How hard have you worked to develop your strategy?  Did you simply listen carefully at a conference and borrow someone else’s?  Maybe you worked hard to come up with your own take.  Maybe you’re in the camp that has pulled together a sort’ve Frankenstein of several different ideas.  And then again, maybe you’re just letting ‘er rip everyday without a thought to what you ought to be doing.

I’ve been working my way through Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense and came across a really interesting chapter on the subject of strategy…specifically, the dangerous half-truth that "making the right strategic choices is the key to business success."  As they’ve done with each of the half-truths, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton carefully work through an argument that make it clear that strategy alone is not the key to success.  Then what is it?  And how do we navigate the middle-ground that recognizes that strategy is important but there is more to it than that?

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Keep your eyes and ears open even after you determine your strategy.  "Explicit strategies are ‘blinders designed to focus direction and block out peripheral vision’ …’setting oneself on a predetermined course in unknown waters is the perfect way to sail straight into an iceberg.’"
  • Don’t confuse operational or implementation problems with a need to change strategy.  Be sure you’ve looked carefully at operation/implementation issues before throwing up your hands and changing strategies.  The strategy may not be the problem.  It may be all about execution.
  • Keep it simple.  We’ve come back again and again to this one.  "One of the barriers to communication and coordination, and to actually implementing strategy, is complexity."  If you can’t explain what you’re trying to do in a sentence or two…it’s just too complex.
  • Learn as you go.  Since the two main costs in a strategic planning process are the "resources consumed in planning and the leadership attention diverted away from fixing operational problems."  Therefore, it makes sense to learn as you go, as opposed to needing every detail perfect before the launch.  As eBay’s CEO Meg Whitman said, "You can’t predict what’s going to happen.  It’s another way of saying ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good enough.’"
  • Balance attention to strategy with attention to the details of implementation.  Strategy is certainly important.  Obsession with it, without attention to execution, leads to a place no one wants to go.  As Andy Grove has said, "Strategy is important.  Figuring out what to do is important.  Doing them and doing them well is equally important."

What can we learn?  Better not put on the blinders until we’ve worked hard to develop a plan to implement that is both simple and actionable.  And then measure the results.

Want to join the conversation?  You can order Hard Facts here

Strategy is Destiny?