Blue Ocean? SWOT? I found myself in an interesting conversation this weekend about what tools are best for developing strategies, and in classic fashion, I am living up to the saying “Repartee is what you think of on the way home.”
Picking a tool for strategy development is, to me, an exercise in doctrine and dogma, and can easily miss out on something which I very firmly believe; the most elegant and beautifully conceived strategies can fail completely if they do not connect – in a deep and meaningful way – with the people who make up an organization.
So what I’m saying is that, in the end, I don’t really care which strategy tool is used, because I think that strategy – and especially a really clever strategy – can be held up as a false god, giving comfort to leaders and a vague sense of meaning to their teams.
And if strategy is a false god, then consultants are their prophets; we are incredibly good at creating and selling strategies which then are passed off to organizations with varying degrees of success. We ask that organizations and teams take it on faith that the development of a strategy is critical to their survival in a dog-eat-dog world; that by tricks and clever machinations we can devise “the plan” to guide them through troubled waters.
But for the sake of argument, what if I were to play the part of the strategic atheist – to say that I didn’t believe in strategy? What if I asserted that using this tool or that tool to create something which – by my eyes – does not exist would not help me?
What would I be left with? How could I steer my organization?
What I think I would be left with is my people. To mix metaphors a little, I would suddenly see that the boat is moving not because of the destination, but because of the people rowing it. I would see that it is not that we have a strategy that is important, it is actually more important that we believe in and are motivated by something common. The atheist view of strategy, then, would assert that it is the tactics of cohesion which drive success. Central to that is the “fit”; whether or not the aspiration and the group are compatible.
In that sense, then, I would say that the strategy itself could be considered secondary to the process of creation. Do people feel a sense of connection with the strategy? Did they help to create it? Is it an expression of their shared understanding and world view? Do they feel capable of being a part of it? What is more important; beliefs or belief itself?
It is not the god of strategy that gives me value, but my ritual of worship and observance. As my zen teacher once told me, “I’m not telling you to worship the Buddha. I’m just teaching you how to sit.”
Which is all to say, I don’t really know which method I prefer…I just care about the process.