On Strategizing

Imagining the future

“Because we think we know we stop looking.”

[Alan Judd]

Questions not only open up our thinking, but they also direct and focus it. Which is why we should become more aware of the power of inquiry and learn to ask the right questions. Asking A More Beautiful Question is the heart of discovery in science, philosophy, medicine — and a powerful way to renew our shelf-life, says Warren Berger.

Why does everything begin with Why?

This comprises the first stage of innovative questioning — first confronting, formulating, and framing the initial question that articulates the challenge at hand, and trying to gain some understanding of context.

. Why does a particular situation exist?

. Why does it present a problem or create a need or opportunity, and for whom?

. Why has no one addressed this need or solved this problem before?

. Why do you personally (or your company, or organization) want to invest more time thinking about, and formulating questions around, this problem?

However, just asking why without taking any action is unlikely to produce change. It has become clear to me that asking powerful questions is one step in the process, which should lead to asking better questions, so we can identify the choices that lead to lessons in perspective earlier. We can do something about it.

For example, why are there few systems for marketing strategy? Is a more interesting question than what type of strategist are you? For it taps into a three-dimensional aspect of the process of doing the work, which includes:

  • systems thinking
  • scanning and pattern recognition
  • challenging assumptions
  • balancing the future and the present
  • testing hypotheses
  • engaging multiple perspectives
  • framing issues

Which brings us to the realization of a finer point in thinking about the difference between strategy and innovation. By definition, they are both processes, and thus we should think of them as strategizing and innovating — verbs and not nouns.

Why Strategizer

“The main reason why we do need new words is that the ones we are using have not kept up with our imagining.”

Thinking, scanning, challenging, balancing, testing, engaging, framing are all actions that imply duration. Because the the best path to growth is creating sustainable intellectual, social, and brand capital for companies.

Once we make something a noun, it turns into a thing and ceases to be dynamic and changing. When we look at the type of actions we take, they are all dynamic — for example, we keep an eye on the emergence of patterns meaningful to the business, understand how to develop, enact, and amplify influence, and navigate the transformation of the environment through growth.

Strategizing involves choice based on time dependent information whereas strategy involves choices based on assumptions. And one of the problems with assumptions is that they skip the whole critical thinking process.

Using this logic, Strategizer is a better word for what I do than strategist. The main reason why we do need new words is that the ones we are using have not kept up with our imagining.

There is more than semantics than meets the eye.

Systems vs. goals

“The system to running a sustainable business depends on making dynamic choices.”

Our thinking should be moving based on time dependent information, but still manage to tell apart bedrock from sand. Which is why a system is more useful than goals. In How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adam says systems are better because they help us with a method for doing something, while goals are temporary:

For our purposes, let’s agree that goals are a reach-it-and-be-done situation, whereas a system is something you do on a regular basis with a reasonable expectation that doing so will get you to a better place in your life. Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction. My proposition is that if you study people who succeed, you will see that most of them follow systems, not goals

The distinction between systems and goals extends to most of our activities. 

“In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system.

In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system.

In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.”

Plus a system supports activities over time and thus helps us sustain regular effort.

The system to running a sustainable business depends on making dynamic choices. It stems more from the ability to co-ordinate what is at hand for longer term viability than a set of fixed objectives with an end.

Imagining the future

“We can’t explain the organizations of the future with the language of the past.”

To make it into a reality is more challenging when we explain it using the language of the past. Is being skilled in strategy a useful concept? Although I have learned a lot about war from my education in Europe, I can hardly say I am an expert in warfare.

Much of the ideas on strategy derive from Sun Tzu's The Art of War. It was in this ancient book that positioning in strategy was explained as being affected both by objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective opinions of competitive actors in that environment.

Tzu wrote that strategy is not linear planning like a to-do list — it requires fast and appropriate responses to changing conditions. While planning works in a controlled environment, in a competitive environment competing plans tend to collide, creating unexpected situations.

Strategy is a military metaphor where there are defined objectives with an end. Two thoughts on that:

1.) Once the war is won strategy ends and politics begins;

2.) Business has become more about sustaining momentum through appropriate structures and processes that build on each other than a collection of temporary wins.       

In the case of a corporation, strategy made sense when the objective was a series of rolling profits. “But as our relationship with corporations change,” says Peter Tunjic, “and we realize our symbiotic relationship with them, the objective is not profit but long term viability. It’s less about strategy and more about co-ordinating resources to ensure sufficient capital, assets, treasure to sustain a healthy enterprise. This brings us to the intersection of strategizing and business models.”

The challenge for all of us, even as we talk about agile marketing, iterative processes, lean methodologies, bringing startup ethos into the innovation labs of established companies, is that we can’t explain the organizations of the future with the language of the past.       


The future of work is already here, just unevenly understood.

Our organizational habits have not caught up with our imagining. When we say less talking more doing, we discount the value of thinking and processing together. At the root of every movement is the act of moving, where even small shifts make a big difference.

In his memoir of the craft, On Writing, Stephen King says, “I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.” Fear makes us prisoners. As we hide behind adverbs and euphemisms in our writing and conversations, so we hide behind nouns and passive (aggressive) constructs in business.


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