure and then claim to have experience. But to stop there is to limit the understanding we gain from experience. But if we analyze successes and failures, looking closely at why, we build the very understanding that gives value to experience. On the other hand, people will remain incompetent strategists simply because they assumed the wrong things about the experiences they’ve had.
In a company, you often have project debriefs, which is a perfect time to not only ask “How can we improve,” but also “why?” For example, a 5’11″ basketball player might want to improve his crossover, but if someone said “You should improve your post-up game,” he should probably ask “why?”
To make this much more effective, also have everyone show up to the meeting with their own assumptions. Ask them to have them written, so they’re not just winging it. And challenge them to dig deeper each time.
Strategy in Guidance: Make them Say it Straight
Too often, students want to hide their assumptions at the beginning of the research. They want to reduce risk. Unfortunately, this hides errors in thinking and makes them risk-averse and scared. So I force them to make decisions, which gives them experience fast. In the classroom, that means asking them to make bold statements about what they found in the research. I then read through their stuff and find contradictions that make them strengthen their research/story.
In a company, you can do the same thing. Experience can start with asking them to make decisions and judgments about things. It will both build their confidence and help them see where their judgments are failing them. Ask them to keep a working hypothesis of what they’re finding to be true. If they state their assumptions, they can also examine them.
And when they ask you a question, ask them to come with an educated guess at what the answer might be. If they say “I don’t know,” maybe don’t let them off the hook so easily.
This is how strategy looks in the classroom, and in business. Not such a big difference. You hire smart, you guide them through a review of a completed project and you make lots of room for them to make judgments. Pretty soon, you’ll have more strategic accountability and a culture that’s able to make the smart moves, even if everyone else in your industry is still following old, tired best practices.