A Fresh New Approach to Business Strategy?

When I created Strategic Outcomes Group, I thought long and hard about what name I should give  it – a name that I felt best expressed what we are all about. So, I rapidly came to the conclusion that we wanted to help other business people make a statement about what they stood for!

As a former Professor of Strategy, I concluded that strategy was not about the ‘starting’ line, it was about the ‘finish’ line – where we wanted to be at any given point in time. So, I turned to strategy theory (and history) for inspiration. I concluded that Strategic Outcomes as a company name and strategic outcomes mapping as a process best described what we were about and the service we wanted to offer!

It has been my (and many others) long-held contention that the traditional approach to strategic planning not only starts from what we believe is the wrong end of the process, but as the prolific writer on strategy Henry Mintzberg so succinctly put it some decades past: ‘Strategic Planning is Dead!’

If strategic planning is ‘dead’, then what approach has replaced it?

There have been many and varied approaches to strategy such as: The visionary approach (‘…it’s the vision thing’); Issues-based planning (resolving issues via the power thing. ‘..tread lightly and carry a big stick’); alignment modelling (‘Making the foot fit the shoe’); Scenario driven plans (‘But, what if…..?’); ‘Organic’ or chaos and self-organising approach (‘Don’t worry, water always finds its own level!’ The old adage: Consumers will never figure it out!); or Real-time planning (‘Where are the stats and what do they tell us to do?).

What is consistent with most of these models is they start out at the beginning and construct the necessary steps to get to the winning post as fast as possible.

Why don’t we (as business people) start at the finish post and work backwards? Nonsense, is often the response!

Well, elite athletes have been doing this for decades: they create a mental picture of hitting the winning post first!

To this end, they create a mental map of every step back to the start line that they must take to hit the finish line as the winner!

A new and radical approach?   No!

A powerful approach?   Absolutely!

Can it conjure up a picture in your mind?  It should, because that is why people buy into the outcome.

Sun Tzu wrote about strategic choices and outcomes around 400BC when he stated: “Best to have your enemies inside your tent peeing out, rather than outside your tent peeing in!”  A mental picture not easy to forget!

In other words, the starting point is to ask “…what would be the best outcome for us..?’ Not “…from where do we start the journey…?” And, what graphic or metaphor best describes the outcome?

So, what is your strategic outcome?
And, how do you map it?

6 thoughts on “A Fresh New Approach to Business Strategy?

  • Bill,
    Great question.
    Two things that are important to keep in mind, strategy is about the bigger picture – the blue sky issues – as some suggest.
    Passion is more of an inherent personal and tactical (also corporate) tactical matter – but equally important!
    Try doing business without it in the SME sector!
    Sadly, it is often curtailed in the corporate world! But, the corporate marketing people spend millions trying to re-create the passion which one is not allowed to express (publicly) at the corporate level. So, why kill it in the first place? Well, it is a question of conforming to the genre of corporate ‘passion’.
    Passion is near impossible to insert into strategy equation, but if you don’t express it today in the business world, then good luck. Life is going to be very difficult. Check the ‘cardboard’ style media campaigns. What gets you motivated to go buy the ‘message’ – and what turns you off?
    What do you think?

    Comment from: Dr. Kenneth Preiss

  • Love this – ‘Strategic Planning is Dead!’.

    Where do you place the importance of passion in any business strategy?

    Comment from: Bill Morgan

  • Thanks Marguerite,
    I hope it continues to be of interest and informative.

    Comment from: Dr. Kenneth Preiss

  • WOW! Just came across your website. What a great resource. Thank You.

    Comment from: Marguerite Merkel

  • Deb,

    I think you got it in one! Sadly, the ‘Lemming’ strategy is still alive and well – even in these tough times. Sadly, it is not an easy task to turn around the Titanic just before it hits the iceberg – particularly if the captain believes the boat is iceberg proof. But, I genuinely believe that the global challenges we have faced recently will force CEOs/managers to look at totally new ways of doing business. We are on the cusp of an innovative new era – innovation will become mainstream (and de-politicised), not peripheral to the business. What would be the consequences of you suggesting to your fellow managers/colleagues: “lets start our strategic thinking from the finish line, not the start line..?”


    Comment from: Dr. Kenneth Preiss

  • Hi Dr Kenneth.

    Recently found your blog and enjoying your blog.

    While I agree with you that we (business people) should start at the finish post and work backwards, unfortunately most middle and senior management do not operate this way.

    Perhaps that is why the business world is in such a mess.


    Comment from: Deb Reinbach

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